Keerai (or Cheera) Poduthuval/ Thoran (Amaranth Leaves With Rice And Coconut)
I may be sounding biased but that's only to be expected because I’m talking about the food that I grew up eating, and now cook for a large part of our everyday meals. The truth however, is that my native Palakkad Iyer cuisine is definitely amongst the healthiest vegetarian (also largely vegan and gluten-free) diets in India, and possibly the world.
Our food is mostly stir-fried or steam cooked and uses very little oil and spices are always added very judiciously so that the natural flavour of the cooked vegetable/ vegetables shine through. Also, our everyday cooking is by and large an easy affair, and has time proven combinations of dishes that go together and are usually served together to make sure that every meal is a well balanced one.
Sure we deep fry some of our food, and we do make sweets and desserts which though delicious aren’t necessarily low on calories. However, in the old scheme of things, these food items usually made an appearance only during festive occasions or the odd occasion when the situation demanded it.
Getting back to the everyday dishes from Palakkad cuisine, they’re generally very easy to cook and sometimes it is the cleaning and chopping up of the vegetables that takes more time that the actual cooking of it! Our cuisine makes good use of seasonal vegetables and is mostly cooked with very little oil, stir-fried or pan cooked with a few spices, and usually features fresh coconut.
I know greens are not necessarily everyone's favourite vegetables but then they are good for you. I'm one of those who likes my greens cooked, and especially the way we do. You can find the other ways we cook greens, both Amaranth and Spinach in these recipes for Keerai Mashiyal (Mashed Spinach/ Greens) and Keerai Molagootal (Amaranth/ Spinach with Lentils and Coconut Gravy)
Today’s recipe is a slightly different way of cooking green or red Amaranth leaves (we call it “Keerai” in Tamil and “Cheera” in Malayalam) from the way we usually cook our “poduthuval” or “thoran” which are dry (without gravy) vegetable side dishes. Mostly, poduthuval or thoran are vegetables that are cooked till dry, tempered with a mixture of mustard seeds, husked/ spilt black gram dal (urad dal), curry leaves, chillies and hint of asafoetida and then finally finished a sprinkling of fresh grated coconut.
This preparation with Amaranth leaves or Keerai also follows this procedure except that, unlike any other recipe of this kind, a little uncooked rice is also added to the pan with the greens to give it some body (and flavour too), as greens tend to shrink in the pan when cooked.
I have seen versions of this recipe where split yellow moong lentils (moong dal) are used instead of the uncooked rice, but for me this particular Keerai Poduthuval/ Thoran is what it is because of the addition of rice.
The other version of making this Keerai Poduthuval/ Thoran (not the way we cook it, but as it is in the rest of Kerala) is to cook this with chopped onions and sometimes garlic. The rice is not added, but it is finished off with coconut as is done on this recipe.
- Trim the roots and the part of the stem of the Amaranth that is mature and fibrous and discard. Also pinch off the top flower/ flowering parts, if any, and discard. Wash the Amaranth well and shake off the excess water. It’s a good idea to submerge all of it in water to which a lot of salt has been added, for about an hour as this kills off any parasites that might be on the Amaranth.
- Chop the Amaranth leaves and the tender stems as fine as you can and keep aside. Heat the oil in a wok or pan and add the mustard seeds. Turn down the heat to medium. When the splutter (pop and crackle), add the lentils and stir. When the turn golden (do not let them darken) add the red chillies and the asafoetida. Stir a couple of times and then add the uncooked rice. Stir a few times until the rice turns white in colour.
- Now add the chopped Amaranth greens to the pan and stir. Also add the turmeric powder and the salt. Sprinkle a handful of water (or add about 3 tbsp water) over this and mix well. Turn the heat to low and let the Amaranth and the rice cook, uncovered. Stir occasionally to make sure everything cooks uniformly.
- The Amaranth will cook very quickly, and the dish is done when there is no water left in the pan, the Amaranth is moist and the rice is cooked. Note that the texture of the cooked rice in this will not be like that of regular rice when cooked but will be firm and not soft. If the rice feels uncooked, add another tbsp. of water and let it cook till done. Take care not to overcook the greens or they will lose their nutritional value.
*3 big bunches of amaranth should roughly yield about 6 to 8 cups of loosely packed trimmed and chopped leaves and tender stalk.