Saturday, January 19, 2013

Green Leafy Vegetables - साग-पात हरु - (Part 1)

Green Leafy Vegetables - Hariyo Saag-Paat Haru (साग-पात हरु) - (Part 1 of 4)
A Visual Guide to Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal

December and January in Kathmandu is the peak season for savoring green vegetables.  Here is a seasonal guide to what you can find in most outdoor Nepali Tarkaari Bazaar (vegetable shops).  Look at the giant size Mustard Greens leaves (raayo ko saag).  Happy marketing!
Open Air vegetable market at Maru Sattal Chowk, Kathmandu (one of the major tourist attraction area).  Meet my favorite friendly and cheerful saag vendor - "Tapai lai aaja kun taajaa saag chaahiyo?" - (translation - which fresh greens do you want this morning?). I captured this picture with his permission, and he smilingly tells me to bring back the digital photo prints.  He promised to reimburse me the printing cost.

Vegetables - (Tarkaariharu)

Nepal has a complex topography with hills and flat lands, and the Kathmandu valley is renowned for the seasonal vegetables grown in its fertile soil.  Vegetables (tarkaari) are one of the most important foods in the daily Nepali diet, and a typical Nepali meal consists of rice, lentils, and some kind of side vegetable dish.

The most common vegetables include green beans, cauliflowers, cabbage, eggplants, greens (mustard, spinach), okra, potatoes, Nepali radish, squash, tomatoes and many other seasonal local vegetables.  Due to the scarcity of cultivated land in many rural and hilly areas of Nepal, fresh vegetables are limited, so locals tend to consume root vegetables as well as dried and fermented vegetables.  Generally, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens are eaten daily in large quantities wherever available.  Vegetables are also made into pickles, salads, snacks, and desserts.

During the peak season, you may see a local farmer balancing a bamboo pole across his shoulders, holding two wicker woven baskets full of freshly picked vegetables, heading to the market.  In Nepali vegetable markets, one can experience the proud skills of vendors arranging every tiny space with a dramatic display of vegetables and fruits.  Greens, such as spinach, mustard, fresh coriander, and garden cress are neatly tied in small bundles and piled up in a beautiful way.  A variety of dry vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and shallots are skillfully arranged in a wicker trays, or baskets or in jute-burlap sacks.  On many street corners, vendors set up small stands with the fresh fruits and vegetables such as green gooseberry, labsi (Hog plum), guava, or tangerines.  The vegetables are sold in the markets weighted in a hand-held local scale, known as taraaju, which comes in a variety of sizes and forms.  Measurements are done in kilograms.  Most Nepali households do not store vegetables, so they are bought fresh every day.

Here is the pictorial tour of Nepali Green Vegetables - my early morning wandering through the outdoor markets of Ason Bazaar, Indrachowk,  Maru Sattal block, Bhotahiti, Ratnapark overhead bridge, Durbar square and sometimes to Kalimaati Fruits and Vegetable markets. Most of the pictures were taken at the old town of Kathmandu, but  some pictures are from Farmer's Market at 1905 Restaurant Garden and Pokhara-Nawalparasi-Chitwan farm house outside Kathmandu.  

This blog is divided into four different sections.  Please check out all the sections. I hope you will have much fun as I have putting together scenes of lively outdoor markets, freshest local produce, hustling and bustling of customers, and the Nepali culture and tradition around the Tarkaari Bazaar.  Please drop me a few line in the comment section of the blog on what you liked, highlight on any other vegetable greens that are not listed here, and any correction on image and caption not matching.  Your comments are important to me as it will help me to improve the blog.

