One of the most versatile Mangalorean specialities is the Vegetable Gravy which is usually made during the week to break the monotony of eating seafood. Many Mangy Catholics make it most often during the Lenten Season when they abstain from eating meat. We have a designated day for vegetarian preparations - which is usually a Friday. It's neither for religious nor health reasons (err...partially, yes), but just to take a break from making non vegetarian food. This veg gravy can be made with a variety of vegetable combos. Usually in the form of leafy greens with legumes or root vegetables with legumes. My most favourite is the Valchebaji (Mangalore/Malabar Spinach) and Guley (Black Eyed Peas). You can also make this gravy with Soorn (Yam) and Black Chana (Bengal Gram) or Black Eyed Peas, Green Gram Sprouts (Moong Sprouts), Potato & Toor Dal, Mogem (Field Marrow) and Toor Dal/Moong/Black Eyed Peas (any of these three with Field Marrow) - so it's really upto you what combination you like best.
The Vegetable Gravy is best eaten with brown rice (unpolished boiled rice) and whatever's remaining can be reheated & served with chapathis for breakfast the next morning.
So, here's a little about my favourite type of Spinach - The Mangalore/Malabar Spinach does not actually belong to the Spinach family and is botanically called the Basella Alba. It thrives in hot tropical climate and growns on a vine. In Coastal India especially Mlore & Kerala you can see this Spinach being grown on make shift pendals in almost every home which has a backyard.
When this spinach is ready to be plucked, the vine is wound in the form of a wreath (round in shape) and sold or passed on to neighbours & friends if it has grown in excess. Every Mangalorean housewife will claim that she has grown the best Valchebaji and will go to great lengths to ensure it has the best manure ranging from kitchen waste including vegetable peels to dried cow dung & water in which fish is cleaned. So you see, in many homes it's a great source of free & organic leafy greens that are high in Vitamins C & A, Iron & Calcium
Named after the famous music band (ha ha, just kidding), the Black Eyed Peas are also my favourite among legumes. It is also called as the Black Eyed Beans (which is why if you Google 'black eyed peas' you'll get loads of information about the music band and not the legume :-) which is again a heat loving crop and hence is in great partnership with the Malabar Spinach in a gravy made by heat resistant people in sun kissed Mangalore :-)
Black eyed peas or Chawli (and Guley/Alsando in Konkani) as they are called in India are of great significance in the Jewish tradition and is apparently eaten on New Year's day as a part of a good luck tradition which also involves bottle gourds, leeks, beets & dates.
Black eyed peas are rich in the best sort of fiber which is soluble fibre which helps to eliminate cholesterol from the body. They are an excellent source of Folate, Calcium and Vitamin A. So why don't we include this rich source of good health more often into our diet?
Recipe Source: My mom's cookbook
- 5 dry red long chillies
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp jeera (cumin)
- 1/4 tsp mustard
- 4-5 peppercorns
- 1 small onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic (with skin) for grinding
- 2 cloves garlic for tempering
- 1/2 grated coconut (about 1 cup)
- 1 marble size ball of tamarind
- salt to taste
- oil for frying
- 1/2 cup black eyed peas soaked overnight
- 1 bunch malabar spinach with the stalks (in Konkani one batch of valche baji/spinach is called 'mouli', so if you are using a batch freshly plucked, you can use 1/2 of a large mouli of baji)
1. Pluck the leaves from the stems, wash thoroughly & drain well. Set aside.
2. Select the very tender stalks and use them to cook along with the leaves. Select the not so tender ones and cut into finger size pieces. Pressure cook them with a little water & salt for about 3-4 whistles.
3. Dry roast the red chillies, coriander seeds, pepper, cumin, mustard one by one on a tawa till you get a nice aroma. Be careful not to burn it. Remove & let these ingredients cool off a bit before grinding them to a fine powder using the dry grinding jar of your mixie (mixer grinder). Next dry roast the coconut, garlic & onion together on very slow fire till most of the moisture in the coconut has vanished. This also helps to eliminate the raw taste of the onion & garlic. Add this to the powdered spices and grind along with the tamarind & a little water. This method of grinding the spices to powder first & then adding the wet ingredients ensures that your grinding process (if you are using a mixer grinder) is fast. If you toss in all ingredients together most times the mixie gets a little stubborn and the masala wont turn out into a fine paste.
5. In a large pan heat add the ground masala. Stir for a few minutes and then add the Spinach (there is no need to chop them as they will wilt anyways). Cook on slow flame adding a little water only if required. The leaves will take about 10 minutes to wilt and they will release some water too. Now, add the pressure cooked black eyed peas and the stock (the water in which they have been cooked). Add the Spinach stalks which were also pressure cooked & add the stock if required. Check salt & add more if required. Cook till leaves have softened. Remove from flame.
6. In a smaller pan heat 2 tsps oil and toss in the 2 cloves of garlic that have been mashed up a bit. Stir for a few seconds and then add this to the gravy. Gravy is done!
7. Serve hot with brown (unpolished) boiled rice and fish fry (optional). Slurp!
The gravy thickens the next day which makes it ideal to be served with chapathis for breakfast the following morning. We reheated the gravy & had it with steaming hot rice & sizzling fish fry :-) Take a look!