Tuesday, April 8, 2014

E-co-xotic Greens?

This was a vegetable we grew up with. Then it was  available on and off  in the summer  season at  Delhi. It wasn't particularly memorable, and we ate it as part of our must-eat-green-vegetables program  for a host of reasons, after discarding the ones that had turned  reddish orange  in the heat. In any case,  our years of growing up were punctuated with our parents approximating to the comforts of a   middle class life. through  austerity and thrift and a long journey initially undertaken by my father from Cuddalore to New Delhi to earn a living.

Lunch at New Delhi was traditionally rice with a combination of  vegetables and  kozhumbus and our favourite was usually urulakayangu  kari (aloo roast)  with kutti  vengaya(small onions) sambhar.
 Kovakkai (the tamil name) or kundru (hindi variant)  we tolerated and ate our mandatory shares of. We rarely fought over the last serving or  tried to get a ladleful more on our plate. Over potatoes we  fought and tried to pull the  advantage of rank to get a larger serving than the sibling lower in the pecking order.
 So possibly the good thing about the kundru was that it did not excite or inflame the passions and allowed for the peaceful ingestion of  meals. Only when I ran my own kitchen and began reading up different ways to cook vegetables did I stumble on to the fact that there were many ways of making the kundru and that it had many health benefits.
 I read a recipe for the kundru which involved cutting it along its length into tiny  roundels, stirring in salt, chilli powder and asafoetida and drying it in the sun, to be stored as crisps, which could be eventually eaten  deep fried, much in the manner of wadis with rice and daal. Apparently this was the way  housewives in maharashtra  dealt with the tindori as they called it. While it was delicious, the time spent in waiting for the vegetable to dry and the subsequent high oil submersion to  bring it back on the food platter seemed excessive, so I experimented with the offered recipe further.
 Greasing the tindori with oil and chilli powder and asafoetida and then spreading out the little circlets on a greased baking dish was my first attempt. This trick seemed to work  and  crisp kundru vegetable bits were obtained with far less oil, and were readily devoured, although  the potato continued to occupy  first place in the preferential vegetable list.

Eventually I settled for making the  tindori  on a shallow iron griddle. They could be cut into roundels or simply smashed whole, after being set aside for half an hour with chilli powder, asafoetida and salt. Next , a small tadka in gingelly oil  and mustard seeds provided the base onto which the whole or diced kundru could be dropped. Slow cooking on the griddle for twenty minutes allowed for delectable kundru. Occasionally,  a garnish of freshly grated coconut before serving made for a memorable meal, but even without, the kundru has a delicious enough flavour. It is also a great store house of nutritional benefits. Kundru seems to have been created in nature as a scrouge for  the  debilitating ailment of diabetes that modern lifestyles have  begun to steadily incorporate. Regular consumption of  Kundru  is credited with the lowering of   blood sugar and supplementing the beta-carotene stores in the body . My mom  recalls using the seedy gel like insides of the kundru to wipe down slates (personal black boards) that were a mandatory everyday  part of their early schooling.   This versatile vegetable  from the gourd family,  referred to as the ivy gourd is also quixotically identified as "gentlemen's toes". This name possibly compensates for the okra being known as ladies' finger in English parlance. It must be acknowledged that  there are many reasons why the  kundru  deserves  special mention in all our kitchen affairs.

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