Extremely fresh Paalungo ko Saag - पालुंगो को साग- com name: Common Spinach, Bot. Name: Spinacea oleracea - Spinach is an annual cool season vegetable, has a smooth dark green leaves with a long stock and is a very good source of vitamin C, A and mineral especially Iron.  It is a hardy vegetable, can withstand temperature as low as 20 degree F. and grows well in average soil, in cool and moist conditions.  It does not tolerate hot weather, as it goes into seeds as the daylight lengthens. The picture above is the most commonly found spinach sold in bundles at most Kathmandu markets.  These varieties have an arrow-shaped leaves with thick pink roots.  They are very flavorful, cook very quickly and are well liked by Nepalese.  They are also grown extensively in Kathmandu valley.
In just a few blocks south of Hanuman-Dhoka Durbar Square area, where Gaddi-Baithak is located, I spotted a local farmer, warmly dressed, balancing a bamboo pole across his shoulders and holding two traditional kharpan (wicker woven baskets) full of freshly picked greens.
 Look at the extremely fresh spinach in bundles that are displayed here in the kharpan. They were probably picked at the peak of its perfection. 
Wide selection of seasonal greens - everything you want to purchase is right in this Doko (hand-made bamboo basket),  from left - mustard greens, spinach, garden cress, fresh coriander (cilantro) and green onions. 
According to the lady who is standing next to me in this lively market, she says the above picture is Gobre Paalungo ko Saag (गोब्रे पालुंगो ) - seeded flat-leaf spinach, but the other lady says no it is  Bhote Paalungo ko Saag (भोटे पालुंगो) - I have no information on these varieties of spinach.  Any help?
Visiting the open air market at the Ason Tole area of Kathmandu is a pleasurable way to get to know all different seasonable vegetables of Nepal.  Out there, with all other greens, I found a fresh round leaf greens with long stems (above middle).  There was no root attached to it, but looked like a round leaf spinach - I have not been able to identify these variety of saag. Any help?
The frost kissed winter spinach are the most delicious, flavorful, tender and cooks quickly.  In Nepal, the entire portions of spinach are eaten -  the leaves, stems, and the red roots. 
Meet another young vegetable vendor carrying two evenly-distributed Kharpan loads of green vegetables on a long bamboo pole. He is moving swiftly to another location from the crowded Basantpur Durbar square area.  He will probably have a better sale somewhere in a quiet corner.  It is unusual to see a young street vendor with a latest fashion trends - Levis slick denim jeans, designer hooded sweatshirt or jacket, modern sneakers, cell phone and Polaroid sunglasses in his pocket......10 years from now will there be any young vendor carrying a Kharpan?
Methi ko Saag - मेथी को साग - Com. name Fenugreek leaves, Bot. name - Trigunella foenum-graecum, L - known as Methi ko Paat or Saag.  These are the edible green leaves of fenugreek plant. The methi leaves resembles watercress vegetable. The greens have a very bitter taste and bold flavors, but it is much loved by Nepalese. The young leaves are cooked mixed with other greens or potatoes. They are grown in Nepal both under Terai and hilly condition. 
Another image of Fenugreek leaves (Methi ko Saag) in close up look - they are sold tied in bundles. 
Already a fan of green market shopping? Outdoor vegetable markets in Kathmandu are a thriving tradition and a way of life - sometimes in the market, different bundles of greens such as mustard greens, different varieties of spinach, fenugreek leaves, garden cress, turnips greens, tori ko saag and radish leafs are bunched together and sold by the same vendor for convenience.
Chamsoor ko Saag - चम्सूर को साग - (Garden Cress, Pepper+Grass) - Bot. name: Lepidium L., Family: Cruciferae - Low growing winter annual grown in Kathmandu valley and other hills as one of the most important green vegetable.
  Here is a picture of top 10 widely eaten green vegetable of Nepal - The warm and welcoming atmosphere of lively Tarkaari Bazaar.  I love how these ladies are sitting in a row in front of the doko full of fresh produce near the stone-paved street around the back side of Kathmandu-Maru-Ganeshthan. The street vendors either sits on the dusty ground on top of a thick burlap sacks or on a on a low wood stool or platform (pirka) surrounded by a variety of vegetables.
Chomsoor ko Saag are sold neatly tied in  bundles
Chamsoor-Paalungo (Spinach with Garden Cress) is a favorite combination in Nepal, where a mild-flavored spinach is cooked with the peppery pungent-flavored garden cress.  Garden cress (chamsoor) has long tender stems, pointed narrow leaves, and a spicy aroma.  The cress can be cooked by itself, like a common green, but tastes best when combined with other greens.
To find out some of the vegetables that are not included in my blog, please  go to the field survey on the "Traditional, Neglected Vegetables of Nepal: The Sustainable Utilization for Meeting Human Needs" ......In total, 184 traditional vegetable species were recorded in the field survey. Species composition and numbers differed along the elevation gradient. About 50 traditional vegetable species were documented in the market more here.....
Nepali Saunf or Sunp ko Saag - (सुप को साग) -  Fresh Dill Greens - Com. name:Indian Dill - Bot. name: Anethum Sowa, Roxb. Family: Umbelliferae

