Saturday, 22 October 2011

Drumstick and Other Edible Flowers

View from the Roof: Drumstick Tree in Bloom
The Drumstick tree is an incredible tree. Nearly every part of the tree is edible: leaves, flowers, pods, seeds, roots and even bark. Right now, one of the five drumstick trees in our common garden is in bloom. The flowers I discovered only recently, are not just edible; they're delicious. If you're lucky to have a drumstick tree, it wont hurt to occasionally sample a bunch or two. But since the flowers go on to produce pods, it's inadvisable to amass all the flowers.
Drumstick (Moringa) Flowers
With input from my mother, here's a simple Drumstick Flower recipe that I devised.
Ingredients for My Drumstick Flower Recipe
Drumstick flowers - 2 cups
Freshly grated coconut - 1 cup
Green chillies - 2
Cumin seeds - 2 tsps
Oil for frying
Turmeric - 1/4 tsp or as per taste
Salt - As per taste
Grind the coconut, chillies and cumin to a coarse paste. In a pan, fry the paste in oil for a few minutes. Pick and thoroughly wash the drumstick flowers. Add the flowers and a little water to the pan. Add salt and turmeric. Cover and cook till done. The dish should be ready in about 10 minutes.
Cooked Drumstick Flowers
The flowers taste a bit like mushrooms or banana flowers. Banana flowers are however quite laborious to prepare and can be astringent, if not cooked right.
Fennel Basking in the Sun
Another 100% edible plant, from flower to bulb is Fennel or Saunf. My Fennel plant on the rooftop is currently in full bloom. The flowers along with the seeds are delightfully sweet, which are food not just for humans but a variety of insects. Mid morning, when the sun is shining brightly, there's a swarm of insects hovering over the fennel flowers.

In India, fennel is most popular as an after-meal mouth freshener and digestive aid. It also features in several Kashmiri and Gujarati cuisines. Surprisingly, the spice doesn't figure very much in south Indian cooking, despite the fact that it grows very easily here. Just sprinkle a few store-bought seeds in the soil and you'll be rewarded with plenty of fragrant fennel. If you plan to grow them in containers on the rooftop like me, you may want to water them twice a day on very sunny days, lest they wilt. Otherwise, fennel appears to be hardy and well suited to Chennai's hot climate.
Golden Fennel Flowers
There are a few other flowers in our garden that fall into the edible category.
Aparajita or Butterfly Pea: I recently planted Aparajita in one of my containers. It's another easy-to-grow plant, which will add colour to a garden, perennially. The flowers are deep blue and have a unique shell shape. While I am attracted to the flowers, so are the neighbourhood squirrels. Every morning, there may be several aparajitas that have bloomed. But the squirrels tramp around and by evening they are reduced to shreds. These flowers are edible and are used to colour food. At Auroville, you may be able to buy yourself a bottle of Aparajita syrup, which has a refreshing, rather unique flavour.
Hibiscus: Another source of food colour and syrups are hibiscus flowers. They're also used to flavour tea. But I doubt the hibiscus flowers from our common garden have ever found their way into a kitchen. We mostly use it for worship.
Hibiscus rosa sinensis
Jasmine: The queen of fragrances, this flower is used to scent tea. Recently, I received a tin of Taiwanese Jasmine tea from my neighbour. The delicate fragrance and flavour of the tea was heavenly, almost intoxicating. Jasmine Tea is a specialty tea from China that is supposed to have health benefits. Having savored Jasmine tea, I wonder why we don't have other Jasmine flavoured food and drink.
Arabian Jasmine. Other Names: Moghra, Malli, Mallika, Mulla, Sambac,Yasmeen, Sampaguita
While there are over 200 species — both shrubs and vines — belonging to the Jasmine genus, our garden has just two varieties. We have two Arabian Jasmine bushes, which sadly rarely ever bloom. (Recorded just two blooms this year.)
Star Jasmine Vine
And then we have a Star Jasmine vine, which has climbed all four stories of our building. These flowers aren't as fragrant as most jasmine, but they're always around, dangling like pretty white stars.

