Moringa. What’s the fuss all about? Yes, the world might have put moringa on the pedestal as a superfood but across South India it has been an integral part of the diet for years. Moringa is also the botanical name (Moringa Oleifera) for drumstick that takes its name from Murungai (Tamil) or Muringa (Malayalam). While it grows in most parts of India, it’s probably more ubiquitous in Southern India. It’s also common in Burma, Cambodia and Thailand where the drumstick is often cooked in curries with seafood.
Drumstick trees are ‘deep rooted’ in folklore and legends across Southern India, it’s also one of those rare trees where every part can be put to good use. The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds and flowers are all used in traditional medicine and now it’s become common to see Moringa powder in gourmet and health food stores in the US. The leaves and drumsticks are a significant source of Vitamin C and rich in minerals like iron – one of the reasons why it’s always been recommended as a nutritional source for children or expectant mothers.At a time when the presence of pesticides in vegetables and fruits have become a huge concern, drumstick is one of the safest options and almost organic by default. The trees don’t need much care or rainfall and there have been quite a few recent instances when farmers have turned to cultivating drumstick in drought hit areas in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the global reach of moringa.
Cooking with Drumsticks
Drumstick and sambar are inseparable; it’s almost the default option for drumstick in kitchens in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The drumstick lends a subtle yet fragrant flavour to the sambar, and most often kids are encouraged to chew on the drumsticks to max out on the nutrients.
The vegetable is also commonly used in avial in Kerala along with an assortment of other vegetables. But the drumstick does more than just float in sambars and avials; it adds a great element to gravies cooked with meat. If you’re willing to labour in the kitchen and remove the inner flesh from the drumstick (after boiling it), you can make scrumptious lentil vadas or add it to the drumstick leaf (Murungai Elai) soup. The drumstick vada can also be made with drumstick flowers.
Recipes to Try at Home
1. Murungakkai Masala
Recipe by Chef Jagadeesh, Chef de Partie – South Indian cuisine, The Westin Chennai Velachery
Drumstick dishes are usually not common place at luxury hotels, they are certainly not ‘cutlery friendly’. This home-style recipe makes a great accompaniment with pepper rasam and rice.
3 cloves garlic
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
For the Masala:
1/3 cup grated coconut
½ tsp fennel seeds
For the Tempering:
2 tsp cooking oil
7-8 curry leaves
2 small cinnamon sticks
1. Clean and wash the drumsticks, and remove the ends. Cut it into smaller (finger-sized) pieces.
2. Heat oil, add the tempering items, garlic and onions (after the spices splutter) and fry till golden brown.
3. Add the drumstick, red chilli powder and stir, then add small quantity of water to cover the drumsticks. Cover with a lid and cook till tender.
4. Grind coconut, fennel seeds with a small quantity of water to make masala and add to the drumsticks with salt to taste.
5. Cook till the gravy becomes thick.
2. Drumstick Mutton Masala
Recipe by Latha Natarajan
I first tried this dish at a home in Chettinad and was amazed at the flavour the drumstick adds to the Mutton masala. Mrs Latha Natarajan in Chennai is a storehouse of information on Chettinad recipes. This is her recipe; that works best with steamed rice or dosas.
½ kg mutton
2 drumsticks, chopped into finger-sized pieces
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground pepper
½ tsp turmeric powder
A small bunch mint leaves
2 sprigs curry leaves
A few sprigs fresh coriander leaves
1 ½ tsp fennel seeds
2-3 small coconut pieces
1 bay leaf
1. Pressure cook the mutton with ginger garlic paste, salt and turmeric powder for 5 minutes and keep it aside.
2. Grind separately the onions, tomatoes, fennel seeds and coconut.
3. Heat oil in a pan, add bay leaves, cloves and fresh mint. Then add the onion paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste.
4. Add the chilli powder, pepper powder and garam masala; cook well. Then add the coconut and fennel paste.
5. Add drumstick and sauté it. Add the pressure cooked mutton along with the broth to this mixture and boil on a medium flame till the drumstick is cooked. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
3. Thrissur-style Drumstick Sambar
Recipe by Madhavi Kutty
I’ve often found the best sambar in Kerala in the Thrissur, Ernakulam and Palakkad belt. Wedding Sadyas (feasts) in this part of Kerala are almost always judged on the sambar and the payasam (kheer). This is a typical Drumstick Sambar recipe from one of the tharavads (anscestral homes) in the Thrissur area where the strong presence of coconut works really well in tandem with the flavour of drumstick.
1 cup toor dal
3 drumsticks, chopped into finger-sized pieces
10 onion shallots
2 small tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies
½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp salt
A small ball of tamarind (size of small gooseberry)
1 ½ Tbsp sambar powder (this usually contains red chilli powder and asafoetida)
1 tsp mustard seeds
2-3 sprigs curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
½ cup freshly ground coconut
4 tsp coconut oil (you can substitute with rice bran oil but it doesn’t taste quite the same)
1. Soak tamarind in water and keep aside.
2. Pressure cook toor dal and keep it aside.
3. Boil drumsticks, tomatoes, shallots (use half the quantity), turmeric powder, green chillies, and salt.
4. Extract the tamarind water from the tamarind and add it to the above sambar mix and let it boil for a few minutes.
5. Stir fry coconut with the other half of the shallots in coconut oil. Blend this in a mixer once it cools down. Add the sambar powder to this mixture and then blend this with the toor dal. Add this mixture to the boiling water.
6. For the tempering: add mustard seeds to 2 teaspoons of coconut oil; once it splutters, add curry leaves and red chillies.
7. Add this to the sambar and garnish with fresh coriander.
About the Author:
Ashwin Rajagopalan is a cross cultural training expert and lifestyle writer. When he's not writing about food, he thinks about gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.