Sunday, May 22, 2016

Drumstick Medley

I do not know when the drumstick  tree flowers, because I seldom  get to see the tree, unless Susan Visvanathan brings me some  fruit from JNU  or I pay a visit.  However,  I have learnt  that its   botanical name  is Moringa oleifera,  and that sometimes, it can have two flowering seasons in a year.   Friends and vegetable vendors  bring me its flowers and fruit, so I retain the pleasure of savouring them often enough.

In the hot summers  of my-growing-up-years, we travelled to Tamil Nadu.  There was always a Murungai (maram) tree in someone's backyard, or growing in  the back lawns  of  quarters in  suburban  government colonies.   Summer months in May and June were spent foraging for pods on the upper branches of  trees at least fifteen feet tall. This involved getting on to balcony parapets and leaning precariously to grasp one leafy branched arm, while divesting its stem  of , knobbly-jointed  long-finger-like pods.  We called the green pods murungakkai (vegetable of the murungai ) . This  tree is  indigenous  to India, and  a claim can be staked for  southern parts of   India  being the earliest home of the Moringa oleifera. No marks for noticing that murungai(local Tamil name) and Moringa(the botanical name) sound similar!!

Each  murungakkai was cut into two inch sections and cooked with  pigeon pea lentils to give us an exquisitely flavoured sambar.    Grandmothers, aunts and mothers also cut up murungakkai and cooked it in sour tamarind, to give us vetthalkozambu, a thick sour stew made with  tiny whole onions (kutti vengayam) and drumstick pieces and bengal gram dal, transforming the eating of rice into an exotic feast. Dry roasted papad and roasted potatoes and curd rounded out the meal  which was usually the precursor to a more elaborate feast in the offing. Vettalkozambu, in any case, was consumed in small quantities and had a longer shelf life, often turning up the next day as a sauce accompaniment to  sooji  and rice upmas or providing the pickle alternative  in its tango with  curd rice.

The delight of saving up drumstick sections from sambaar and vettalkozambu is a cultural memory for legions of eaters  who stockpiled them on their plates at  mealtimes and savoured them; biting into the  juicy sections and extracting  the  flesh  of the drumstick and its plump seed  from the inedible section of the pod.  The drumstick eating saga didn't stop at this.
 The thin outer pod is chewed into shreds, in the same way as sugarcane sections are. Unless this is done, food satiation levels  seldom reach  requisite plateaus of  pleasure.  Tamarind pulp, infused into the water while cooking  drumsticks  for sambaar and vettalkozambu, is the contributory factor.  At the end of the meal, the  largest stockpile of well chewed drumstick sections  on the plate  defined the victor. This was not altogether  a joyous moment for all those with  smaller debris on their plate. They left the food table dourly, puzzled as to why the victor (who clearly was  allotted  more sections) was favored.

Drumstick  leaves were added to adais ( lentil based dosas) and were  cooked along with moong dal as a  dry leaf and lentil vegetable. They make for delicious  paranthas and pooris and do equally well when batter fried into  bajjis. My friend Benu  Mohan Lal swears  by them as  the ultimate  in flavor  when added to kadi pakoris. The drumstick was also cooked with pigeon pea lentils, ( arhar dal)  coconut, red chillies and ground zeera  and could be relished along with rice or chappatis, after a mustard seed and karipatta chaunk.s

 Living at New Delhi has  introduced me to  drumstick flower  bharta. I  usually make  this  around January, since the flowers surface  in local markets around that time. The recipe  is from my neighbour, Rita Bajaj who has a tree growing on her  Soami Nagar lawn  and a refrigerator  abundantly stocked with frozen flowers and pods.  For the bharta, the flowers need to be boiled in salted water  for ten minutes . The water is drained. In a pan, onions, tomatoes and garlic are added to a little oil and  cooked into a thick paste.  Next peas and cooked drumstick flowers  are added along with dhania powder, zeera powder and red chilli powder.  When fully cooked. check for salt and spices, garnish with a dollop of curd and chopped dhania leaves  and then take off the fire. if the tomatoes are not tart enough, a little amchur  (  green mango powder)helps.

 Of late, dealing with a generation that  instagrams food  in lieu of art and accepts smooth purees  a la masterchef as  de rigueur,  the tearing and chewing of drumstick  sections with the help of  fisty fingers  and teeth , has joined  the rank  and file of  eating techniques that are infra-dig at the dining table.  So, when the drumstick is not tender enough to be cooked whole, I  slit the drumstick, open it out into a flat strip and use a heavy spoon to strip it off the flesh. The shell I  snip into smaller pieces and boil put  water to create  vegetable stock. The flesh makes a nice aloo, onion tomato vegetable, popular in North India with jeera tadka  to which I add some ground mustard seeds( borrowed from recipes from Pashchim Banga, that takes the  dish to a whole new level.

Left to myself, I would put in sections of whole drumstick,  but given the fact that this is now a WHO approved  superfood with an astonishing array of nutrients, ( every article on  drumsticks on the internet provides  celebratory details)  seeing that it is   frequently  consumed remains the  greater priority.

 So, on days when  I'm humoring  the people I cook for, I make a drum stick soup by adding  the drumstick water stock to the flesh of one drumstick, a fistful of drumstick leaves , one tiny onion and some crushed garlic that has been  sauteed in a little butter or ghee. Garnish this with lemon juice and pepper after bringing to a boil and the soup is ready for consumption.

 However, there is no substitute for  the eating solace that comes from extracting pulp from  cooked  drumsticks with fingers and teeth and slowly chewing   small sections into cud.  Some day, soon enough, I plan to go back to  cooking with  whole sections all over  again.

No comments:

Post a Comment