Soopa Shastra Part IV: Recipes for Vegetable Dishes

December 18, 2014
Mangarasa's recipes for dishes made with various vegetables span the next two chapters of Suashastra. These include recipes for twenty dishes with eggplant, twenty dishes with plantain bananas and banana flowers, thirty six dishes made with gourds and pumpkins and sixteen dishes with jackfruit. What I found most intriguing about these recipes is the use of unusual spice combinations, the definite absence of chili pepper (which reached India only after another hundred years) and innovative cooking methods and the use of khoya (thickened milk), paneer (fresh cheese) and milk in both sweet and savory dishes. Although cooking with yogurt is quite prevalent in south Indian cooking, to my understanding use of milk, khoya and paneer in savory dishes is not very common.  Here is a sampling of some of these recipes that showcase his exemplary culinary repertoire.

Eggplant

A Brief History of eggplant - Eggplant (Solanum melongena) also known as aubergine or brinjal is a member of the Solanaceae family.  Although botanically a fruit, it is usually cooked as a vegetable. According to the Oxford Companion to Food it originated in India. Today some twenty different varieties are grown in suitable climates worldwide. The name eggplant developed in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand because the fruits of some eighteenth century European cultivars were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen's eggs.  Eggplant is not an appropriate name for the purple colored varieties found in Western countries. The name for the vegetable in British English is aubergine and in Indian and South African English, the fruit is known as a brinjal. Aubergine and brinjal, with their distinctive br-jn or brn-jl aspects originate from Arabic and Sanskrit. In Trinidad it also goes by the Latin derivative melongen. The domestication process increased the fruit size and weight, and altered the prickliness, flavor, and flesh and peel color, a centuries-long process. Eggplant arrived in Europe both through invasion of Spain by Moors and by means of Italian trade with the Arabs in the thirteenth century.

Mangarasa's Eggplant Recipes
Sweet Eggplant dish
– Combine tamarind water and jaggery in a pot. Stir in ginger, black pepper, cumin and sesame seeds and boil this liquid. Strain the cooked liquid through a clean cloth and add fresh cut ginger and coconut pieces. Cut the eggplant into pieces and cook three fourth of the way. Add the partly cooked eggplant pieces to the cooked liquid. Season with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom, asafoetida and curry leaves fried in oil. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves. This will be a fragrant, pleasantly pungent, sweet and sour eggplant dish.

Milky roasted Eggplant - Brush ghee over a whole eggplant and roast over burning coals. After roasting on all sides sprinkle salt and black pepper on the eggplant. Boil milk in a pot. Cut pieces of grilled eggplant and put into the milk and boil until all the liquid has evaporated. Add more ghee and black pepper. It is a tasty and healthy dish.

Spicy Eggplant dish - Cut the eggplant into small pieces. Cut an onion also similarly. Heat ghee in a pan and sauté the onions and eggplant. Add salt and black pepper and keep stirring. In a pan toast sesame seeds, grated coconut, chana dal, urad dal, grated ginger, lemon or tamarind juice and add this to the eggplant along with ghee. Cook for some time. Pack the cooked eggplant in dry turmeric leaves to keep it hot until it is time to serve.

Stuffed Eggplant - Roast the eggplant in a grill and split it in the middle. Scoop out the middle of the pieces and stuff with salt, black pepper, onion, sesame seeds, dried pumpkin cake pieces and paneer parched in ghee. Close them and pan fry in ghee. Cut into two pieces and add onion and sugar and close and pan fry again in ghee.

Plantains
Thousands of years ago pioneering seafarers of the Malayo-Polynesian Islands are believed to have traveled across the Indian Ocean and brought plantains, water yams and taro to India. Plantain grows abundantly in south India and it is cooked in many different ways. Every part of the plant is used in some way or other in cooking; even the thick peal of the plantain is used a vegetable. But Mangarasa's innovative plantain recipes showcase some unusual spice combinations, stuffed plantains and even cooking plantains with milk.  

