by Jenie Kurian Abraham
I look at the bowl suspiciously as I see a few bits of green floating in a creamy soup. I am positive this is going to taste like nothing. At eight years old, my brain refuses to understand the importance of nutrition and is just craving fried fish, but that’s not on the menu today. Today we are eating Moringa (a leafy vegetable commonly found in many states of India) in a simple coconut-based curry with steamed white rice and a blob of mango pickle on the side.
As I poke the food around my plate, my mum glances over and reminds me that I need to eat it, all of it. Her justification for everything green is that it’s either good for the eyes or good for the brain. I try a spoonful with zero enthusiasm. I am surprised by how little it tastes like spinach or any green leaves, for that matter. This one actually tasted sweet. I didn’t need much motivation to gulp it down that day or the many days following that one where I was fed Moringa in all its glorious forms.
Growing up, there was a Moringa tree in our backyard. In fact, there was one in almost every other garden in the community I lived in. Everything on the tree was edible — the fruit, the leaves and flowers — and there was a recipe for each of them.
The fruit is called drumsticks, not the chicken kind. These are slim, long, woody fruits with thick skin. It could be cooked in different styles with or without coconut. The skin is rough and inedible, while the insides turn soft and mushy when cooked.
The flower was also my favourite. It was white with a yellowish tinge in the centre. When cooked, a large basketful would shrink to fit into your palm. The flowers can be lightly seasoned with mild spices, blended with coconut in a smooth paste and then cooked until done.
The leaves are versatile, and every Indian state has its own adaptation. Stirfried on its own with a hint of mustard seeds and small red chillies in coconut oil or seasoned with a rich paste of freshly grated coconut, peanuts, baby onions and more red chillies. On days, when we needed something to dip the dosa in or a companion to a hot steaming plate of white rice, this dish would be elevated into a light curry with coconut milk as a base. In all the different forms this leaf appeared on my plate, it remained equally light and flavourful to taste.
Years later, in UAE, I am reminded of Moringa as it lands in my grocery box as a free sample. Only this time, it is in a powdered form. I quickly asked Google to find out if it was the same vegetable, and indeed it was! Intrigued, I try a spoonful of it in a glass of cold water (as recommended on the pack). It was sweet but disgusting to taste.
And then, as if by some weird pattern of synchronicity, I keep finding Moringa everywhere. Turns out, it has joined the superfood hall of fame with other superfood ingredients like Turmeric. I now find Moringa turning up on restaurant menus in soups, lattes, energy bars, teas and recently Moringa oil.
In the UAE, I also found that Moringa is a popular vegetable in Indian, Filipino, Bangladeshi and Burmese cuisine. However, I am yet to come across a menu that includes a wholesome Moringa dish on its own. I often find myself scrolling through Instagram for home chefs who have posted their grandmother’s recipes and once in a while I chance upon a gem. One such page I frequently check-in is @viji_moo which shares hand me down family recipes. I have tried her Moringa Thokku (another variation of the stir fry) and Moringa Chutney (Moringa blended into a smooth paste with mild spices) and both recipes keep the flavour intact while providing all of the nutrition.
The world continues to dry, powder and blend this newfound discovery of yet another superfood into all kinds of convenient offerings. But I am in no hurry to shake my Moringa in a coconut milk latte. I still prefer to eat my Moringa the way I was bought up to enjoy. I follow simple and traditional recipes that bring out the unique flavours of this powerful nutrient-rich vegetable. The flavours take me back to long, lazy, carefree afternoons. It turns out my mother was right — it not only tasted good, but it was beneficial for my eyes, head and everything else.
Jenie is an ardent foodie who is taking her first steps into Food Writing. While her weeks are busy finding talent for a world-class theme park operator, she explores the culinary world during her weekends. Jenie enjoys learning and writing about culture and stories that bond us through food.
This article is the work of Le Cordon Bleu Online Learning Food Writing for Publication course participant. Le Cordon Bleu is not responsible for the content and the opinion and view is that of the author.
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