Today I’m sharing a recipe I discovered recently – Manathakkali Keerai Kadayal. Let me start at the beginning though. I have mentioned before that I’m lucky have a vegetable seller bring me fresh local and seasonal vegetables t my door. She comes twice a week and also brings me a variety of fresh greens. I find that people in Kerala don’t really cook much of greens beyond amaranth and moringa leaves. Fenugreek and spinach leaves are rather recent arrivals here. So I get pretty excited when my vegetable seller brings me fresh greens like Arakeerai and Manathakkali Keerai (Amaranthus dubius)which are quite common in neighbouring Tamilnadu.
Manathakkali Keerai is a variety of edible greens belonging to the Solanaceae or family (Solanum nigrum or Deadly Nightshade). The plant grows a small bushes with small white flowers and tiny tomato like fruit which are sweet when ripe. We sun-dry the fruit with yogurt and salt to preserve them for cooking in dals/ lentil curries. Manathakkali Keerai are supposed to have a lot of medicinal value. Traditionally, it is believed that consuming it in summer helps reduce body heat and also help with diseases like jaundice, chicken pox and measles. This Keerai or greens/ spinach is used to treat mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers and other stomach related infections. The juice of the fruit Manthakkali juice is considered good for acne, pimples and a glowing skin.
I cook greens a few ways but know how to cook these greens only a couple of ways. So I asked for recipe suggestions in a Facebook group I’m in. I got quite a few suggestions including Manathakkali Keerai Kadayal. This dish calls for onions and garlic as ingredients and a seasoning called “thalippu vadagam”. Thalippu Vadagam are small balls of an instant seasoning full of flavor that is used in various Tamil recipes, especially from Chettinad. They’re made with different spices, dried red chillies and loads of onions and garlic all ground together and rolled into small marble sized balls.
As far as I can understand, the word Kadayal for this recipe comes from the process of breaking down/ mushing the cooked greens with a Traditional wooden churn. This is a spicy dish of greens cooked with split moong lentils, tamarind and spices. Kadayal is different from Kootu or Molagootal because there’s no coconut in it. It isn’t like Mashiyal either though the greens are mashed because Mashiyal has no lentils in it.
I have cooked Keerai Kadayal here using Manathakkali Keerai or greens. You can cook this same recipe using other varieties of greens as well. You can use the leaves and finely chopped tender stems of the greens as well. I always soak all greens in salted water before chopping them up. This takes care of all critters possibly hiding unseen in the leaves. We typically do not cook greens during the monsoons or the rainy season. Our elders used to tell us that greens contain unpalatable and indigestible chemical compounds during this time of the year.
A couple of other things to note. This dish is best made with Indian shallots or what we call Madras Onions or sambhar onions. They give you the best flavor, though you could substitute with the bigger red onions. Thalippu Vadagam is another flavor marker in this dish. If you cannot find it, you can season the dish with mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, split black gram lentils/ urad dal, a bit of asafetida, 4 or 5 sliced shallots, and curry leaves.
Manathakkali Keerai Kadayal
For the Kadayal :
- 1 bunch Manathakkali Keerai or greens
- 1/2 cup soft cooked split yellow lentils moong dal
- 1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- 2 to 3 green chillies halved and slit
- 10 to 12 Indian shallots/ Sambhar onions halved lengthwise
- 1 medium tomato chopped
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 to 2 tsp tamarind pulp
- Salt to taste
For the Seasoning :
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 balls Thalippu Vadagam
- 1 large dried red chilli broken into three
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- Start by prepping the Manathakkali Keerai/ greens. Trim and discard the roots. Use only the leaves and tender stems of the greens. Soak all greens in salted water before chopping them up. This takes care of all critters possibly hiding unseen in the leaves. Rinse and chop the leaves and tender stems into small pieces, but not very fine.
- The split moong lentils/ dal should be coked quite soft. Do not discard the water in which it has cooked.
- Heat the sesame oil in a largish pot. Add the garlic and chopped green chillies and stir fry for a few minutes. Then add the shallots/ sambhar onions and fry till they’re soft and just beginning to caramelize. Add the chopped tomato and cook till soft.
- Stir in the turmeric powder and tamarind pulp. Drain and keep aside half of the water used to cook the lentils. Add the remaining water and the cooked split moong lentils/ dal to the pot. Add the chopped greens and salt to taste. Let this cook for about 5 to 10 minutes till the greens have cooked.
- Take the pot off the heat. Using a wooden churn or “matthu”, or a potato masher if you don’t have one, mash the greens-lentil mixture till it has broken down a bit. You don’t want a pulp, just a cohesive mixture.
- Put the pot back on the stove and add the water that was earlier set aside from cooking the lentils. Bring to a boil, and cook for a couple of minutes till you have a thick soup/ stew like consistency.
- Heat the oil for the seasoning. When it is hot, break up the balls of Thalippu Vadagam into the oil along with the broken red chillies and curry leaves. Do not burn. Pour the seasoned oil into the Kadayal.
- Stir in the seasoning and serve hot with rice, ghee and pappad or fried vadam (rice crisps).