A few blocks away from Asan Bazaar, there is another busy vegetable market around the stone image of Kal Bhairav in Kathmandu.  I spotted a man wearing a traditional Dhaka topi carrying a huge load of kharpan - full of fresh greens and offering his vegetables for sale. He is calling customers, "laijaanus taajaa saag haru" लैजानुस ताजा सागहरु (translation without Google help "fresh greens are here") ...... This is where I captured the picture of saunf ko saag (dill greens). The street vendor should take a pride in the wonderful arrangement of produce in his basket.  He smilingly nodded when I complimented him, but requested "no photograph of him!"
Raayo ko Saag - (रायो को साग) - Leaf Mustard - Bot. name: Brassica Juncea (L.) Czen. & Cos, Family: Cruciferae. Raayo ko Saag is widely variable winter annual, lower leaves broad oblong to obovate usually with puckered surface, the upper leaves, narrow lanceolate and toothed.  It is the most common cultivated green vegetable of Nepal, grown in hilly regions and now cultivated in the Tarai also.  The several types of leaf mustard so far believed to be met with in Nepal are as follows.  Broad leaved Mustard (Juncea, Var folicosa Bailey, Curled Mustard, Ostrich plume (Juncea var.crispifolia Bailey - (Source - An Introduction to Nepalese Food Plants by P. P. Regmi)
Display of  Several different varieties of Sit le Khaeko Rayo ko Saag - The young tender leaves of mustard greens are a cool-season annual vegetable.  They are one of the most common and popular vegetable in Nepal and are grown in abundance.

In the winter months, when the tangy leaves of mustard plants are exposed to frost, they become very tender and delicate.  "Sit le khaeko saag" literally translates as "mustard greens tenderized and marinated by the mild frost" and are among the most tender and delicious greens.

Mustard Greens comes in a different colors and textures.   Here is a picture of deep purple to red mustard green leaves.  The leaves grow up to 8-10 inches in length and up to 5 inches in width and they have a delicious peppery taste.
...and a close-up look of red giant mustard leaves...
Warm and welcoming atmosphere  -  Nepali markets are usually a very friendly place where you can start catching up the latest town gossip, and find out whose price is lower and who is selling at a rock-bottom prices.  The vendor with a red shawl greets me,  "Sanchai huno huncha didi aaja?" - सन्चै हुनुहुन्छ दिदि आज?- (how are you my sister today?) and started a conversation. I wonder how they manage to remember me from my last visit.
Bigger and flatter Nepali mustard leaves, crisp with bright green color - best winter specialty straight from Dhading, Mahesh Khola area.  It is the most liked and consumed winter green vegetable of Nepal.  It is pungent and bitter when eaten raw, but becomes soft and most delicious when cooked. A typical authentic way of cooking is as simply as possible with a very little seasoning. 
My mother's helper, Radha, who accompanied to me in the Tarkaari Bazaar told me, "Do not be shy to bargain"...."milaayara dinos ne"- - "मिलायर दिनोस न"  - the vegetable vender told me in a  friendly tone. "I have to match prices with other fellow vendors....prices have dropped so much because of the over supply from the farms"....
Happy marketing! Go right ahead and bargain over the fresh greens! There is no other place to experience it first hand around the produce.  Experience the hustle and bustle of customers, the art of bargaining, experience  a way of life around Nepali culture... It is a very beautiful place to stroll around, whether you are there taking pictures or just shopping.
Pea vine growing at a local farm - Kerau ko Munta is the tender uppermost leaves, green tendrils and shoots of the young pea plant.  The shoots are typically harvested from pea vines before the pea-pods starts to form.  The tender shoots are pinched in the uppermost section  about three inches from the growing point of the plants.  They should be young and tender with shoots that include the top pair of small leaves, delicate tendrils that is attached to young stem. The blossom can also be used.

