Indigenous vegetables, food ingredients make a trendy comeback

Foods like native veggies and moringa leaves, which are hard to come by in the markets, are being revived by chefs and home cooks, who aim to reap their health benefits through contemporary cooking styles.
Indigenous vegetables, food ingredients make a trendy comeback


Being concerned by the amount of pesticides that go into our vegetables, city-based home cook and farming enthusiast Kalpana Manivannan decided to grow her own vegetables over a year ago. As she began farming, she found that lots of native varieties of veggies, like the red okra, thorny brinjals and pear-shaped pumpkins were almost becoming extinct. 
“Any indigenous crop has its own pest control mechanism and doesn’t need an added fertiliser, while a foreign variety of crop doesn’t have the similar defense systems. As we began cultivating only certain kinds of crops, the native varieties have been gradually disappearing. Through my attempt to be sustainable and grow my own produce, I found out many such indigenous crops,” recalls Kalpana, who now grows around 60 kinds of veggies and herbs at her farm on the East Coast Road.
Among the less common ingredients that she grows are also native tomatoes, some of which are shaped like pears. Through her everyday cooking, Kalpana now attempts to use different parts of the plants she grows in different cuisines. “A few months ago, we had a lot of native pumpkins, there were also a lot of pumpkin flowers on the plants, which I decided to use by making fritters. We use the pumpkin to make South Indian curries and also Italian lasagne and Mexican dishes. The native vegetables might appear different in their shapes and sizes, but are packed with a lot of flavour,” she adds.
One may also note that ingredients like moringa (drumstick leaves) and makhana (fox nuts) have become more popular over the past few years. These foods are seen making a comeback in trendier forms like moringa teas and fox nut popcorn. Millets are being seen making a return through breakfast cereals. Chef K Damodaran, popularly known as Damu, has taken up several travels documenting lost recipes and ingredients. He finds the revival and return of country vegetables only natural, as people are on a pursuit to find healthier alternatives.
“We can see the culture of fast food consumption slowly going down and people keen on consuming vegetables and ingredients from the olden days. Country vegetables, like native varieties of gourds, pumpkins and bitter gourds are becoming increasingly popular.
Turnips (known as noolkol in Tamil) is another ingredient that’s being used again,” he notes. The chef also notes that local ingredients like sukku malli (dry ginger) and candied palm sugar are being used commonly again, with restaurants serving them in a variety of drinks.

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