WONDERFUL LEAVES FOR CULINARY PURPOSE IN INDIA AND ELSEWHERE…. colocasia leaves, banana leaves, termeric leaves, jackfruit leaves, screwipine leaves and many more to make life and living eco-friendly and sustainable.

By Tara Narayan

AND so another Dassera and Deepavali is here and I’m thinking if I had garden of paradise I would definitely have Kashmiri “maval” (cockscomb, velvet flower, “brain food” the Kashmiri people say) flowers growing in my garden, also all the temperate climate flowers of magnolia, roses, chrysanthemums, crocus or saffron and not so temperate marigolds, sontak lilies, golden chaffa, nag chaffa, kanika champa and mogra, jasmine, jui, raat-ki-rani, above all the harshingar also called parijat!
Don’t ask me why I’ve got flowers on my mind this week, it’s because of these piles and piles of chemically cultivated hot-house marigolds I’ve been seeing all over Panaji market vicinity and which don’t have an ounce of “gauti” scent enshrined in them! If you’re asking me scent is akin to the soul in a flower and most of us do cheer up when a flower sends out a Mother Earth scent of floral lightness, so sublime scent it evokes something timeless, someone much loved in memory now…we also associate flowers of the season with our various rites of religious celebration. Flowers are love!
Also leaves like those of the banana, coconut, mango, turmeric, neem, and some more…remember the bilva leaves for Lord Shiva, the betal leaves for some goddess, mango leaves for marriage ceremonies, also banana leaves are precious and most of us want to eat our best meal on banana leaves rather than fine porcelain or gold and silver platters to show off the gross wealth of the government at the expense of its suffering people!
During a religious festival I feel I have grown up cherishing and eating traditional food on leaves or dry leafy containers pinned up with twigs, for example, jackfruit leaves pinned up into bowers to steam the khotto or gundu idli of Karnataka…I consider divine idli! Various batters steamed up in leafy containers always taste so good and healing with their heady aroma of the leaf — be it banana, turmeric, screwpine or jackfruit leaves and then there are the heart-shaped leaves of the arbi/taro plant (leaves of the Colocasia esculenta with green or pink stems) which are layered with a savoury batter, rolled up and steamed up into the much loved delicacy of “colocasia paatra” which come in Maharashtrian, Gujarati and Parsi avatar. Steam and eat straight with ghani fresh til oil, or cut and stir-fry with tempering and seasoning and garnishing with fresh chopped coriander leaves. An evening treat like no other.
SOME leaves one may not eat but they are useful for steam-cooking and sometimes shallow-frying only; for example, the Parsi community’s “patra-nu-machchi,” usually pomfret fish stuffed with enticing green coriander, mint, green chillies and grated coconut chutney, folded in a banana leaf and steam cooked…opens to a steaming aromatic deliciousness, enjoy!
Out in the countries of the Orient and South-East Asia they put lotus and screwpine (daun pandanus) leaves to good use too and I recall a favourite “nasi pulut” I used to relish often by way of an after school treat – a triangle of translucent glutinous rice topped with meltingly dark knob of palm jaggery-grated coconut, a most flavour full combo. The treat comes wrapped in a banana leaf cone. Lemon leaves too play a key role in flavouring curries out in the countries of the east.
I’M convinced we should return to cooking only in cast iron ware, terracotta and leaves — using fresh ingredients by way of herbs and spices! Amongst traditional kitchen ware you will always find a variety of steamers of bamboo or copper and there is the stainless steel idli steamer which can be put to a variety of uses to put health-conscious food on the table for children.
Adults and seniors too who may not have good dentures prefer their food nutritiously soft and palatable! Most times seniors forget to stay hydrated and oftentimes starve themselves for reasons they know best and so their immune system is low and open to infections. Seniors’ immunity needs to be boosted to remain strong and disease-resistant. Most seniors, I’ve noticed, suffer malnutrition first which contributes majorly towards many a chronic health issues. There are reasons for this, find out what!