Keraau ko Muntaa ko Saag - (केराउ को मुन्टा को साग) - Pea Vine Shoots - The flavor of this vegetable is a cross between peas and spinach.  They can be eaten raw or slightly stir fried until crisp-tender.  In Nepal it is cooked very quickly in the hot oil with small amount of spices.  The pea vine shoots are very perishable, and should be used immediately in fresh stage because they start to lose flavor.

Pharsi ko Muntaa - (फर्सी को मुन्टा) - Pumpkin Vine shoots - they are the young uppermost shoots, delicate stems, leaves and tendrils from the pumpkins plants.  It is eaten as vegetable in Nepal.  The shoots are harvested from the growing end of the vine (about 3-4 inches) by pinching off the tender end.  The plant will put out a new shoot or growth after the vine shoots are harvested.  The plant is cultivated mainly for young shoots tips for vegetable use.  I am going to link "Pharsi ko Munta" to my previous blog posting - more details about growing, picking, preparation and cooking of the most delectable green vegetable of Nepal.  Kathmandu Vegetable markets brings in a variety of various types of green vegetable.  The above picture of Pharsi ko Munta was taken as Ason Chowk area.  
Occasionally, in the open air market at Ason Tole, one can experience a variety of different exotic vegetables. I was not able to identify the above vegetable, but the friendly vendor told me that it is Chayote Shoots (इश्कुश को मुन्टा) Ishkush ko Muntaa.  It is the young uppermost shoots of Chayote Squash plants and eaten similar to pumpkin vine shoots.   They make an excellent vegetables and loved by most Nepali people. Something new to try! He promised me next time he will bring Chatel ko Muntaa (Indian Gourd-Kantola shoots).

Part I

Paalungo ko Saag - (पालुंगो को साग) - Common Spinach
Gobre Paalungo ko Saag - (गोब्रे पालुंगो) - Spinach variety
Bhote Paalungo ko Saag - (भोटे पालुंगो) - Spinach variety
Methi ko Paat or Saag - (मेथी को साग) -  Fenugreek leaves
Chamsoor ko Saag - (चम्सूर को साग) - Garden Cress
Saunf or Sunp ko Saag - (सुप को साग) - Fresh Dill Greens
Raayo ko Saag - (रायो को साग) - Leaf Mustard
Keraau ko Muntaa ko Saag - (केराउ को मुन्टा को साग) - Pea Vine Shoots
Pharsi ko Muntaa - (फर्सी को मुन्टा) - Pumpkin Vine shoots Greens
Ishkush ko Muntaa - (इश्कुश को मुन्टा) - Chayote Shoots Greens

Please turn to the next chapter (2 of 4) to take another visual guide to leafy vegetable of Nepal 

A Visual Guide to Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal - (Part 1 of 4)
A Visual Guide to Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal - (Part 2 of 4)
A Visual Guide to Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal - (Part 3 of 4)
A Visual Guide to Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal - (Part 4 of 4)

Index of Green Leafy Vegetables of Nepal  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Black Cardamom - Alainchi

Fresh Black Cardamom, Black Pods - Thulo Sukumel, Nepali Alainchi - (अलैंची, ठूलो सुकुमेल)

