Homes and gardens

COVID-19: How households in Kerala are foraging for veggies in their own backyard during Coronavirus lockdown

Leafy greens in the backyard can be used to make tasty ‘thoran’

Leafy greens in the backyard can be used to make tasty ‘thoran’   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

During the COVID-19 lockdown, many families in Kerala are procuring nutritious vegetables and other edibles around their houses

Foraging in the backyard and rediscovering grandma’s favourite greens and tubers have become common in many households in Kerala during the lockdown to battle the spread of COVID-19.

Dark green with lovely pink flowers, hog weed is a common creeper in many backyards in the State. Until her mother, Padma Menon, made it into a thoran, Anjali P had no clue that it was edible or that it was thazhuthama, a plant with medicinal properties.

The quarantine and lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have unearthed many such nutrient-rich greens growing wild in many of our houses. Social media is flush with snaps of people coming up with jugaad recipes made of what is available around the house. “The other day, I ate thoran made with sambar cheera (Ceylon spinach). Pulinkari with chembu thaal or the stem of colocasia, was another revelation,” says Anjali, a college-goer in Thiruvananthapuram.

Those lucky to have some greenery around their house have turned to the bounty of leaves and vegetables that were either forgotten, ignored or rarely used in the menu. Spinach varieties, yams, tubers, papaya, plantain, seasonal fruits such as jackfruit and mango…options are aplenty.

“It has become an early morning routine for me to collect fresh vegetables and leaves from my compound. We have drumstick, jackfruit, mango, red amaranthus, bilimbi….,” says Nisha P, a voice-over artiste from Thrissur. Drumstick leaves are used to make thoran and drumsticks in the curry with raw mango and jackfruit seeds; amaranthus is for thoran or aviyal. “Other than seasonal fruits, I never used to depend so much on home-grown produce My daughters, who enjoy experimenting with veggies, especially cauliflower, are now getting used to the new menu,” adds Nisha. A food blogger as well, Nisha adds that she successfully made a curry with petals of hibiscus flowers in her garden!

Kozhuppa cheera

Kozhuppa cheera   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

There is a huge variety of leafy greens that Kerala has that can be turned into flavourful thorans or mixed into your chappathi or dosa dough. Besides the common red and green amaranthus, there is sambar cheera, kozhuppa cheera (pigweed), Mysore cheera, madhura cheera (sweet leaf), valli cheera (Malabar spinach) and the like. “I prepare thoran using tender leaves of colocasia as well,” says Geetha Menon, a homemaker from Tripunithura.

The multi-purpose banana plant gives raw banana, banana stem (vazhappindi) and banana inflorescence (vazhakkoombu), which are used to prepare a multitude of dishes, all of which taste different . What is more, many of these dishes don’t need onion for gravy or masala. Then there is raw papaya that can be steamed, stir fried or cooked with green gram to prepare erissery.

Jack of all fruits

It is the jackfruit season. While idi chakka or the small, tender jackfruit makes delicious thoran, raw fruit is cooked to make puzhukku, thoran or aviyal. The seeds can go with any thoran or added to different curries or sautéed in oil for the mezhukkuvaratti. Jackfruit rags and rind are also edible.

Parts of jackfruit are used to make different dishes

Parts of jackfruit are used to make different dishes   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“In fact, ever since we went on self-quarantine from March 8 after our son arrived from Japan, we have been living on the produce of our kitchen garden and the profusion of jackfruit on two trees in our yard. My mother told me how they used to dry the seed in the sun and then get it ground and use the flour as a thickening agent or in dosa dough. I dried it in the sun and made it into small pieces that I use in curries. For more than a month, we have been living on the produce from our eight-cent plot,” explains Bindu Thomas, a space scientist who took voluntary retirement from ISRO.

Usha Soolapani, a resident of the capital city, shares on her Facebook page a recipe that her friend from Thrissur had given her. “They collect leaves of pumpkin and cook it in an interesting way. Traditionally pumpkin leaves were cooked in rice gruel. She tried a gruel made of jackfruit seed flour. It was mixed with a paste of coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds. Then she fried mustard and curry leaves and put it in the curry. She said that its taste was exquisite. Even if we are living in an urban area, a single plant of pumpkin produces enough leaves for a family,” writes Usha.

Leaf revolution
  • E Sajeev Kumar, consultant scientist at KR Narayanan Centre for Biotechnology, Kottayam and senior scientist at Ayur Yuva Institute of Innovation for Science and Heritage (AYIISH) in Palakkad, has been conducting research on medicinal properties of plants that are considered as weeds or inedible. “Improving our health is possible by including food that develops immunity,” he says. He has published a book of recipes for cooking with different kinds of leaves. There are recipes for leaves of hibiscus, bitter gourd, tender jackfruit leaves, tender banana leaves and so on.

Some parents point out that the change in the menu is the need of the hour. Actor-writer Aaryan Ramani Girijavallabhan says that chicken was a must on the menu for his children. “Choices are aplenty for today’s generation and what they want is just a phone call away. But now it is vazhappindi, jackfruit seed and chembu thaal! We have a dish with raw banana almost everyday and my children have started liking it!” says Aaryan.

But this shouldn’t be a temporary habit, points out Sridhar Radhakrishnan, programme director, Thanal. “This phase will pass. What matters is how much you have transformed your family. This is the right time to make your children understand what we have in nature. This should become a culture. Take them along to show the plants and slowly they will also be able to appreciate what we have in plenty in our surroundings,” says Sridhar.

Recipe for Thazhuthama thoran


Thazhuthama leaves- washed and chopped fine; Coconut - 1 cup grated; Green chillies 5-6; Small onion chopped - 1/4 cup; Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp; Turmeric - 1/2 tsp; Oil - 2 tablespoons; Curry leaves; Salt to taste


Heat oil in a pan and splutter mustard seeds. Add chopped onions and stir for a minute. To this, add the leaves, turmeric powder, green chillies and salt. Stir well and cook for a minute. Mix grated coconut and stir again. Cover the pan and cook for at least five minutes. There is no need to add water. Open the lid in between and give it a stir or two. Garnish with curry leaves.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 6:20:29 AM |

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