After I began exchanging food trivia with readers and fellow food enthusiasts, my senses not only began to get more attuned to seasons but also the untainted taste of simple local ingredients.
Last year while walking through the neighbourhood of my growing up years, I continued to look closely at all the trees that dotted the sides of the road. Because one particular memory kept popping up….that of plucking tender green leaves off a very young tree and chewing on the sour notes happily. Back then we did as we were shown so I never really paid attention to what tree it was!
Little did I realize that the young tamarind trees of my early childhood which had low hung branches within easy reach of a child’s grasp were now in fact the the same ones that towered over the tarmac offering a canopy of soothing shade in these summer months. Let me tell you, the realization of that forgotten ingredient came to light much later.
A month ago we had a family celebration and we asked Chef Ajeeth Janardhanan (who has is currently heading the kitchen at the newly restored Residency Towers) to help us with the menu planning. He suggested, among many other dishes, a tamarind leaf fish. Not only did it turn out to be delicious, it brought back the memory that my taste buds were struggling to find a name for…the tender tamarind leaf. It’s very popular in the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh where it is referred to as “chinta chiguru”. Chinta is tamarind in telugu while chiguru is the new leaf.
Considering we have tamarind trees growing throughout our state, it makes me wonder why this ingredient isn't used much around here.
The tamarind picking season is between mid January and early March. After that the trees look a little dry and wait to shake off the remaining fruit that dry on the branches. A few weeks later the same trees can be seen cloaked in a more vibrant hue.
The new leaves and shoots are easily discernible by the pale green and pinkish tips. The tender tamarind leaves don't give the lip puckering sour taste that one associates with the tamarind fruit…no,this is more a milder more subtle kind of tangy flavour that is more suited to lighter summer flavours.
The season for these new leaves is obviously quite short. It starts from mid April until early June. Some enterprising cart vendors do carry daily fresh stock of these young leaves but if you can’t find it, just hire someone to strip some tender baby leaves off the tamarind trees in your neighbourhood.
If you’re wondering what to cook with it, the options are many. A chinta chiguru pachadi is a peanut chutney flavoured with young tamarind leaves. These leaves can be used as a substitute for any sour ingredient like lemon or aged tamarind or even instead of nattu thakkali in a rasam. The sour taste is due to the presence of Vitamin C and tartaric acid.
Like any seasonal ingredient, these too contain unique health benefits which aren’t available during the rest of the year. The young green leaves are a rich source of iron, calcium and minerals as well as offering precautionary wellness against a host of ills that plague during the rainy season.
With my day’s pickings I’m all set to enjoy a variety of dishes featuring this unique ingredient. Tamarind leaf paruppu with hot rice and ghee for lunch and a tasty chutney to go with my idlis for breakfast. I cannot tell you how fabulous it feels to enjoy a sustainable diet comprising of local foods. Give it a try and see for yourself!Chinta Chiguru Pachadi
Tender tamarind leaves- a big handful washed and dried
Roasted peanuts- 1 C
Dried red chillies-2 -3
Salt to taste
Peanut oil-1 Tbsp
Garlic- 1 clove
For tempering; curry leaves, mustard seeds and small dried red chilliesMethod
Take a deep pan and fry the chillies and garlic in 1 tsp of the peanut oil .Set aside.
Add a little more oil (2 tsp)to the same pan and saute’ the tamarind leaves on low heat until it turns colour and is cooked.
Add it the roasted peanuts, garlic, chillies, salt to a mixie jar and pulse it to a powdery consistency.Then add the tamarind leaves and enough water to grind into a smooth mixture. Check seasoning and adjust.
Set it aside in a serving dish.
Heat the remaining oil ,when hot add the mustard seeds, dried red chillies and curry leaves.Once it crackles, turn off the flame and add it to the peanut tamarind leaf mixture.Mix well and serve with idli or dosai.