Bengalis and South Indians have always used drumsticks in their food. In a Bhaja in the east and in Avials and Sambars in the South where the murungakkai is a familiar ingredient with its three sided pod filled with flesh and seeds. Not a lot of people know however that the drumstick tree, Moringa oleifera, is a goldmine as it has several other edible parts all of which have wonderful nutritional and medicinal properties. Our ancestors did though…it is recorded in ancients Sanskrit texts that the leaves are an antidote to 300 diseases! They are believed to have antibiotic properties and are anti carcinogenic.
There are tales of miraculous cures through the use of the drumstick tree and it is no coincidence that many kitchen gardens in rural areas feature a hedge of Moringa Oleifera.
Since the tree needs lots of sun , is hardy and drought resistant, surviving as it does on rainwater and poor soil, it is a perfect for conditions in many parts of this country and is a boon to people in this part of the world. A gift which has, unfortunately, been ignored and largely under exploited .
Known as Mothers best friend , Tree of Life, and a Miracle tree in Africa, Moringa is actually indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas but it grows just as well in the plains .The Jaffna and Chavakacheri murunga varieties are cultivated in the south to produce long fruits. The Chemurunga variety has red tipped fruits and a high yield. Other varieties like the Palmurungai produce fleshy but bitter fruit .
The leaves are available throughout the year and are used as a vegetable. They contain seven times the vitamin C in oranges, two times the protein in milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, four times the Calcium in milk and three times the Potassium in bananas.
They can be eaten fresh or sautéed which makes them a rich source of nutrients. Mixed with grated coconut, red chilli powder, some shallots, mustard seeds and cumin powder it makes the Kerala Thoran. Tamilians and Sri Lankans saute the greens with prawns and fish for a fabulously fresh tasting dish. The leaf can also be dried and powdered and added to other dishes.
The fragrant yellowish white flowers and buds can be eaten as a vegetable. They do, however , need some cooking .They have a very delicate texture, are tender and succulent and will add interest to everything from an omelette to a sauce. Try cooking them with a bit of butter, garlic and salt for a side dish. The flowers and buds are also steeped in boiling water to make a lightly flavoured tea that is supposed to be a tonic and good for colds.
Drumstick seeds when immature are cooked in curries, or roasted or fried and eaten like peanuts or dried and powdered for use as a tea. Mature seeds are used to make Ben Oil or Moringa oil, a non sticky edible oil which has a light aroma and works well in salads.
The Moringa tree was also known as the Horseradish tree since the roots taste a lot like that condiment. After peeling and drying the root was grated and used in vinegar as a pungent relish. Today this is being discouraged as it contains alkaloids which can be toxic.
Any use of the leaves and pods is to be encouraged as its nutritonal value is astounding when compared to any other greens available.
Here is a Burmese recipe for a delicious drumstick and fish sour soup: Dunt Dalun Chin Hin
2 tsp sesame oil/ til oil
1 onion, finely sliced lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ tsp turmeric
3 tomatoes (green if possible)
1 cup torn spinach or other greens
2 cups drumsticks cut into 3” pieces and parboiled.
4-6 cups fish stock or boiling water
200 gms fish pieces.
¼ tsp dried shrimp paste(ngapi) or use a few dried shrimp.
Salt to taste
Method: Heat oil in a pan and fry onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and spinach and turn heat down. Stir in the turmeric and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil. Add the drumstick pieces and the shrimp paste .Cook for ten minutes till all flavours blend. Add fish pieces and simmer for 5 minutes more.
You can add noodles to the soup to make this a one dish dinner.