NEW IN TONCA, PANAJI: Aurawell Healthfood Cafe & Lifestyle store courtesy Vaikunth S Dempo…here you will find a range of premium coffee, A2 ghee, stone-ground sattu, millet pancakes, keto crackers, organic garlic oil and much more. Sit and order yourself coffee and blueberry pancakes drizzled with honey, take a look at the menu, the wellness spirit is catching on slowly but surely in capital city Panaji. Very nice, thank-you!

THIS is to say if you’re in Panaji you must drop in at the brand new Aurawell Café & Lifestyle Store for a healthy cup of coffee! I had gone to my favourite Jeevan Rekha chemist’s at Tonca, when my attention was caught by this brand new café and health food store. You may find here a whole lot of super foods like various pancake mixes of oats and millet, etc, organic jaggery, oils, even protein-rich “sattu” which the health-conscious including our growing atheletic folk the adding to their shakes of dairy or soybean milk or oat milk or rice milk, coconut milk (ideal for me!) and other non-dairy milks.
Manager Savio D’souza here said they’re brand new and their menu is limited as of now but they could do me a coffee and blueberry pancakes, the menu will grow soon. There are some desirable goodies from some of our best known health food companies in India like Two Brothers. I may be wrong but this is surely Panaji’s first health food lifestyle store cum cafeteria.
It’s Vaikunth S Dempo’s baby, he owns the brand name of Aurawell Essentials and I discovered also a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda (of bestseller “Autobiography of a Yogi”fame, there was a melava of devotees at the International Centre Goa in Panaji, recently). But to stay with Aurawell healthy lifestyle store you must drop in for a bit of peace of mind over coffee! Check it out. Of course seeking health is always a costlier business nowadays.
WHICH reminds me I made myself pretty sick eating out at this upmarket cafeteria at Tonca Circle and kept wondering what it could be. Most likely a badly put together savoury poha which I relish when made fresh and with a light touch of seasoning…it must be the rancid peanuts in it I think and I realized it but didn’t realize it till much later. When the next day I came down with the itches across body beautiful and felt like scratching my fingers off!
(Sigh) It’s a fact that many of these come-lately fancy upmarket places (non-Goan) cut corners by storing half-cooked food stuff in deep freeze or large storage Frigidaire to cut work short when an order comes in…and one never knows what and much of it may have gone bad in it! I mean I know a place which gets its samosa in bulk from Indore as frozen food to be thawed out and used in a specific time in Goa. I mean, a frozen and thawed-out samosa will definitely NOT taste like a freshly made the same day samosa at say any one of our popular Goan eateries down town.
This is to say if a snack doesn’t quite taste freshly made, skip it. Sometimes even spice powders and treated nuts for shelf life lose their flavour and may be in fact infected with fungal formation. On may not even realize this while eating although clearly, something is not quite right… (sigh) let me say it’s hard to find homely snacks like savoury poha out in fancy places.
BUT do you know where I found a savoury poha? The best! Yes, at the Manipal hospital’s lovely annexe cafeteria which floods with natural light. Sodexo is no longer here and in its place is Quess catering for hospital meals for patients and family. Manager Shailesh Virnodkar here smiled to a query and told me Quess now has 45 branches all over India doing health-conscious meals, and Manipal hospital is just one of them.
One late breakfast I found the most agreeable poha here and later for tea-time some tempting cutlets, best this side of town…good chai too! The meal deals for Rs90 are decent and can compete with GMC hospital Sodexo meals. I told Shailesh bhai that senior patients love Mangalore buns, if he could put include these on their tea-time menu. He promised to look into it.
Of course there’re industrial junk foods here too but I thought the sandwiches looked better and picked up the only biscuits worth eating, Oreo. Since I do hospital rounds every now and again these days I’ve also discovered many things of trivial or not so trivial interest, keep watching this space to stay sane!

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