Mangarasa's Plantain and Plantain Flower Recipes
Stuffed Plantain -Take well grown raw plantains and cut them in the middle without removing the skin. Boil them in water and take them out of the pot. Take out the pulp from the pieces without cutting through the skin. Take the carved out middle portion and cut into small pieces. Mix it with salt, black pepper, sugar, ginger, sesame oil, sesame seeds and grated coconut. Season with pollen of hibiscus flowers. Smear salt inside the hollow pieces and then fill with the spiced banana mix. Pan fry in ghee and flavor with fragrant flowers and keep in a closed pot until time to serve.

Plantain ball curry - Steam cook raw plantains and peel off the skin. Press the cooked plantain into crumbs. Mix with black pepper, salt, turmeric, ginger and onion. Shape into small balls and deep fry in ghee or oil. Add the fried balls to thick yogurt diluted with water. Garnish with grated coconut.

Spiced Plantain Roast - Roast firm raw plantains over burning coals and then peel the skin. Grind black pepper, salt, cumin seeds, dry ginger, onion, curry leaves, and coriander leaves together into a smooth paste. Dip the plantain pieces in the paste. Take a wet bamboo split ring and keep in on a coal stove. Place the plantain pieces on the bamboo ring and brush with ghee and yogurt and roast until all the liquid has evaporated. Garnish with cardamom powder and edible camphor. This fragrant roasted plantain dish is rich in taste.

Mildly spiced Plantain in Milk- Remove the skin of firm raw plantain and cut them lengthwise into three pieces, and then again into smaller pieces. Boil them in water. Then sauté them in ghee. Grind grated coconut, sesame seeds and salt and mix with milk. Cook this liquid until it has thickened well. Add the sautéed plantain pieces to this sauce and season with mustard seeds fried in ghee. Garnish with coriander leaves. 

Steamed Plantain Flower - Steam cook plantain flower and then cut into small pieces. Sauté the pieces in ghee along with fresh ginger, onion, black pepper, toasted coconut, edible camphor, clove, cinnamon leaf, cardamom, rose water, coriander leaves, curry leaves, asafoetida and yogurt. Season with mustard seeds toasted in ghee. Transfer it to a mud pot dressed with fragrance of your preference. 

Plantain Flower in Milk - Boil plantain flower in water and squeeze out the water and after it has cooked. Grind grated coconut, salt and black pepper and stir into milk. Add a lump of butter and cook until it has thickened well. Now add the cooked flower to it. Cook rice flour with water to make a soup and stir in the plantain flower mix to it. Add some milk, grated coconut and season with ghee.

Gourds, Squashes and Pumpkins
Sibling members of the gourd family, various squashes and large cucumbers, green and golden skinned and white fleshed, mostly water; they are the perfect antidotes to the sultry heat of summer. They are largely cooked as vegetables and several plants of this species have been cultivated in India since antiquity.

Mangarasa's Gourd, Squashes and Pumpkin Recipes
Red Pumpkin in Buttermilk
- Peel off the skin a red pumpkin and cut it into thick large pieces. Take sour buttermilk in a pot and add powdered black pepper, turmeric and curry leaves and boil it well. Add the pumpkin pieces to this liquid and cook for some more time until the pumpkin pieces are cooked. Season with mustard seeds toasted in ghee.

Sweet Pumpkin Balls - Cut and peel a sweet red pumpkin and cut into small square pieces. Wash and dry them in the sun.  Then add fresh ghee to a pan and sauté the dried pieces. Make sugar syrup and stir in the ghee cooked pumpkin to it, and cook until it was mashed and almost dry. When it is cooled, shape into small balls. No added flavors or color.

Pumpkin with Tuvar Dal - Peel and cut a pumpkin into pieces and cook it along with tuvar dal. Add salt, tamarind extract, grated coconut, jaggery, black pepper powder and curry leaves. When the pieces are well cooked season with mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin seeds, ginger, and fenugreek, toasted in oil or ghee and garnish with dried ginger leaves and coriander leaves.