There are so many edible flowers around us. But how does one really go about using them in the kitchen? I'm on the look out for flower recipes. If you have a flower recipe to share, please drop your comments.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Mooli - The One Month Wonder

Having read Geekgardener's detailed post  on how easy it is to grow Mooli (Daikon Radish), I thought I'd experiment. Just 38 days later, the result was three crunchy Moolis. Moolis are ready for harvest in just 30 to 40 days of sowing. A few of the seedlings didn't make it to being full-grown Moolis, but I've been duly compensated with plenty of Mooli leaves. Potatoes and Mooli leaves are a good combination. The tops can also be used to add extra bite to a soup, salad or raita.
From Garden to Table in 38 Days
The Moolis were grated (not peeled) and added to curd for Mooli Raita. You don't want to be peeling and wasting any part of a homegrown Mooli!
Radish Tops
This vegetable is a great way to introduce oneself to vegetable gardening. Now that I know how easy and quick it is to grow, I am planning my second batch.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Black Pepper, Bonsais and Fruit Trees

The title of this post sums up the highlights of my mother-in-law's garden. Last weekend, my family and I visited my in-laws, who live in Bangalore. An avid gardener, my mother-in-law has created a charming garden over several decades. The garden is well-balanced, one that has fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flowers and ornamental foliage plants adequately represented.
L to R: Fern, Begonia, Unknown, Lime, Rose, Succulent, Orchid Crown of Thorns, Ornamental Foliage and Anthurium
A Section of the Garden Downstairs
The narrow strips of land bordering the house are cluttered with plants and trees of various kinds. Many fruits and vegetables grow here, leaving just enough space to move around. On the other hand, the roof garden is well organised and more ornamental. Here, the family enjoys its evening tea sessions.
The Family Chai Adda: Part of the Roof Garden
Besides other plants, the roof garden has an an envious collection of succulents. And though I was given several specimens of these, I must admit, I haven't quite succeeded in growing them. Could I blame my failure on the humidity of Chennai or is it my habit of over-watering that did them in? Succulents and cacti, though hardy, need to be watered carefully and I haven't really figured it out.
A Succulent. Harvested Paddy Hanging Beside It
Rose Tinted Succulent
Another Fleshy Succulent
The roof garden also boasts of two dainty bonsai trees. They are both Ficus benjamina that have aged gracefully over nearly two decades. While I have been witness to their re-potting, there are many other tricks of the bonsai trade that I am yet to learn. Pruning, wiring and careful watering are few of the secrets.
Ficus Benjamina Bonsai
Ornamentals add beauty to a garden. But homegrown vegetables and fruits are what truly delight us. Currently, the list of fruits and vegetables include limes, bitter gourds, pumpkins, pomegranates, custard apples, chikoos and coconuts.
Bitter Gourd Creeper Climbing on the Water Well
Near the entrance of the house is the Chikoo or Sapota tree. This tree seems to be perpetually brimming with chikoos that are intensely sweet. While the outside of a ripe chikoo looks and feels like sandpaper, the inside is soft and almost creamy. No wonder sapotas are excellent in milk shakes. Picking sapotas at the right stage is very tricky. They can be picked before they ripen, but if picked prematurely, they remain stone hard and will not ripen. Yet, if one were to wait for the fruit to ripen on the tree, chances are that they will be eaten by bats. (Fruit bats are hugely fond of Chikoos.)
Sapota or Chikoo Tree
The two coconut trees, planted by my husband and his sister in their childhood are also extremely prolific. My mother-in-law has to constantly find ways of distributing the hundreds of coconuts that are harvested each season. While some are given away to the coconut tree climber, some make it to the neighbours' kitchens. Still others are carried all the way to Chennai, whenever they visit us. The remaining coconuts are dried and used as copra.
Under the Coconut Tree
At present, one of the coconut trees supports a Black Pepper vine. As you can see, the vine is laden with pepper corns. Yet, this was not always the case. Apparently, Black Pepper needs plenty of mulch at its roots as it likes moist soil. It was only after my mother-in-law added loads of coconut husk fibre at the base of the vine, that the pepper yield increased. I also learnt from her how peppercorns get their various colours. The green unripe peppercorns are picked and dried in the sun to get black pepper. To get white pepper, the same black pepper is boiled and its skin is removed. And if you want red pepper, wait for the green unripe peppercorns to ripen, just as you would tomatoes. 
Unripe Pepper Corns on the Vine
Our trip to Bangalore was also marked by a visit to the famous Lalbagh gardens. For those who don't know, the Lalbagh Botanical Garden initially a garden created for Mysore royalty in the late 18th century  is a sprawling garden and a botanical study centre of international repute. We had a delightful picnic lunch under the trees there. And after lunch, we did some garden shopping at the nursery. While I chose some seeds and bulbs, my mother-in-law bought large sacks of horse manure and vermicompost. No doubt her plants are well fed. But they thrive for another reason: Tender Loving Care (TLC). My mother-in-law regularly talks to her plants. A little love goes a long way.
At Lalbagh Gardens: Bottle Brush Tree in Bloom