Food in South India has always been made in coconut oil, so there’s nothing they’ve changed or adapted since this wonder ingredient has gained international stardom. My Ayurvedic doctor at this beautiful resort Carnoustie, Dr Ajitha, tells me that for years, they collect their own coconuts during the winter months and let them dry, then they take them to a mill which makes the coconut oil… so they have their own home supply of coconut oil, both for cooking and for hair and skin, all year round.
I’ve picked up a few things in the few days I’ve been here so far – aside from drinking juices and having a number of massages (not the relaxing type – rather, serious and somewhat repetitive treatments which are meant to aid the detox process and balance the energies). So here’s the first recipe I’ve learnt, featuring a wonderful leaf I hadn’t ever tried – red spinach. When the chef mentioned it, my eyes, of course, lit up! They usually make thoran with finely chopped red spinach – essentially a dry curry with freshly grated coconut. It’s base features the curry regulars – mustard seeds, shallots, lots of freshly chopped green chillies and turmeric and cumin powder. And that, basically, is it! This can also be made with the normal green spinach, and I often make it with beetroot. Grated or dessicated coconut just adds extra crunch and flavour.
Among its many benefits, red spinach is rich in iron and therefore good for those with anaemia, it’s also rich in protein and its vitamin C content makes it great for the eyes.
Serves 2 as a curry/ side
1 large bowl, 150-200g red spinach chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon urad daal*
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon curry leaves
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cumin powder
1 small bowl grated coconut, desiccated coconut
Start by finely chopping the red spinach, then warm the oil on low to medium heat in a pan, add the mustard seeds and let them sizzle before adding the urad daal. Stir for a minute before adding the red onion, chopped green chilli and curry leaves. Let the onions become lightly brown, then add the turmeric powder and all the red spinach. Stir and mix together all the ingredients, then add the grated coconut, cumin powder and salt, mix for another minute or so and serve.
*urad daal lentils are commonly used in South Indian cuisine for tempering to add extra crunch and flavour. You can make this recipe without urad daal if you don’t them.
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Mira Manek's desire for healthy cooking combines her love of traditional Indian cuisine with her mother and grandmother's recipes to create lighter, healthier dishes.