At Panaji’s gauti pavement market early mornings… edible flowers of the drumstick tree (also called horse raddish tree), pumpkin flowers, banana flowers also feature in Goan cuisine

By Tara Narayan

THESE days anew I’m fascinated by edible flowers! This morning at the gauti pavement market outside Panaji CCP Municipal market there was a woman vendor who had this pile of fresh creamy blossoms of the drumstick or moringa tree and she said, buy, buy, Rs50 per heap of the flowers. I said give me just Rs5 worth because I’m new to them and want to check them out with a small quantity, but she said nothing doing, take Rs50 worth or take nothing. I said I will take nothing and took her advice to go, go or move on! The thing is what will I do with so many moringa flowers in my family of two seniors only? Let others who know what to do with them buy her drumstick or moringa or saijan phalli ke phool.
But ever since though I’m wondering about the pretty mound of flowers which are actually considered by many Indians as a culinary delight, even in Goa. How can one possibly cook drumstick flowers, I wondered. Why should one cook flowers, can one not eat them au naturale? The fact is many flowers are edible and make for great garnishing atop a salad or soup or meal — not to discard but to savor! Think fragrant rose petals in kheer and atop halva (and gulkhand is a summertime cooling rose petal and parval that is wax gourd jam in Indian Ayurveda tradition)…
I haven’t got around to tasting drumstick flowers but am told they’re the closest thing to mushrooms! I popped a single flower in my mouth and it was quite an enchanting moment of discovery – neutral in flavor really but a fleeting sweetness and then a little bitter astringency. I don’t think one may chew off a tablespoon of moringa flowers, they need a little treatment of the cooking kind clearly.
Down south India they are in love with the fruit of the drumstick or Moringa oleifera tree and the thought of a drumstick redolent sambar or rasam makes my mouth water! Drumsticks also feature primarily in avial, Kerala’s most loved veggie medley to go with soft lacy rice hoppers or appam… this is to say the narrow stringy or riper fat green pods of the drumstick tree are familiar to most of us.
Actually the word moringa is ancient and comes to us from the Tamil word “murangai” meaning “twisted pod.” And in recent times of course many health researchers think the drumstick tree is one of our trees of life – a super food tree worth its weight in gold standard values. As in eat the leaves (“muskachye bhaji”in Goa), flowers, drumsticks. I don’t think one may boil or steep the leaves to arrive at a drinkable de-tox water however!

