The Greens We Eat – part 2 *

Update for month ended 28 Feb 2014

Foreign influences to India cuisine have made it that much more varied and rich. Like the introduction of chillies into our food habits was brought in by the European explorers of the late 15th century, also bringing us the much used and taken for granted potatoes. And as a culture we have adopted and adapted these into all types of cuisines. It is unthinkable for Indians form any state to prepare a lunch or dinner without using chillies, unless of course it is for an infant or a sick patient, just as it is unthinkable of not using the ever present kitchen staple, potato to act as either a filler in a curry or a thickener to a gravy or even rustled up in a jiffy as a “dry” curry for unexpected guests. And what seemed like a melting pot of cuisines, India today is taking to other influences, but not to the extent it was perhaps 6 centuries ago! So the green herbs (which are the only flavouring agents outside of the salt and peper routine of European cooks (or would you rather call them chefs because it is more fashionable?), are used by us, but not to integrate into our cuisine but to make “their” food. So herbs that we used as regular food, like dillweed, are used only to pair up with potatoes in a salad, but when used in Indian food, they are in the traditional “saags” (greens) with perhaps some ridge gourd (torai) thrown in. And holy basil is not used in cooking, unless making that concoction to relieve a sneezing relative of that blocked nose; but pasta in pesto is quite a popular dish with the children of this generation and basil makes its appearance not only in supermarket shelves, but also at birthday party “live counters”. And rosemary, that sweet sounding herb that grows as a perennial (and reminds me of the Braganza twin sisters, Rose and Mary, who were very sweet and always found together), is good to pair with the roast chicken, but never with chicken tikka or butter chicken. Indians have always revered their sages or yore, but only recently been introduced to the sage that goes well with butter (so say some Australian chefs on TV). I think Indians still like their butter plain and white with the parathas, though the salted and yellow variety is also widely consumed with white bread or dropped in dollops into the mushy vegetable curry that is eaten with bun paos, pao bhaji. (Interestingly, the paos are Mediterranean in origin and still retain the Portuguese name for it). And although we have been less influenced by the eastern cuisine, the greens of the spring onion are quickly chopped up to garnish any “Chinese” dish. Of course, the slender and tender leaves of the onion bulb shoot have been used in local cuisine to pair up with the omnipresent potato in the cool winter months, to warm us.

Foreign influences on D Street have been making their mark these days, but in very small ways. And sometimes, it is chilli hot that scalds the D Boyz and their SENSEX (like in the beginning of February) or it is the greener herbs like dill, basil, rosemary and sage during the rest of the month. And quite like the appetites of Indians, these have taken in in limited doses to inch the SENSEX up, step by step, during the month from 20460 to 2110 (with the chilli affecting the SENSEX downwards at an intra month low of 20024).

Although much of India is not climatically suited to grow the European herbs, it is still grown on “specialty” farms and priced even more specially. It is, however, rather surprising that the more tropical “herbs” from the east have not easily adapted themselves into Indian food and we see little of the kaffir lime leaves and pandan except at Oriental restaurants or food festivals. I wonder why?

It would be interesting to hear your views on influences to Indian food. I look forward to the interesting interaction with my readers.

Have a great week ahead …… cheers


* for those interested in reading The Greens we Eat – Part 1, click here.


4 thoughts on “The Greens We Eat – part 2 *

  1. Enjoyed reading your 2-part article on the Greens we eat!
    Description is graphic and you have captured the different greens eaten all over our motherland.
    Regarding the leaves of Kaffir limes we in the South of Bharat do use lime leaves in making our famous ‘veppallaikattai’ dried chutney that is extremely aromatic and good for digestion and re-igniting Agni in the system.
    Bharat has actually more than imbibing given and shared her wise and health oriented culinary traditions to the world unknowingly and over-generously.
    And the same holds true even in other spheres.
    It is just like our Yoga and Dhyaana having been taken from our land have now become metamorphosed into Zen,Reiki,Karate etc. and now these being imported as something novel!
    We Bharata-vaasis would know had we had been taught about the varied facts and facets of our culture and history which is indeed greatly lacking due to the ‘biased’ history taught to us through colonial times written by the vainquers that is still sadly continuing.

    Your very indigenously set story of Kanagambal was juicy till the end.
    The ‘gripping’ entry of the much maligned species of the reptile family causing reverberating vibrations of fear for itself and the readers was imaginatively crafted.And yet our sweet and orthodox Kanagambal is so innocently unaware of reality only to be awakened by the cry of her Manni!
    The gentle and speedy exit of the ‘perceived villain’ without any mishap was indeed a tickling and comforting conclusion!
    Really lovely story!

    1. Hi Vijaya,

      it has been a long time since I wrote last and also a long time since I heard from you. Are you still in the Netherlands?


      1. What a pleasant surprise to receive your warm mail!
        Yes am still in Belgium despite the terrible ‘tsunami’ that struck my life.Hope you and family are keeping well. Good wishes ……Vijaya

  2. Thanks Vijaya for your detailed response. Good to hear about the lime leaves that are used in Southern India – which i think is used only as a quasi pickle. I am not sure if it is used in flavouring like that used in Thai cooking.

    Thanks for the feedback on Kanagambal story.

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