Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Greens that we eat – part 1

Update for week ended 17 January 2014


Greens are good for you would be the standard one liner that all mothers would extol to their children. And children from all ages would toss the greens around on the plate – in the olden days on banana leaves with their fingers, and later on brass plates and now with spoons or forks on their “china” plates. And there are so many greens that an Indian is offered. The most popular of the greens is the easy growing and much cultivated spinach or paalak. It is most often cooked anc crushed to form a base in foods – like a sauce – perhaps to make it presentable and palatable to the young child who tossed the food around the plate. So it is served with chunks of melt in your mouth cottage cheese in winters, or with golden corn kernels, or plain potato dices in summers. The fact that the form of the leaves is not “seen” on the plate perhaps makes it easier for children to eat the paneer drenched in the spinach sauce. And in the state of the five rivers, the arrival of winter is also heralded by the ubiquitous mustard greens or “sarson da saag”, which is dished out with a corn bread and loads of homemade white butter. The strong taste of mustard and the not so mashed consistency is sometimes a put off, even in traditional Punjabi homes. The locals in Himachal and the Uttaranchal serve a similarly bitter green called bathua, which has
unusual nicknames in English, like pigweed, goosefeet or lamb quarters. The English names of this green or weed are enough to put me off it for a while! The slightly bitter fenugreek greens, methi, is another favourite across the country but mostly to flavour the food, so it is usually never presented on the table on its own. It is paired with a blander vegetable or meat or even flour to give its dish of the day- aloo methi, methi mutton or methi thepla. The amaranth is the second most popular greens that are consumed by Indians, perhaps because of its milder taste and soft texture. It is used to pepper the larger veggies like potatoes or onions or used in ‘dals’ to add that green effect. My favourite using this green leaf is the Keerai Molagootal, a dal preparation with coconut, cumin and red chillis. I once made this at my bachelor pad for a comfort food session on a Sunday and a flat-mate went nostalgic about how it tasted much like his mom’s cooking! Now Now, I had to control his emotions!
And if you go to the south of India or even to a market that sells south Indian traditional vegetables and you would get various variants to this green – the stem amaranth (thandu keerai), the only leaf version (aria keerai), the red leaf amaranth (sigappu keerai). And the red leaf amaranth is normally served as a yoghurt based sour kadhi in the south – as a Keerai Morukootan or Morukozhambu. The reddish colour is tempered with the white buttermilk and coconut, but slightly highlighted by the red chilli, mustard and fenugreek seed tempering.


The D Boyz had a week eating the Indian greens. So if on Monday and Tuesday, they just tossed it around on their plates, they enjoyed the spinach, amaranth and fenugreek based food during the rest of the week to take their SENSEX to an iron led growth close to an all time high, but a tad short at 21315, before retracing its steps as it saw the reddish toned dish served on Friday – which pushed the SENSEX down into its red zone for the week – to end at 21063. But overall, this was a week of gaining iron and good from the greens as the D Boyz brought up their SENSEX 305 points from last week’s end of 20758.


There are other greens that Indians eat, which are not of the weed variety. Like the pumpkin leaves during the rainy season, or the Malabar greens (a squishy thick waxy leaf of a climber), or the Moringa tree leaves used in Maharashtra and the Southern states during the rains, again. Are there other leaves that are eaten in India as also overseas like the cabbage and lettuce, which I resrve for another week’s posting. Till then, enjoy your greens and share your secret recipes with me. Who knows, I may also go nostalgic while eating them, just like my flatmate!