LIKE throughout these times of corona virus I have taken to boiling tulsi leaves to arrive at a pale green exquisitely agreeable water tea and I’m sure that’s what’s saving me from the corona virus demon! Sometimes we don’t know what is saving us gracefully, so obsessed are we with all that is destroying us in mind and body, heart and soul! I drink pure fresh tulsi leaf water tea every morning when the sun rises on my balcony and feel very blessed most mornings.
Similarly I know one may steep or bring to a boil many flowers or leaves to arrive at a pleasant fragrant water tea like green tea or chamomile flowers tea or hibiscus tea and they can be very sedative or serve as a cheer me up tonic at any time of the day. Drink water teas, my dears.
But these days I’m wondering if I may steep drumstick flowers in hot water to arrive at a pleasant to drink water tea? Must try it out. These days I’m discovering floral water teas. Boil the crimson-hearted harshingar flowers or lime flowers or neem flowers – not too strong okay – and drink up. One may get dry chamomile flowers and chamomile tea is very sedative, puts you to sleep joyfully ever after…in Japan they market dry chrysanthemums to brew into water tea.
But back to the drumstick tree! This is one very special tree which is being raved about currently – nutritionists say cook its confetti-styled oval leaves in a bhaji, cook the drumsticks in south Indian-styled recipes (what is sambar without drumsticks and a purely drumstick rasam is divinely delicious), stir in some of dry leaf powder (drumstick or moringa leaf powder which is being hailed in health food stores as a super value addition food)…into a lassi or buttermilk or soup or whatever to create a sauce, drink or in salad dressings. Drink it up or eat it up. Hey, don’t overdo but patronize the drumstick tree in all the ways you can! Leaves, powder, flowers, drumsticks.
The nutritional glories are said to be manifold and enshrined mainly in the flowers, leaves and seeds in the drumstick. Said to be loaded with vitamin B1, B2, B3, vitamin A and vitamin C, also there’s calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium. If you have diabetes or insulin resistance eat drumsticks daily – they are said to regulate blood sugar levels. High blood sugar level is the main characteristic of diabetes which in turn leads to heart diseases.
The fruit of the drumstick tree, that is what’s in drumsticks, is known to reduce spiked blood sugar levels significantly courtesy plant compounds such as isothiocyanates – responsible for reducing blood sugar levels as well as enhance gall bladder function. This helps lower blood glucose level.
Tamilnadu’s ancient Siddha medicine respects the drumstick tree as a treasury of cures. In Ayurveda, the flowers are said to be a traditional Ayurveda tonic – nursing mothers get to drink drumstick flowers tisane by letting the flowers steep in hot water for five minutes before sweetening with honey… sip and slip into a nirvana snooze! Can also stir-fry flowers and serve as hor d’eurves too if you have a mind to do that, down south in Chettinad cuisine they make drumstick flower fritters or fryums (much loved).
Hey, one American study published in American `Journal of Neuroscience’ has it that drumstick tree offerings exhibit amazing aphrodisiac properties and improve testosterone levels, increasing sexual virility and the libido. Yes, in Ayurveda drumstick flowers are recommended to improve sperm count. So guys you may want to drink drumstick soup and rasam and eat salads enriched saijjan phalli ke phool!
To conclude take a look at the drumstick tree when next you pass it in Goa. It’s one of our best de-tox trees so patronize it and de-tox yourself. Patronize leaves, flowers, drumsticks, like spirulina (dry green seaweed powder) even moringa powder is seen as a miracle worker.
Vis-à-vis culinary skills what I like to do is quarter and steam cook drumsticks, let cool before scraping out the flesh, adding water and turning into a soup … can garnish with the flowers I suppose. In Guju we call the drumsticks “saragvani sing” and I like to cook them, adding besan (gram flour), turmeric powder, dhania-jeera powder, grated ginger, garlic, tamarind juice, bit jaggery…cook into a yummy curry to go with an evening kichdi or even paratha. Add in some curd if you wish for that sour tang. Garnish with coriander leaves of course. Eat more fresh green things friends if you want to live healthy and happy! I also like to add drumsticks into my Guju buttermilk kadi.
Do a bit of cooking but don’t overcook to kill all enzymes with heat. Steam or stir-fry just so and no more. I’m not suggesting you eat saijjan ke phool au natural, okay. Which reminds me this is the season of green peas and it is getting over fast. I like to unfurl a green pea pod and pop a few peas in my mouth, they can taste tenderly sweetly green – don’t know why we don’t use green peas in chutney! Green peas are also plentiful in the market currently, make the most of them.

My Guju Drumstick Kaddi!
My Guju Drumstick Kaddi!

TAKE 2 not so fatso drumsticks. Wash and cut in one or two inch pieces. Do a buttermilk with a cup of thick sour curd and two cups of water. Add in a tablespoon of besan or gram flour, half-teaspoons of grated ginger, garlic, half tsps of turmeric powder, red Kashmiri chili powder, salt to taste – I use a rotating wooden hand beater to beat up the now spiced up buttermilk kaddi. Don’t overdo this. Lightly and gently.
NOW finally do a phodni/tempering of the buttermilk kadi. In a heavy bottomed vessel heat a tsp of ghee – when hot add half-tsps of cumin, pinch of hing, sprig of curry leaves. At sizzle point add in the drumsticks, stir fry a bit, pour in the buttermilk kaddi and bring to a boil. Add a small knob of jaggery if you wish. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve buttermilk drumstick kaddi with rice, kichadi or just chappati. Enjoy.

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