Nepal is one of the largest growers of black cardamom.  Native to sub-Himalayan region, black cardamom is the dried fruit of a perennial herbaceous plant of the ginger family.  Apart from its usage in India, Nepal and other Asian countries, black cardamom is not very common.  Some people describe black cardamom as an inferior substitute to green cardamom, but it is considered a valuable spice in Nepal.  When cooked with this spice, it enhances and intensifies the taste of food without overpowering a dish.  It is one of the ingredients used to make Nepali Garam Masala spice blends, and is also used in meat curries, rice dishes and pickles.  It is available in Indian and Nepali food stores.  Look for pods with moist, sweet seeds, and smoky fragrance.  Old pods with splits and cracks will have poor quality seeds with no flavor.  The seeds quickly lose their flavor once the pods are opened, so store the pods whole and grind the seeds as needed...continue reading

In my 2012 visit to Nepal, I had an opportunity to visit my friend's private Alainchi garden. Black Cardamom is largely produced in an organic way in cultivated and fertilized farms throughout Nepal. The most popular farming areas are  - Taplejung ( ताप्लेजुंग), Sankhuwasabha District (संखुवासभा),  Panchthar (पांचथर),  Ilam (इलाम), Tehrathum District (तेह्रथुम),  Dhankuta (धनकुटा),  Solukhumbu (सोलुखुम्बु),  Lamjung (लम्जुंग), Syangja (स्यांग्जा), Parbat District (पर्बत), and Baglung (बाग्लुंग) in Nepal. Even though its farms have extended into Western Nepal, output from eastern region, which contributes around 90 percent in total production, largely dominates the market. Nepali farmers usually harvest Black Cardamom from mid-August to November. 

The following pictures were taken at the अलैंचीको बगैचा (Black Cardamom Garden).  The individual pods were hand-picked from the plant, cleaned, and washed. Then, they were left to dry in the sun. Once they are completely dried, they are stored in a sealed container.
Just returned from a trip to a private Alainchi Farm - these pictures are hand-picked reddish-brown Nepali Cardamom,  an extremely flavorful, aromatic ancient spice.  They are picked before they ripen fully to avoid the pods to split or crack open.   The pod is oval shaped and dark brown, tough and leathery with deep wrinkles.  Each pod contains several moist brown seeds that are sticky, flavorful, and once crushed, emit a pleasant smoky aroma with a hint of camphor.
 Close-up picture of freshly harvested reddish-brown Nepali Alainchi - When I was growing up in Kathmandu, I had seen Alainchi plants at my grandfather's garden next to a water fountain. I have a good memory of  seeing a large bush like plants with pointed leaves and cardamom pods growing near the base of the plant in clusters.  As a child, I used to split open the pods and remove the fibrous coverings and separate the seeds. Then, slowly chew the small, dark-brown, sticky and moist seeds. Now, I am reminiscing about it.  On this trip, I was so happy to find the fresh pods and tried again and found it very refreshing, sweet-savory and enjoyed a camphor-like flavor.  
In the above picture, fresh reddish-brown cardamom is being sun-dried in a round multipurpose nanglo, which is a circular tray made out of bamboo.

Nepal Cardamom: Highly Prized Spice Crop used both as spice and flavoring agent - Botanical Name: Amomum subulatum Roxb.  Family: Zingiberaceae

Here are some of the useful and informative links about Nepal Cardamom.  In my previous blog, I have posted some information of Black Cardamom, please read to learn more about it hereGernot Katzers spice page, Wikipedia, The Black Cardamom of Nepal, Spices & Medicinal Herbs, Badi Elaichi.

Here is a picture of fully dried Black Cardamom Pods serving in a decorative container for  after-dinner chew -  a symbol of Nepali hospitality.
In the above picture, freshly picked large black cardamom looks like this (before drying), and the picture below is the dried black cardamom. 

Image of Black Cardamom Plants - perennial bush of the ginger family
Nepalese chew black cardamom seeds to freshen the breath and palate.  It is also used as a breath freshener after a spicy heavy meals.  Many Nepalese use this spice as a home remedy for digestive disorders and considered beneficial to teeth and gums.

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