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  • Tanisha Phanbuh

Greens you didn't know you could eat!

People living in the cities have gotten too used to the regular vegetables that the healthier greens and native herbs have been forgotten. Here's a small note on greens eaten in smaller towns and villages that are healthy and different !

There is this general misconception that people of the Northeast of India eat only meat, we in fact eat plenty of greens! They might not be highlighted as popular dishes because, well veggies are generally overlooked and underated so here I am, telling you about a few greens you may or may not know about or know that they're edible ! These are greens I have grown up eating - I may have made faces about it back then (I know I know) but I definitely miss them now.

Let me tell you, whichever tribe of the Northeast it may be, we treat greens & veggies very simply - consuming them raw, or boiled or very slightly, stir fried. Believe me, nutritional content is best received when you treat them simply.

Have you ever wondered how most people of the NE have good skin? I think it's the diet..., and maybe the genes, but definitely the diet!

1. Chayote leaves, tendrils and young stems

The leaves, tendrils and young stems of the Chayote plant are also edible and frankly pretty tasty. In most of Northeast India we call Chayote Squash or Piskot or Iskosh (variable pronunciations of the same)

Give them a good wash - roll all the leaves and stems together and slice them to a rough centimetre guage. Simply, add sliced onion, smashed garlic and finely chopped ginger to hot mustard oil and then add the shredded greens. Give it a good stir and season it and once they have wilted but are still a vibrant green remove from the heat. That's it!

These leaves are wide and pliable too so you can even use them as a wrap as you would with grape leaves.

2. Ja-ut

A member of the chives family, the Khasis call it Ja-ut. It is eaten raw along side everyday meals and can be treated the way we normally uses chives.

Ja ut is a power source of iron and helps lower high blood pressure.

3. Sichuan pepper / prickly ash leaves

World wide the peppercorns of this tree are known for their pungent, tongue swelling/numbing flavour. Popularly found across most Asian countries, this tree has prickly leaves and thorns, rather, sharp spikes.

The leaves of the sichuan pepper tree although prickly, have wonderful flavour. It is a great aromat to add to stews or add to fish while steaming.

It is also used in stone ground chutney's with dried fermented fish or fresh herbs.

The flavour is peppery but is not as stingingly sharp as the berries.

4. Pennywort

Pennywort in general, have round leaves and a low-growing habit. It is quite a wonder herb with many healing properties ranging from improving blood circulation, to arthritis, to cardiovascular problems.

When I was a child, I remember the raw leaves being roughly pounded and applied over a cut or wound to stop the bleed. I know for a fact it helped a person dear to me with curing piles. It can be lightly pan fried in a light vegetable oil or even eaten raw as a salad if you can.

5. Fish wort

One of my favourites! It grows wild all over my garden in any empty spot of land it finds. It is a low growing herb with a tangy unique flavour that I honestly cannot categorise under just one flavour profile. It's got an intense herby earthy flavour but also feels refreshing and pungent but no, it is not umami.

Khasi's love it as a salad with raw chopped onions, green chillies and tomatoes (+ the leaves roughly chopped or torn). I would eat this almost everyday. The stems and cleaned roots - stone ground - make delicious chutney's too!

6. Jyllang

Jyllang (in Khasi) will definitely confuse you; you may think it belongs to the spring onion family but some say it belongs to the garlic family. I say it is both and neither at the same time.

The green leaves are stiffer and harder as compared to those of garlic chives or spring onions. The bulbs themselves are crunchy, give out a sting and taste earthy unlike the sharp spicy hit that garlic gives. Jyllang is also known to reduce blood pressure.

Locally, jyllang is eaten raw alongside daily meals (like chewing on a celery stick); it is also an accompaniment in a snack platter we love- Tungtap (dried fermented fish chutney) & boiled red potatoes.

7. Saw toothed coriander/culantro

I grew up hearing people call this Burmese coriander and only later found out it was called saw tooth coriander.

This amazing herb requires the particular climate of southeast Asia to survive and thrive. I have tried to bring it with me to the city so I can have it grown in a pot but it never survived.

A single leaf can brighten a pot of soup or stew. It tastes like coriander but it is very intense; it almost has a faint kaffir aroma to it.

Since the leaves are a little fibrous and tough it doesn't blend into a very smooth paste but it does make for delicious aromatic chutneys too.

8. Fiddle head fern

Fiddle head fern grows mostly in the hills. In the northern belt, in Uttrakhand, it is called lingude. As in the picture, this is a more mature version that is thicker stemmed in size.

In the Northeastern belt, different states have different names for it, like - tyrkhang in Khasi or Dhekia Xaak in Assamese.

They use the young and tender plants of fiddle head fern which look more lush and the tendrils are like springy ringlets.

It is mostly stir-fried and eaten regularly during it's season by locals. As a tourist, you will find it as a part of the Assamese thali if you order one.

9. Local Spinach

Spinach leaves and stems tend to vary in shape and thickness depending on where it is grown. This is what grows locally in Meghalaya. They are short and stubby clusters of spinach that are ground creepers. We have a little dense patch growing under our staircase; they are thick and glossy leaves with juicy stems - great for blanching, stir fries or pot pies.

I used to be obsessed with the cartoon Popeye the sailor man and bugged my mother into replicating the spinach he ate out of a can, silly days!

10. Rosella leaves

Last but not least, another favourite of mine - Rosella. You may commonly know this plant for its red flowering buds that you consume as hibiscus tea; chefs these days have started using them in desserts, jams and the like while bartenders use hibiscus for their syrups.

In the Northeast we use the leaves a lot! It is sour and tangy and makes this really tasty vegetarian saag dish that the Assamese community makes. It also makes for great chutneys.

The Garo tribe of Meghalaya wilt the leaves in a pot and store it to use as and when needed. It is called Galda. Only a handful is used at a time and personally I like it best with pork and chicken. They make this really simple but very delicious stew of pork - Wak galda - that gets it's flavours from the galda and nothing else! The sourness tenderises the pork further; combined with the fat of the pork and sometimes potatoes -the stew is light, smooth and tangy.

I had come across these handful of pictures in my storage bank and therefore decided to share them. There is so much more to cover, that I shall be doing soon! Till then be inspired to find more greens from your local farmer or a farmers market and try something the regular staple vegetables - happy cooking!

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