Thursday, November 15, 2012

Food and Vegetables of Sikkim | cooking simple recipes with a few of them...



Hello everyone. How have you all been? How the onset of winters is treating you all?

There was a silence on this blog as we were on a vacation in the mountains. We visited Gangtok and Darjeeling in the north eastern part of India and enjoyed loads of local food and culture. We always prefer to have a walk around the local markets and look around for local produce. Understanding a bit of local language, seeing how they dress up, how they generally live their lives. Life in the mountains is really very different from cities in the plains, most people walk to work, even kids walk to school chatting with friends and having a great time while walking. I saw the most happy faces walking slowly chatting with friends and giggling all this while. The life that is not running after one or the other goal-post and still on the move all the time. We tried to soak in the calmness and beauty and came back feeling exhausted and refreshed at the same time.


Seeing so many exotic looking vegetables in the markets was my high point. Many herbs and greens that are not easily available even in metros were seen being sold at pavement shops. Bok choy they called Chinese saag and Chives were called lasoon saag.



 The freshest of Carrots, Bok Choy and Borlotti or Cranberry beans (called Ghee beans in local language) were seen. I used to buy some carrots to keep munching on all the time. Borlotti beans were brought home to cook with them too.


 I saw the Trini herb called Chadon beni (as I have known from following this Trini blog), called Culantro in English and Bandhaniya in Hindi, on sale on one of the small counters and the seller told this is Sikkimese dhaniya patta and offered a piece to taste. I bought a bunch and got it packed in newspaper. This was at the Laal bazar of Gangtok. Read about Culantro in detail here.


The Culantro got all wilted but I used some of it for making chutney and the roots were planted. To my pleasure two of them sprouted new leaves and I will be growing my own Culantro if all goes well. You can see me grinning ear to ear :-)

This Cucurbit family vegetables was seen growing in many homes and gardens, and freely over hills and fences, possibly a popular vegetable there. I clicked this picture while walking towards Rumtek monastery...


Pretty miniature flowers and spiny little fruits...

This vegetable is called Chuche karela in local language that means beaked karela ( a bitter gourd with a beak), though the vegetable is not at all bitter. Just a hint of bitterness as we experience on Ridge gourd. I asked the seller how to cook and she instructed me to just stir fry with onion and chilly. And to remove the seeds if mature. So I did the same.


I left the softer seeds intact and removed the mature ones. To my surprise, the seeds had a cross mark on them. Very intriguing :-) I have sown them too, waiting for a creeper with miniature flowers in my own garden. Am I too greedy?


Coming to the recipe that is quite simple. I found most of the Sikkimese food very simple in cooking techniques but outstanding in flavors. There was no use of spices most of the times and the use of Dallae Khorsani (the round chilies of the region, similar to Naga chilies) made the difference in most dishes. We ate local foods most of the time and were appalled to see the simple flavors of a few fresh ingredients making the dish outstanding. Many time we kill the natural flavors of fresh greens and vegetables by over seasoning and over spicing. I dare not risk that with the precious baggage I brought home. The exotic vegetables.


This is the 10 minute stir fry made with the Chuche karela. I would like to know any other names if any of you know.

ingredients...
(2 servings)
200 gm chuche karela
100 gm chopped red onion
one Dallae Khorsani (the round chilly)
2 tbsp mustard oil
salt to taste

procedure...

Scrape the spiny surface of the vegetable if they are too spiny. Chop off the tips and halve them lengthwise. Then chop them into semi circle slices.

Heat oil in a pan and tip in the onion slices, cut to match the sizeof the chuche karela slices. Add the finely chopped Dallae Khorsani too. Add salt to taste.

 Fry till the onion starts getting pinkish brown. This is to be done on medium low flame.

Add the chopped vegetable and keep stirring and cooking till the vegetable gets soft and the onions are nicely caramelised.

Serve hot or warm with chapatis or as a side dish as part of a detailed spread.


The taste of the dish was quite similar to a miniature variety of Ridge gourd grown in Eastern UP and Bihar. That variety is called Satputiya (the one who has seven sons) as it grows in bunches of seven or more. Both the vegetables are anyways close relatives.

The heat of this chilly called Dallae Khorsani is very unique, quite hot to make the dish really spicy even when a single one is used, the flavor and aroma of this chilly is really unlike any chilies I have tasted yet. I am thinking why I didn't get a few kilos of this chilly to last me long. I know I will be buying it whenever I spot it. Even the Chuche karela for that matter.

For the time being I am waiting if the seeds germinate and a vine adores my garden :-)

More Sikkimese vegetables and food stories to come so stay tuned...

12 comments:

  1. wow.. i wish i too could go to the mountains. so rare to see these vegetables. good you planted some of them.

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  2. I love walking through local food markets in different places. The vegetables are usually amazing, and many varieties that are slightly different. Love it! Glad you had a good time in the mountains.

    Velva

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  3. wow such fresh vegetables...not to say differetn from our usual vegetable market ones!!


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  4. Vegetables sound amazing... when living in North east I used to cook these crispy fried with salt and chilli powder in mustard oil and they tasted amazing with dal chawal.

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    1. Crispy fried? That would involve deep frying I am not much in favor of for green vegetables Rekha. But yes I remember Karela was crispy fried by my MIL back home. They would be nice little crackers with daal chawal or khchdi.

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  5. I love karela ki sabzi always and this post reminds me of the time when we went trekking in sikkim, for 20 odd days and we got to eat all the vegetables ,which obviously i hated :) ..

    Bikram's

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  6. yum yum lip smacking sikkimese karela curry.

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  7. It is an interesting post to read. Of course, we can't source these veggies here to try out the recipes. I use pakchoy in my thai and chinese dishes. And those beans featured along with carrots and pakchoy remind me of tuar beans. This must be so much fun for you, the great locales of Sikkim and some food for thought! How has the rebuilding after the earthquake been?

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    1. Thanks Rachna. Tuar beans are slender while these Borlotti beans are fat like our fingers or even thumbs. Seeds are the size of soaked rajma, just rounder.

      We talked a lot to our cab drivers there and got an impression that the earthquake was an opportunity for the corrupt government to usurp all aid funds and the poor were given only about 2-3 K as aid. But life comes back to normal faster than we imagine in all those places.Last year I was wondering the same in Leh too, how they sustained after the quake but they did :-) That is the beauty of life force.

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  8. WOW... how interesting this is. We visited Gangtok with the kids, and you can well imagine how 'vegetatively' adventurous they were! I'm loving this post!

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  9. So happy to see our north eastern vegetables in limelight :D ..The dhaniya /Culantro is a fav.of mine .. it tastes great with certain kind of fish (rohu & tengra) and lau mung ( lauki and moong dal dish)

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    1. Thanks Amrita for the tips on where the Culantro is used traditionally. Would do that myself as I love the things you mentioned. Great thing is, I see all the 6 plants sprouting new leaves...I am happy and gloating :-)

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