The most underrated of the vegetables are the leafy ones. Many of them slowly find their way up the muddy path, to feel a ray of sun, get caressed by the gentle breeze and yet grow in this world sans care. The lucky ones are nurtured by their masters and mistresses with love and affection, with a sturdy supply of necessary food, shelter and in some cases, a green cloth as protection from the harmful UV Rays.
I call these leafy greens and herbs- the ‘loyal power-packed greenhouses’, which never let anyone down. From the humble coriander to the stubborn curry leaves, from the tangy Sorrel leaves/Gongura to the Iron-rich Spinach, each of the leafy greens come packed with a special quality. Not only are these leafy greens low in calories, but they are also packed with an impressive list of vitamins, minerals and beneficial substances making them perfectly suitable for people with food allergies, vegans and vegetarians alike!
A couple of years back, I had a wide range of leafy vegetables grown in the kitchen garden of my Lucknow home. Spinach was growing in plenty and resulted in a bountiful harvest. Bundles of them were given away to friends and neighbours.
Coincidentally, that was also the time when my son and I were found to be anaemic owing to continued medication for our respective health conditions. This made me include Spinach, Almonds, Dates and other iron-rich food items in as many ways as possible.
There was a different dish every other day with Spinach in it, as it was abundantly available. Many of these Spinach based recipes have their own stories, at least in the case of a new and novice cook like me!
Travel tales of Spinach recipes in a nutshell
The Palak(Spinach) – Dal recipe was recreated in my kitchen based on Coastal Andhra Pradesh culinary taste of Vizag, Palak-paneer was learnt during our short-stay at Patiala, Spinach soup was learnt from a cookbook that was a treasure-trove while we were dwelling in the deserts of Rajasthan, the Spinach rich ‘Keerai thovaran’ was learnt at the Southernmost part of India and has the un-missable taste of Nagercoil and so on. All these recipes have been travelling with me across India for years now, and some more are added to this travelogue of ours, periodically. And, interestingly, most of these recipes were also vegan, perfect for gluten-sensitive as well as for lactose-intolerant people.
Those were the times when I was busy with my exams too and due to erratic eating habits and study times, I always felt weak and tired. And, to cook elaborate meals was time-consuming. A casual phone conversation with my aunt’s mom who hails from Kalladaikuruchi town led me to try out her ‘Keerai’ recipe. She quickly guided me through the steps that lasted not more than a few seconds!!!
Kalladaikuruchi: A town with a rich culinary heritage
Kalladaikuruchi is a small temple town on the banks of river Thamiraparani near Thirunelvelli in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is famous for the Appalam-making (Papad) cottage industries that are widely exported. It has a rich heritage that has blended easily with modern influxes. Many of the recipes originating from this region include ‘Coconut’ in them. Except for this ‘Keerai’ recipe!
I was surprised more at the ingredients of the recipe than the time, just for the simple reason that most of the recipes of Kalladaikuruchi are coconut-based and this was devoid of the ‘staple’! In Lucknow, our home was on the outskirts of the city and getting coconuts were a bit difficult. Thus, I was super excited to try this recipe that did not require coconut. And this is how the humble Keerai recipe traversed across states from one end of India to another.
Fact: Leafy greens are known as ‘Keerai’ and Spinach is called Pasalai Keerai in Tamil, the Dravidian language spoken in parts of India.
Let me quickly jot here the recipe that I had named as ‘Easy Peasy Keerai’ which is otherwise known as ‘Keerai Masiyal’ in parts of TamilNadu and coconut does feature in it most of the times.
EASY PEASY KEERAI
Spinach – 1 small bunch (Cleaned)
Salt – To Taste
Green chillies – 2 0r 3
Turmeric – ¼ teaspoon (tsp)
Water – 1/2 of a 200 ml cup
Ingredients for Tadka/Tempering:
Oil/Ghee – 1 Tsp (Vegans can avoid ghee)
Mustard seeds ( Sarson/Choti Rai) – 1 Tsp
Urad dal (Black Lentil – dehusked and split/whole) – 1 Tsp
Chenna Dal (Split chickpeas) – 1 Tsp
Dried Red Chillies – 1 0r 2 ( broken into two)
Asafoetida (Hing) – a pinch
A Sprig of Curry leaves/ Coriander (optional)
Trim the stems off the spinach leaves with a knife or scissors.
Put the spinach in a colander, and rinse it well with cool running water. Or fill a bowl with water, add a teaspoon of vinegar and soak the spinach for a minute or two. Swirl it around with your hand to loosen any dirt. Wash it once again with drinking water.
You may either use a pressure cooker or an open vessel to blanch the spinach.
In a pressure cooker: Add the spinach, green chillies, a pinch of turmeric and a ½ cup of water into the cooker and place it on a lighted stove. Do not use the ‘Pressure Regulator(Weight). Let it stay till straight steam is released out of the vent. Once done, keep it aside to cool.
In an open vessel: Blanch it in boiling water in a vessel along with the green chillies and a pinch of turmeric, till the spinach leaves wilt a little (just for 3-4 minutes). Now, drain the water and allow the ingredients to cool.
Toss the blanched spinach along with the green chillies in a blender to get a smooth and thick paste. Now, add salt to taste and blend again. Our ‘Easy Peasy Keerai’ is almost ready. Transfer the Keerai mixture to a serving bowl.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a skillet/a small wok. Add the ingredients kept aside for tempering. Allow the mustard seeds to splutter, then add red chillies, channa dal, urad dal and fry until the lentils turn golden brown. Switch off the stove and immediately add 1-2 pinches of asafoetida and curry leaves/chopped coriander leaves.
Pour this tempered mixture on top of the keerai mixture in the serving bowl. ‘Easy Peasy Keerai’ is ready to be served with hot steamed rice or fluffy rotis.
- You may also add grated coconut along with the tempering ingredients to enhance taste as well as the nutritional value of the dish.
- The tempering can be avoided and instead, you may add cream/ cheese spread to convert the keerai into a dip. Serve it as an accompaniment to hot toasted slices of bread!
Health nuggets on ‘Easy Peasy Keerai’
- Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It is a very good source of dietary fibre, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, protein and choline.
- Cleaning the spinach leaves just before cooking by avoiding long soaking times reduces leaching of water-soluble vitamins.
- The main ingredient of the recipe otherwise is Coconut, which is a complete food in itself. You may add grated coconut to the above dish as it is rich in calories, vitamins, and minerals like copper, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc. Also, a good source of Potassium and B-Complex vitamins.
- Coconut also has lauric acid which increases the good-HDL cholesterol levels in the blood and has beneficial effects on the coronary arteries by preventing vessel blockage (atherosclerosis).
Why should you try this Spinach recipe?
- It is quick and easy for people who are not adept at cooking, too.
- A power-packed recipe that gets made in a jiffy saving time for all.
- Tastes yummy and liked by kids, too.
- Spinach contains heat-sensitive and water-soluble vitamins that can be affected even by sautéing. Since we are just blanching the spinach in this recipe, we can be assured about no-loss of nutrients.
- Tempering ( not to be confused with the Western perspective of ‘tempering chocolates’) also has nutritional benefits, since the hot ghee or vegetable oil helps the spices unlock their healing properties. Hot fat has an amazing ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavour of spices and herbs and then carry this essence with it when it is added to a dish.
Remember the three steps: Blanch – Blend – Voila!
Do try this spinach-based ‘Easy Peasy Keerai’ and let me know how it turns out. I am sure you will get hooked to the taste of this dish!
Cook fresh, Eat local and Stay healthy! Ciao……
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