Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Praise be to the mothers for the awesome Moringa dishes!

I would never have imagined reading about "Murungaikkai" in the New Yorker.  Another example of why I am such a fan of this magazine that I have been a subscriber for years now!

Before I get on the autoethnography train, a quick note first on Murungaikkai.  In the old country, drumstick is the English word for that.  You can, therefore, imagine my confusion when I was fresh off the boat and when I came across chicken drumstick ;)

The vegetable drumstick is from Moringa tree.  The New Yorker essay, which is about the moringa as superfood, notes:
In India, where Moringa was first domesticated, two thousand years ago, the pods are commonly used in a popular dish called sambhar, which subdues their flavor in a rich gravy.
I never cared for murungaikkai in the sambhar.  My favorite though was the dish my mother made with the tender leaves from the moringa tree: முருங்கை இலை பொரிச்ச குழம்பு   I drool now thinking about that dish.  Food is not merely about calories and nutrition; they are important pieces of the human stories that help me understand my existence.

In the old culture, centuries of experimentation with various plants resulted in the kinds of tasty foods that my mother and other women in the extended family cooked.  Many of those are now being replaced by "modern" foods at such speeds that I wonder whether I will ever get to eat that dish after my mother dies; perhaps, I will wander about like the food critic, Anton Ego, whose memories of his mother's cooking are kindled by the ratatouille ;)

The New Yorker comments about the moringa leaf:
Its leaves, like cilantro, taste best when removed from their chewy stems, a tedious process when cooking large quantities. Both the leaves and the pods contain an oil that gives them a bold, peppery flavor—like arugula, but stronger—which can be off-putting to some palates.
Ah, but when cooked like how my mother does, those leaves are magical elixirs.

The mothers who cooked and served the moringa leaves for their families were treating us to superfood, which is now eagerly sought after by the affluent:
For now, Moringa is gaining more popularity among wealthy, Western superfood enthusiasts than among the underserved populations of the dry tropics. Powdered Moringa leaves have become a trendy ingredient in power bars and smoothies in recent years. “We’re hoping Moringa becomes the new kale,” Lisa Curtis, the twenty-eight-year-old founder of Kuli Kuli, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in Moringa snack bars, powders, and energy shots, told me. The Kuli Kuli Web site, which refers to Moringa alternately as a “miracle tree” and a “supergreen,” states that the plant roundly outperforms kale, with “2 x protein, 4 x calcium, 6 x iron, 1.5 x fiber, 97 x vitamin B12.” (Olson said that he hasn’t seen data to support these nutritional claims, but that the nutrient profile of Moringa oleifera “does at least rival or exceed that of milk, yogurt, and eggs, serving for serving.”) Superfood fans are already biting: this past year, Whole Foods began carrying Kuli Kuli’s products nationwide. According to Curtis, the company sold a million dollars in Moringa products in the first six months of 2016.
What is unfortunate is this: It is not clear whether people, especially in the poorer countries, understood the value of the moringa:
Olson is skeptical of the Moringa fad within wealthy health-food enclaves. “Trumpeting dried Moringa as the cure du jour for people in the rich West misses the real potential of this plant,” he said. He sees Moringa as a kind of anti-superfood—not something to be frittered away as a luxury supplement, like açaí berries sprinkled on oatmeal, but to be used as a staple, an essential form of sustenance. Fahey agreed. “When you look at maps of the areas in the world where Moringa grows, and then at maps where populations are undernourished, it’s amazing—they almost exactly overlap,” he told me. And, given the pressures of climate change, this correlation may strengthen in the coming decades.
If only my grandmothers were alive to chuckle at how an age old practice is now being labeled as superfood, and that too in a world that will rapidly become hot and dry!

Wikipedia includes this about moringa:
It can also be used for water purification and hand washing, and is sometimes used in herbal medicine
Both Wiki and the New Yorker essay missed out on another important feature of the moringa--its status as an aphrodisiac.  Wait till the scientists figure that out; your inboxes will soon be flooded with moringa spam emails ;)


Mike Hoth said...

I'm a newlywed man, I don't have need of aphrodisiacs yet. Give it enough years for that fire to need an extra kick and moringa leaves will be old hat and cheap. That's when I'll jump on the bandwagon! ;)

Ramesh said...

You are hereby excommunicated from the fraternity of Tamils. You are expelled from all association with "Madrasis". You are banished to far away lands and never allowed to return. Your very name will be expunged from the list of illustrious sons of Tamil Nadu. Blah Blah Blah.

You "never cared for murunggaikai in sambhar" ? :):):)

Anne in Salem said...

I know two people from Agua Caliente, and both would laugh at the amount Whole Foods customers pay for the crop in their backyards.

How much can we exploit the native population in order to feed the food faddists?

Is this something I need to eat when I visit? I'm not a huge fan of arugula but like horseradish in moderation.

Sriram Khé said...

hehehe ... I didn't care for murunggaikai in sambhar back then, and no change of heart over the years. But, the moringa leaf dish, yes!!!!!!!!!

Anne, in this case--and thankfully--there is no exploitation of the natives in order to provide superfood for the wealthy. Moringa grows like a weed, and there is no shortage of it. Further, even back in India, not many people like to eat the moringa leaf dishes--I doubt if even Ramesh longs for the moringa leaf ;)

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