Superfoods in our backyards

Superfoods in our backyards

Every new year, gastronomic experts around the world, make a list of the superfoods for the year. Many food items that are part of our traditional cuisine are touted as superfood. Interestingly, moringa leaves, water melon seeds and tapioca powder made it to the list of superfoods last year. The list, which keeps changing every year, generally includes a variety of meat, vegetables and other kind of foods.

Many local vegetables, packed with vitamins and other essential nutrients, that may usually not be appreciated by Keralites are considered as superfood in the foreign countries. These vegetables, which are abundantly grown in our courtyards, are wasted as we are not interested to include it in our daily diet. If such vegetables become popular on our dining tables, then it would help to sustain the local markets as well.

Root vegetables are loved by people around the world, with the good old potato being one of the most consumed food items. Keralites love the evergreen combinations of boiled tapioca with fish curry or bird eye chilli chutney. Similarly, yams, colocasia, purple yams, taro and sweet potatoes, too, are popular. However, if we include these food items more often on our menus, then it would be helpful for the local farmers.

The use of yam and taro are limited to a few curries in the traditional sadya (feast) of Kerala. Many delicious and nutritious dishes can be cooked with yam, taro or colocasia as the main ingredient, or even added in avial or sambar. It would be amazing to include more such food items that are locally grown, in our diet.

The seeds of many vegetables are fit to be consumed. Besides, many of them are incredibly delicious and nutritious as well. The jack fruit seed which is available aplenty in Kerala is an amazing food item which can be cooked in different ways. The seeds of wild jack fruit, too, are edible and tasty. The health benefits of the pumpkin seeds are already known to the world.

In North India, seeds of various fruits and vegetables including pumpkin seeds and melon seeds or char magaz are ground into fine paste and added in dishes. It would be really beneficial for the local farmers if jack fruit seeds are included in the daily menu, especially during its season. Besides, it would also help to save on the monthly food budget if jack fruit trees are grown in our own courtyards.

The demand for leafy vegetables is increasing as people have realized its health benefits. There are many kinds of greens that are organically produced in Kerala. The red spinach and the green spinach can be easily grown in the courtyards or on terraces in grow bags. The fresh leaves and stem of taro or yam too are incredibly delicious. Theeyal (a vegetable dish cooked in ground coconut and spices), thoran (stir fry) and different types of mezhukkupuratty too can be made with the fresh leaves or stem of it. In some places, these leaves are added in fish curries too. Using locally available fresh vegetables in our diet is not only nutritious but also helps to control the rise in the price of essential vegetables.

A rich source of vitamins and beta carotenes, the moringa leaves have become incredibly popular around the world. It can be used to make tasty stir fries or added in dal curry. Some people use moringa leaves instead of curry leaves while preparing the mustard tempering. It can even be added in fish curries to make it more tasty and thick. In Sri Lanka, lobster cooked with moringa leaves is a specialty.

Though abundantly available in Kerala, jack fruits are not used in our cuisine as it should be, considering its taste and nutritional qualities. In many houses, ripe jack fruits are not even plucked from the trees and are often eaten by birds or just thrown away. It is a fruit, which can be cooked in different ways and can feed lots of people as well. From the raw fruit to the ripened and sweet bulbs, jack fruit can be used at its different stages. Food experts say that jack fruit has incredible medicinal qualities as well. Similarly the breadfruit too is delicious and nutritious. Fresh and locally available vegetables and fruits like these, which are quite expensive in different parts of the world, should be regularly included in our diet.

Organically produced local vegetables like ash gourd, bottle gourd, ivy gourd and ridge gourd are cheap and easily available.

Pappaya is another tasty and nutritious fruit which is widely grown in Kerala. Though raw papaya is not consumed directly, many delicious dishes like thoran or avaial can be made with it. Cooked papaya can be added in different rice dishes, as well, to add texture and flavor to it. One of the most amazing features of papaya is that it is available during all seasons.

This time, we could make a New Year’s resolution to use locally available fresh vegetables as often as possible. Vegetables like carrot, potato and cauliflower, which came from distant lands, could be used only after consuming the ones that are grown at our own courtyards.

Yam, taro, colocassia, tapioca, radishes, pumpkin, bread fruit and jack fruit can be either grown at our homes or purchased from the local markets, before purchasing other costly vegetables. Fresh mangoes, ginger, gooseberries and Indian coffee plums can be preserved by pickling it. If organic and fresh vegetables are regularly purchased, the demand for it will go up, forcing the local farmers to cultivate it. It would help to improve our indigenous and traditional farming techniques as well.

The local produce should always be our first choice of ingredients, so that, it would make us healthy and also support the farming sector of our area. Make it a point to cook only locally grown vegetables at home. Other vegetables which are imported could be purchased only when you want to eat a special dish cooked with it, or try out different dishes and cuisines when you are dining out.

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