The backyards of the village houses in South India are abundant store houses of varieties of greens. Houses in cities which are blessed with small gardens are also adorned with at least a small ‘ keerai pathi’ (Greens patch). Anything in abundance tends to lose its value. And sadly, although ‘keerai’ is used quite frequently in the day to day cooking, a keerai meal for a guest is usually looked down upon!
The nutritional and therapeutic value of the various keerais which grow luxuriantly on their own is astounding. Introducing a variety of greens to the children other than their favourite 'palak paneer' dish will ensure them an all round healthy development. Amaranthus or Thandu Keerai Mashial is one of my favourite greens dish.
This dish reminds me of a story which my maternal grand father had narrated a long long time ago. Grand father loved to tell stories and we loved to listen to him because he made it a very exciting, interesting and humorous experience for us. His animated style of narration, his timing and his punch lines made us sit glued in front of him for hours together except at times when we held our stomachs and rolled on the floor with uncontrollable laughter!
Here goes the story about a man who hated keerai, that grandfather used to almost act out for us! Once the short tempered man lost his temper, when wife served him keerai. He ground his teeth, ranted and fumed and trashed the keerai dish spilling it all over the floor and splashed on the wall. It so happened that he licked a bit of the keerai which had also splashed over his lips. No sooner did he taste the keerai, he knew he’d thrown away a good dish. However, he needed to save his ego and so …he bellowed at his wife yet again, “SUVATRU KEERAIYE VAZHI PODU DEE VETKAMKETTAVALAE!” Meaning “SCOOP UP THE GREENS FROM THE WALL AND SERVE, YOU SHAMELESS WOMAN”. He had to cover up his own shamelessness by calling her shameless!
If only we could all put away our prejudices and tried to take a wider view of (not just the dishes) all that matters, what a great experience that would be!
There is another story which my grandfather had narrated about Tenali Rama, The proud King and Keerai Thandu. While the storyline is very funny, my husband thinks it’s not suitable for a food blog!! My grand children always roll on the floor laughing, when I narrate it to them!
Thandu keerai ( Amaranthus) – 1 big bundle.
Tur dal (Red gram or Split pigeon peas) – 1 cup
Turmeric powder – 1 pinch
Ground nuts soaked in hot water for 15 minutes - ¼ cup (Optional)
Salt – ½ tsp
Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp
Split black gram – 1 tsp
Asafoetida – 1 pinch
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Oil – 1 ½ tsp
1. Pressure cook dal with 3 cups of water and turmeric powder to a mushy consistency and keep aside.
2. Cut off the roots, wash the keerai well and chop it. The stem can also be chopped along with the leaves provided it is tender. This is the tastiest part of the vegetable, and provides a good texture as well. If the stem is too fibrous its best to discard it.
3. Heat 1/4 cup of water (just enough to cook the greens) in a heavy bottomed pan and add asafoetida and cumin seeds.
4. Add the thoroughly washed and chopped keerai to it.
5. Cover and cook until the keerai and its stem become tender.
6. Lightly mash with the back of the ladle and add the cooked dal.
7. Add salt.
8. Blend well and add the pre soaked ground nuts (optional) and cook for a few more minutes.
9. The mashial should be thick. (If it becomes watery add a paste made of 1 tsp of rice flour and water and blend into the keerai.)
10. Heat oil and season with mustard seeds and black gram dal.
Thandu keerai mashial has a unique flavour and it is a tasty healthy dish. My children who are not all that fond of keerai, lap it up when ground nuts are added to it!