Have a good week ahead… Cheers……. And Happy Republic Day


Fauna in the city

Update for week ended 10 Jan 2014


It is often amazing to bump into a reptile or sight a colourful bird in a big city like Bombay as it is not an often “bump into”. Well, I am not referring to the 5 common birds that one usually sees flying the skies – pigeons, crows, kites, sparrows and the squealing squawking parakeets (and 1 more for those who live near the sea or the marshy mangroves, the egrets or for those away from it – the common myna.) Nor am I referring to the common domestic gecko that many women (and their “valiant” husbands, too) despise and squeal at. The cool weather in Bombay has brought its turn of “winter” homecomers, like the highly overrated flamingoes (who don’t have the pinkish hue of their East Coast brethren nor the deep crimson of their African cousins. Does this have anything to do with the East Coast that affects the colour, whether in India or Africa). The seagulls are here in plenty and spend a lot of time on the low tide flats and fly around in pretty formation. And if you are near the tidal zone, then you won’t miss the black cormorants, graceful and shiny. I was not surprised to hear the koel (or nightingale), and as I craned my neck to locate the evasive and elusive bird, I saw a brilliant flash of yellow dart across in pairs from one mango tree to another. The weavers are here too. My wife spotted a pair of bulbuls the other day on her evening walk. And we spotted a pair of noisy owls during our evening walks in the residence compound. And these owls did not hoot as the text books expound, but screeched their throats out……. But a quite unusual sighting for me was the reptile. I had parked my car in the basement of my office building and was walking out when in my path was the specimen that I used to see very often as child in a small town by the lake in Africa. We used to call it the bong bongo there. It was about a foot long, but half the length was its tail and local legend was that if you called it by its local name (bongo bongo), it would acknowledge and bob its head in rhythm. And the legend went further to warn people who encountered it in their path (especially children), not to look it in the eye, and if you did – then you had to utter the words bongo bongo repeatedly else the curse would befall you. The curse was blood curdling or rather blood draining….. the bongo bongo could drink the viewer’s blood just by staring at them, from the ground, went the legend. So either you were not on the ground (highly implausible, unless you were a wizard) or you had to suffer that fate. So we would keep yelling bongo bongo, till my parents would think that we had gone bonkers, or were dancing to an old local tune…… . Some adventurous children would quickly loop a string and try to snare the reptile by the tail. But I would never know if they succeeded, because I would have scrammed off. It had a crested head and its scales had an unusual quality. It could change colour to suit the surroundings, especially the medium it stood on. And here it was in front of me on a concrete grey ground – in the colour of its choice, grey. I quickly whipped out the camera phone from my pocket to get a close-up of this unusual fauna sighting in my city, when from the back, walked a security guard blissfully unaware of the blood draining reptile in his path. The reptile darted across to the fence and almost got lost in the scrubs. I threw my arms up in the air and headed to the green coloured fence and tried to look for the bongo bongo in the grassy edge of the fence.


The D Street Boyz reminisced about their childhood fears and perhaps there was a Kenyan D Boy amongst them, as he related the bongo bongo tale to them. The D Boyz and their favourite SENSEX lost or drained out the blood and lost some steam during the week. It was thanks to some distraction in the path, that the bongo bongo dashed across to the green edge of D Street to end the week in the green. So the SENSEX moved down from 21200 (Jan 1) to as low as 20625 on Jan 9 before picking itself up to end at 20758 on Jan 10.


I scrambled out of the building to get to the other side of the fence, which was an open land with tree and shrub cover. And there was the bongo bongo that I just managed to get a picture of (see attached pic). It is sometimes referred to as the common garden lizard and sometimes a chameleon. What was unusual was that it was sighted in a city that does not care for its green spaces and converts verdant marshland into dusty business districts and where an avenue of 20 years or older raintrees die and no-one does anything about it. Even the road medians which sported some green cover have all turned brown, as someone’s watering contract did not get renewed, and the long monsoons have ended. Such is the callousness of the city fathers and yet in this despair, I see hope. I see hope in the bongo bongo and the weaver birds and their master craft, and the barn owls that screech and don’t hoot. I see hope that the raintrees which are not native to India will get replaced by the neems and bargats and aams.





With hope in my heart, here is wishing you all a great year ahead … Cheers…