Fried Pumpkin Cut pumpkin and boil it in water. Then remove the skin. Cut the pumpkin into thin shreds. Make a thick paste of rice flour and water and dip the shredded pumpkin pieces in it and dry in the sun. When dried well, fry them in ghee and season with toasted coconut, black pepper powder, salt and jaggery. Dried pieces can be preserved for use later.

Bottle Gourd Curry - Peel the skin off tender bottle gourd and then cut and grate it. Squeeze out the liquid. In a pan fry curry leaves, coriander leaves, cumin seeds, fenugreek and salt in ghee and add the grated gourd to it.  After it is well cooked pack it in plantain leaves until time to serve. It absorbs the fragrance of plantain leaves.

Jackfruit
Jackfruit (Artocarpus heteropyllus) belongs to the mulberry family and is the largest edible tree-grown fruit in the world. This tree is native to tropical India, and from there it spread to Southeast Asia, East Africa and beyond. Today, it is widely grown throughout the tropics. Giant, thorny green jackfruits dangling languidly from tree trunks are a sure sign of summer in South India.

Mangarasa's Jackfruit Recipes
Milky Jackfruit Curry
- Cut a tender jackfruit into pieces and boil well until it is quite soft. Cut the cooked pieces into very small pieces. Sir in tamarind juice, salt and asafoetida and pan fry in ghee. Add thickened milk (Khoya) cut into pieces, grated coconut, onion and ginger cut into small pieces. Mix with thick yogurt and sprinkle black pepper powder on it. Season with asafoetida and turmeric fried in ghee.

Fried Jackfruit - Remove the skin from a tender jackfruit and cut into small pieces. Boil in water until tender. Drain the water and panfry the pieces in ghee along with salt and black pepper powder. Mash and shape them into small rounds and dip them in urad dal batter and fry in ghee until they turn red. Then dip them in a paste made of soaked horsegram ground with water. Pan fry in ghee and then add tamarind juice or lemon juice and cook for a few more minutes.

Jackfruit in sugar syrup - Cut open a ripe jackfruit and take out the ripe pods. Boil them in water. Prepare sugar syrup and stir in black pepper, cardamom, edible camphor and rose water or screw pine water. Add the boiled fruit to this syrup and cook.

Jackfruit in coconut milk - Boil a tender jackfruit in water until it is soft. Peel off the skin and cut into small pieces. Mix the pieces with milk, salt, and dry ginger and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Panfry in ghee. In a pot add coconut milk mixed with some milk and stir in sweet pieces such as cardamom, cinnamon or edible camphor. Stir in the cooked jackfruit pieces to this liquid.

Spicy Jackfruit Balls - Peel and cut a tender jackfruit into small pieces and boil in water and then drain. Grind tamarind, salt and coriander leaves and stir it into yogurt. Add turmeric powder and stir well. Add the boiled jackfruit pieces and ghee into this and cook. Cut coconut and thickened milk (khoya) into bean size pieces and add to the pot along with ginger, black pepper and garlic. Bake the whole thing over wood burning coals. Add cream as necessary to keep it moist. Take it out and sprinkle powders of cardamom, edible camphor and musk. Stir in raw mango and Indian gooseberry pieces and mix well. Shape into balls and pack them in betel leaves. Steam-cook the betel leaf packages. Take out the cooked pieces from the leaves and add jaggery, tamarind or lemon juice according preference.  


Resources:

Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Bhatt, N.P. & Modwel, Nerupama Y. (Editors)  Konatambigi, Madhukar (Translator) Culinary Traditions of Medieval Karnataka. B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi 2012
Doniger, Wendy Purāṇa perennis: reciprocity and transformation in Hindu and Jaina texts. State Univ. of New York Press, 1993.
Kamat, Jyotsna K. Social Life in medieval Karnataka, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi 1980
R. Narasimhacharya M.A., M.R.A.S History of Kannada Literature University of Mysore Publication 1940

Photo Cedit:
Photo of cook by Harsha K R https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Photo of Plantains by R.V. Ramachandran
Photo of jackfruit by Forest & Kim Starr creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN