Leafy greens are a popular staple in Indian cuisine. We’ve grown up eating Palak, Methi, Sarso, and other common Saags from our mother’s kitchen. But the rich variety of local leafy greens that India has to offer may leave you surprised. Come, let’s explore these lesser-known edible greens for a new and exciting taste sensation.
Gongura is a leafy plant which is medium in size and has broad, flat leaves that are flexible. There are two types of Gongura one is reddish-purple stemmed and the other is green-stemmed. The reddish-purple stemmed variety is sourer than the green stemmed variety. The sourness intensifies in summer. It is popularly found in Andhra Pradesh and is called Puli Keerai. The state produces the best quality Gongura. In Maharashtra, it is called Ambaadi, Pitwaa or Red Sorrel. It is a summer crop and the hotter the place the more sour the leaf gets.
Gongura has many culinary uses with the pickled version being the favourite. The leaves can be used to make any dish tangy and delightful. Gongura leaves are an excellent source of folate, riboflavin, iron, zinc, antioxidants, and vitamins A, B6, and C. Apart from this, the Gongura leaves are abundant in calcium too. They will keep fresh for up to five days when stored in the refrigerator. It is a multi-purpose plant also used for its therapeutic uses.
Amaranth, also known as ‘Chaulai’ is an almond-shaped leaf with a pointy tip. It looks like spinach and is found mainly in the foothills of Himalaya and South Indian coasts. The leaves come mainly in two colours, green and reddish-purple. Red amaranth has more pigments than green amaranth. The Amaranth seeds (Rajgir seeds) are also used in culinary to make ladoos or ground into a paste to be used in curries. Rajgir seeds are gluten-free. Both, the leaves and seed are known for their health benefits and are today’s superfoods.
Amaranth greens are used to prepare sabji and other curries. The younger leaves are tender and mild to taste but when they mature the leaves tend to get fibrous with a hint of bitter flavour. While selecting amaranth leaves pick up the ones that have small thin stems and don’t have any flower buds. The nutrients in amaranth make it important for these leaves to be a part of a healthy diet. It is a healthy source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and repairs muscle tissue, maintain collagen, aids digestion, and lowers cholesterol, and so on.
This is another variant of the amaranth plant. It is also called Arai Keerai or spleen amaranthus and is popular in Tamil Nadu. It belongs to the Amaranthaceae family of red amaranth. Arai Keerai is the amaranth leaves in the middle stages of its growth process. Amaranthus Dubius, red spinach, Chinese spinach, spleen amaranth, and Arai Keerai are all plant species. It makes a delicious substitute for spinach. It is a core ingredient in the preparation Masiyal. Made especially for post-partum and lactating women the dish has medicinal qualities. The amazing leaves are also used to make Vadai which is a delicious evening snack to boost immunity and growth. Arai Keerai helps in hair growth and reduces dandruff.
Moringa Oleifera is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree of the Moringaceae family. They are commonly known as moringa or drumstick trees. Moringa leaves, botanically called Moringa Oleifera, grow on the deciduous moringa tree that can reach up to twelve meters in height. The Drumstick tree has many names but has been nicknamed the miracle tree due to its insane amount of nutrition. All parts of the tree including the roots, flowers, leaves, and seeds can be consumed. The leaves are considered the most nutritious part of the plant. They have a slightly bitter flavour with herbal notes and are piquant to taste. Moringa leaves grow on a tree with drooping branches. They, especially the drumstick, are used in South Indian dishes for their hearty aroma.
Moringa leaves are considered a superfood and are an excellent source of beta-carotene, calcium, protein, vitamins C, B6, A, and E, potassium, and amino acids. As an antioxidant, it seems to help protect cells from damage. Moringa might also help decrease inflammation and reduce pain. Moringa leaves are highly nutritious and are widely used in traditional medicines. Moringa leaves are available year-round.
Pandan leaves are oblong-shaped narrow leaves that resemble the top leaves of a pineapple. Pandan leaves is a tropical plant Pandanus Amaryllifolius in the Pandanus genus. Pandan leaves are available year-round. Pandan leaves have a unique subtly herbal yet floral aroma when crushed and when cooked they release a nutty, almond-rose flavour with a hint of sweetness. Its aromatic leaves are used for flavouring the cuisines of Southeast Asia cuisines. The leaves are also used as a flavouring for desserts, cakes and rice preparation. In India, it is called Annapurna leaves and in Odisha, these leaves are used to lend aroma to rice and other preparations. These leaves are rich in essential oils, alkaloids, and glycosides, and are used to reduce fever and pain. The leaves are used in the perfume industry too and as natural air fresheners too. The essence may substitute for vanilla essence.
It is also called Malabar spinach. It is dark green, heart-shaped, and has a slightly glossy appearance. Malabar spinach, botanically known as Basella alba, Indian spinach and Basella. Malabar spinach just resembles spinach and can be used as a substitute for dishes and salads. Cooked Malabar spinach doesn’t wilt as fast as common spinach and it tends to develop more of a spinach taste when cooked. The leaves are thicker than spinach and have a mild piquant taste of citrus and pepper. Younger leaves are tender in texture and flavour. Unlike spinach, Malabar spinach does not acquire a hint of bitterness in summer. Malabar spinach is available year-round and thrives in a tropical environment.
Malabar spinach is used most widely in India. This tropical leafy vegetable acts as a thickening agent in soups thanks to its mucilaginous (moist and sticky) qualities. It can be sautéed as a vegetable or eaten raw. Overcooked Basale leaves can make it slimy. Malabar spinach absorbs and stores water in its leaves which gives a soothing effect to the body while digesting. It also offers healing properties. Juice from the leaves of Malabar spinach is known to reduce inflammation of the nose and throat.
All in all, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more leafy greens out there. If you have a favourite leafy veggie, we would love to hear about it in the comments below!