Pirandai chronicles

Pirandai Kozhambu  

During the Kovai vizha last year, the Kovai foodies group showcased traditional Kongu food. While I recognised most of the items on display but there was one that was completely alien to me. I had never heard, tasted or seen what they referred to colloquially as perandhae ( pirandai). It is not really one of those ingredients that one comes across in the supermarkets.

I mentioned it to my grandmother the next day. She listened to me patiently before pointing me in the direction of her kitchen garden. Imagine my surprise when I saw a nice big patch of the ‘never-before-seen-or-heard” vegetable growing right in her backyard. Seeing my interest, kindly old Appu — the cook of several decades — offered to snip a few segments for me to plant in my garden at home.

I carried it back and planted it in a spot that received medium sunlight. Less than a year later, I have not one but two thriving pirandai patches. In English, it is also known as ‘Adamant creeper’ and I can see why. It is an extremely hardy plant. It grows rather quickly and the tendrils, though tiny, have a firm grip on the ground as well as any other plant or tree in the vicinity. Though the folk here refer to it as a keerai, it’s very different from the spinach. For one, the leaves aren’t used for cooking; it’s the -ike part that grows into many node-like pieces that are used.

First, I made it with a simple tamarind gravy using dried red chillies, saunf, garlic, turmeric powder and salt. Once cooked, this hard rod-like vegetable almost melted in the mouth. The second time, however, some people complained of an itchy tongue. When I mentioned this to an elderly relative, I got the answer: when cutting, stop with the third segment from the top. Only the top two or three segments — the most tender ones — are meant for cooking. The lower segments can cause this unpleasant itchy sensation.

When working with it, the fingers and palms turn a bit red and feel scratchy because the outer portion has ribbed edges. Applying some sesame oil on the palms earlier is a good remedy. Before cooking, trim the outer edges with a sharp knife and then slice down the middle before chopping into smaller pieces.

Pirandai can be used in many ways. It’s delicious in a chutney or can even be made into a pickle. In earlier times, the famous Kallidaikurichi appalams were much sought after for their unique taste, which was due to the addition of the pirandai juice. Sadly now, although the appalam is still made, the juice is not added. Also referred to as Veldt grape, the pirandai has many medicinal benefits. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for stomach disorders and even as a poultice for sprains.

Pirandai chutney is quite intense and a little goes a long way. In our home, the chutney is the easiest way of getting this special nutrient into my kids. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to idli/dosa to counteract the chill of a November morning.

Pirandai chutney

Heat a little sesame oil and add asafoetida. Fry dried red chillies, urad dal and sesame seeds. Set aside. In the same oil, fry the washed and cut pirandai pieces until soft. Blend together with tamarind, salt, a bit of jaggery and water.

It must be eaten in moderation. Twice a week is ideal for getting the required nutrition. In excess, it can cause burning or discomfort.

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Printable version | Nov 14, 2020 1:18:12 PM |

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