s a child, I always remember that it was those vegetables that I was told were good for me were invariably the ones I disliked the most! And now it’s always the things that aren’t good for me that I really like!! Guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles…….
Greens were a staple in our diet as children. This was partially because my parents loved them and they also figure in a major way in our traditional Palakkad Iyer style of cooking. Our cuisine uses quite a variety of leaves collectively referred to as “keerai” (mostly of the amaranth family) and drumstick leaves in various dishes, though we never eat our greens raw. Despite being a community that is purely vegetarian (we do not eat even eggs traditionally), we rarely ate our vegetables or greens raw and salads are almost unheard of!
As a child, the more common greens used in Indian cooking today like spinach, mustard greens, fenugreek greens, etc., were exotic stuff because they were not used in South Indian cooking. We only got to eat those on the rare occasions when we visited family in the Northern parts of the country, who were a bit more adventurous in their cooking and cooked chappathis and parathas unlike the traditionalists.
While greens of any kind weren’t exactly favourites, I used to like some of them cooked in certain ways. Mulagootal (vegetables/ greens and lentils cooked with coconut) made with a variety of greens called “arkeerai” is an all-time favourite. Keerai Mulagootal with Parippu Thogayal ( a thick, coarsely ground chutney of coconut and roasted lentils) is an unbeatable combination, as it is with “Curd Rice” (South Indian rice with yogurt).
“Keerai Poduthuval” (stir-fried amaranth with rice and coconut ) which I shall post one of these days, is another favourite as is “Keerai Mashiyal”. The name is self-explanatory as “Keerai” means greens and “Mashiyal” means mashed. Keerai Mashiyal is sheer green power in every sense because it is nothing but lightly seasoned and slightly spicy mashed greens. As is true with most of the preparations from our traditional cuisine, there is very little in the way of spices in this dish but thept the bare minimum and this really brings out the freshness and flavour of the greens.
I do not find thethe variety of greens available back home in the South, but spinach comes a very close second in taste when used to make this Mashiyal. Serve as a side dish with sambhar or have it the way I like best, with “Curd Rice” (South Indian rice and yogurt).
Keerai Mashiyal (South Indian Style Seasoned Mashed Spinach/ Amaranth Leaves)Ingredients:3 large bunches of spinach1/4 cup water1/4 tsp turmeric powderSalt to taste1 1/2 tsp sesame seed oil (or any oil of choice)1 tsp mustard seeds1 1/2 tsp black gram lentils (urad dal)2 or 3 dried red chillies, broken into 2 or 3 pieces1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
Method:Pick the leaves along with some part of the stem (tender part) and wash them well. Immerse the leaves, for half an hour, in water to which about a couple of tsps of salt has been added. This ensures that any micro-level critters are taken care of! Drain the water out and rinse the leaves a couple of times.Lightly steam cook or microwave the spinach leaves with very little water. Usually, turmeric is added to the spinach leaves while cooking. I prefer to add my turmeric much later as it keeps my Mashiyal a nice bright green colour rather than a slightly yellowish green. The taste is much the same and its just a matter of preference.Let the spinach cool and then mash them well. Alternately, break down the leaves using a hand blender. Traditionally, the leaves should not be puréed but have a bit of texture to them. I however do not like small bits in my Mashiyal, so tend to purée the spinach.Put the mashed spinach into a pan and place it on the stove top. Add salt to taste and turmeric and just bring to a boil and then let it simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Take it off the heat. Transfer the Mashiyal into a serving dish.In a small pan, heat the sesame seed oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the black gram lentils. Stir till they start browning and then add the red chillies and the asafoetida powder. Do not let it burn. Stir once or twice and pour the tempering into the mashed spinach.Stir well and serve warm as a side dish with rice. This recipe serves 3 to 4 people.