THE ENDURING CHARMS OF THE DRUMSTICK TREE

A tree for all kitchen gardens! The beautifully elegant drumstick or shengo (Konkani) or Moringa oleifera, native to India and incredibly healthy to eat…leaves, flowers, drumsticks, stems and roots. Moringa green leaf powder is rated as a super food for it contains something like a whopping 46 antioxidants to prevent damage in body beautiful by way of free radical oxidation! Make dry leaf powder too add to shakes and smoothies, leafy sabzi, drumstick sambar or curry or coddi, even drumstick soup for those who are convalescing and can’t stomach much.

By Tara Narayan

WHILE out on my early morning rides around Panaji-Taleigao on a more or less daily shopping outing it’s the gauti vegetable vendors parked beneath trees next to the still alive farms which give me the most glorious highs! And if there’s one vegetable which I may never resist it is – drumsticks or Moringa oeleifara drumsticks. The drumstick tree is one very elegant tree offering confetti styled leaves, edible flowers, drumsticks for turning into a curry or whatever you wish by way of culinary pleasures…and I do believe the roots which resemble horseradish also recognizes it as the horseradish tree.
The drumstick plant tree is one of our native and fastest growing drought-resistant trees of the family Moringaceae. You may call it moringa, horseradish, drumstick or ben oil tree/benzolive tree (so called from the oil derived from the seeds). Stick to drumstick tree, that sounds the nicest after the sound of horseradish tree!
These days I see plenty of drumsticks with the local veggie vendors and can never resist buying them – hoping to get at least three or four not so fat, long, ravishingly green drumsticks in a bundle for may be Rs20 or so. Since the quote “panas” for more or less everything I begin by saying, “Bai, just give me drumsticks for Rs20, Rs20 only, okay, that’s all I need for my family of two…give two or three drumsticks if you can.” Funny, invariably if the vendor is a man he will give me four and if a woman I may end up with two or three at most. Don’t ask me why. Men generally don’t fuss or scold to appeals of one more or less and if happy for bonus will also add a smaller extra drumstick or a small green mango along with the sale!
Try to buy drumsticks before they’re rubber-banded into bundles. On a good day I may pick my own drumsticks from a pile and alongside one may also see “maskachi bhaji” (the small green leaves of the drumstick tree which is really a slender filigree styled tree which sports delicate little ivory flowers first which friends tell me make for terrific sabzi or bhujia.
I really haven’t partaken of drumstick tree flowers or leaves yet in any recipe. But I’m crazy about drumsticks slender or not so slender. For some reason down south India every decent sambar will feature drumsticks in it cut into one or two inch pieces…and there’ll be more demand for the sambar to go with idli, dosa or just plain sambar-rice. If you use only drumsticks by way of veggies in your dal or sambar the aroma of drumstick is distinctively aromatic.
The drumstick tree, incidentally, is one of our trees offering so much by way of leaves, flowers, drumsticks, stems and roots for medicinal remedies in Ayuveda. It’s seen as the tree for diabetics, and its leaves richer in vitamin C (than oranges), folic acid, iron, calcium, a host of good things. So far I’ve only stuck to the drumsticks but if you wear dentures one may not be able to chew and squeeze out the inner seeded kernel between the teeth, without having fiber strands twisting up your dentures! With seniors who love drumstick veggies or dal it’s a bit of a hassle.
Then one day I realized it’s no sweat just cutting the drumstick into reasonably long pieces and steam cooking them, when cooled somewhat just use a teaspoon to scrape out the jello like “mava” of flesh and seeds from within! Chuck the scraped out drumsticks. Use the quivering mass of drumstick mass as you wish, put it in a raita if you wish. I generally find it makes for a super delicious Guju-style buttermilk koddi or a rich, flavorful, gravy vegetable curry.
What I love to do is to make a drumstick curry is to use gram flour or besan and a bit of curd to develop finer flavor, my drumstick curry recipe follows somewhere her later on. This is to say the drumstick tree is a tree to be much respected. Ayurveda says consume drumstick tree item numbers in your meals and chances are your blood will be purer, hair and skin more glowing…also keeps chickenpox away! Well, believe or not. Welcome a drumstick tree in your kitcvhen – which reminds me, hey, the dehydrated leafy powder is being promoted as a super supplement food, Organic India is marketing it and you may find it at the bigger Magson’s outlets or even at Fab India where I’ve seen it.
The idea is to sprinkle this green moringa powder atop your cocktails, buttermilk, salads, soups, shakes, health smoothies, etc, for all kinds of good things to happen for body beautiful! Green powders are much in demand nowadays – be it moringa, spirulina, kelp, spinach and more. A tablespoon of green something fresh or in powder form is supposed to gift one with more oxytocin (the happiness hormone)!
Actually, the drumstick tree which is sole genus in the flowering family Moringaceae acquires its name from “murungai”, Tamil for drumstick tree. It’s related to the mustards from the genus kingdom of Plantae. Oh yes, a lot of research has been carried out on the goodness of the drumstick tree and it’s a much prescribed tree in Indian medicine schools.
But regardless of all this it is absolutely one of my favorite trees to look at when in bloom and when the drumsticks start growing tantalizing long and fat….drumsticks do make a delicate soup too. Just steam cook, scrape flesh and seeds from within, add hot water or a good stock of your choice veggie or non-veggie and flavor with bit salt, black pepper, lemon juice. Use rice flour or even besan for a thicker consistency you may fancy. Enjoy drumstick soup on a rainy evening my dears!

DRUMSTICK CURRY

TAKE two or three medium fat drumsticks; wash and cut into two pieces and cook medium heat in just enough water to cover. When more or less tender, take off fire and cool, scrape out the drumstick “mava” as some call it. Keep aside.
NOW make the koddi or curry: With a cup of curd and two cups of water. Add in the leftover drumstick water. Add a heaped tablespoon of gram flour or besan and churn with a wooden churner into a smooth textured soup, add salt to taste, a teaspoon of haldi (turmeric powder), inch piece grated ginger, give the curry one more light churn and add in the drumstick “mava.” Put vessel on the stove to bring curry to a simmer.
When you get a medium thick but not too thick a curry, give it a tadka/phodni/tempering in a teaspoon of oil of choice…when hot add in teaspoon jeera, half tsp cloves, pinch of hing, a sprig of curry leaves. Pour in the hot drumstick curry gently and carefully on low heat, stir. Garnish drumstick curry with chopped fresh green coriander and serve with rice/kichdi (laced with a dollop of desi ghee) or phulka.
Note: Some folk prefer to add ajwain (thymol) seeds to the phodni instead of jeera, in this case be alert for this spice burns quick and you don’t want that. If you’re not using grated ginger in curry, you may use grated garlic….although I like to grate in garlic as a final touch before serving. No matter what anybody says, garlic is good for the soul and a special flavor-giver!
Hey, I’ve been catching up with Dr Belle Monappa Hegde or Dr BM Hegde’s very trenchant, humour-filled video talks on the subject of how to stay fit and sane these days. He’s cardiologist, professor and amazing fund of encyclopedic experiences, must be pushing 80s now…anyway, he makes for some very engaging listening too and I’m getting terribly addicted to him. He says garlic is good but eat it freshly peeled, then only it’ll do you good, crunch a clove of garlic daily. You may forget all the pharmaceutical sanitized versions. Listen to Dr BM Hegde.

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