The Great Moringa, Miracle Tree, Project

 Here is my moringa tree patch, right after a good pruning

My long awaited post.  The Moringa tree, also known as Drumstick tree, or the Miracle Tree, is said to have the ability to cure over 300 diseases.  Just quoting research here.  From a food point of view, Moringa leaves can be used like spinach, though they are far more nutritious. Sorry Popeye.  And I love the nutty, legume scent of the leaves when picked fresh.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried into a powder, are an excellent source of vitamin A and C, a good source of B vitamins, and among the best plant sources of minerals. The calcium content is very high, iron is good enough to treat anemia — three times that of spinach — and it’s an excellent source of protein while being low on fats and carbohydrates. Said another way, Moringa leaves have seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, and two times the protein of yogurt.

 That’s quite a line up. The leaves also have the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. Medically it is antibiotic and research shows it can be used to treat high blood pressure. A leaf tea is used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar. It is full of antioxidants, is anti-cancerous, and when eaten by mothers they give birth to healthier, heavier babies.  A 28 December 2007 study said a root extract is very anti inflammatory.

In fact, let me quote you an earlier abstract from Phytotherapy Research 16 Sept 2006:

Immature moringa pods (drumsticks)

Moringa oleifera Lam (Moringaceae) is a highly valued plant, distributed in many countries of the tropics and subtropics. It has an impressive range of medicinal uses with high nutritional value. Different parts of this plant contain a profile of important minerals, and are a good source of protein, vitamins, -carotene, amino acids and various phenolics. The Moringa plant provides a rich and rare combination of zeatin, quercetin, -sitosterol, caffeoylquinic acid and kaempferol. In addition to its compelling water purifying powers and high nutritional value, M. oleifera is very important for its medicinal value. Various parts of this plant such as the leaves, roots, seed, bark, fruit, flowers and immature pods act as cardiac and circulatory stimulants, possess antitumor, antipyretic, antiepileptic, antiinflammatory, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, antihypertensive, cholesterol lowering, antioxidant, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, antibacterial and antifungal activities, and are being employed for the treatment of different ailments in the indigenous system of medicine, particularly in South Asia. This review focuses on the detailed phytochemical composition, medicinal uses, along with pharmacological properties of different parts of this multipurpose tree. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The blooms are lovely

Now you know why they call it “The Miracle Tree.” It is being planted extensively in poorer areas of the world, some 400,000 trees in Rwanda alone.  I am totally convinced.  However, all that said, and while my trees are getting bigger and taller, I have yet to make much use of those leaves.  Shame on me!

 Which brings me to this post. A project in fact.  I am determined to find more recipes and ways to incorporate the plant into our diets.   To that end, I have just made two more recipes with this mighty plant material -  a lentil dish, spicy Indian and quite tasty.  I also added a healthy :) amount into my minestrone the other day.  Earlier on (last year) I made a quiche, substituting moringa for the spinach.  We are now more actively working on this project.  Promise.

Spicy Lentils and Moringa leaves
     Recipe from D & K of chefinyou.com

 Cook time: Under 15 min.   Prep time: Under 30 min
 Serves: 4 people -  Yields: As a part of a main course along with one other side dish, this easily serves  4-6  people


    280 grams bunch Drumstick Leaves (Moringa)
    1/3 Cup Moong Dal (split mung beans)
    1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder
    2 tsp Coconut Oil
    1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
    1/2 tsp Urad Dal (split Black gram)
    1-2 Red Chilli
    1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
    Salt and Pepper to taste
    Lemon Juice to taste
    2 tablespoons butter (or to taste)

1. Drumstick Leaves: I had a roughly large bunch weighing around 280 grams. The leaves alone including the tender stems weighed approximately 150 grams (6oz). Depending on your taste preferences you can increase or decrease the amount of moong dal in this recipe. You can increase especially if  trying to mask the slight bitterness of the drumstick leaves. (I have not noticed this at all, they have a nice nutty taste.)

1. Soak the moong dal in some water overnight or at least 1-2 hours. This step is optional but soaking not only aids digestion but also reduces the cooking time significantly. If you are short on time you can start cooking immediately without soaking as well.
2. Drain and add this to a saucepan. Add enough water (about a cup) along with turmeric.
3. Cook in med-high flame, allow it to boil and cook until just soft.
4. You don't want it mushy.  If you have soaked the lentils, then check around the 6-8 minute mark. Take a cooked moong dal and press it with your fingers, it should be soft enough to press easily.
5. At this stage, remove the cooked moong dal from flame and drain. Retain any water left over.
6. Remove the drumsticks leaves from the stem. You can use the tender stems.  Wash and give it a rough chop.
7. Heat oil in a pan ( I use the same pan used to cook my dal)  and add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds sputter, add split urad dal and broken red chilli and fry them till the dal turns golden brown. Add cumin and when the aroma hits,
8. add the chopped leaves along with and salt and mix well.
9. Add  about 1/2 cup of retained dal water ( otherwise just use water) and allow the leaves to cook completely. The leaves will cook quickly but will not become mushy or slimy.
10. Lower heat and then add cooked dal.
11. Mix well and season with additional salt if needed, and pepper powder to taste. (I used chipolte)
12. Stir to combine, switch the flame and squeeze some fresh lemon juice to taste.
Serve warm along with any South Indian main course menu like Sambar, Kuzhambu and Rasam. Don't forget a healthy dose of freshly homemade ghee to along with it.  (I used butter, and served with torn pieces of whole wheat flour tortilla and cucumber salad with kefir dressing.)

Further recipes will be tested and posted on as we go along with the project.  Especially the fruit (drumsticks), as soon as my trees produce some.  I would help if I didn't clip any branches with flowers on them.  This post has been linked to Meat Free Mondays, hosted by Tinned Tomatoes.


Creamy Chicken and Grits

Just finished an intriguing novel by Margaret Maron, The Buzzard Table, a mystery set in the South, with lots of tantalizing food references, little known facts about vultures/buzzards, and the equally tantalizing murder puzzle for our heroines to solve. Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald (visiting her grandmother), are here together (usually each stars in her own mystery series). A mysterious ornithologist is also staying at Mrs. Lattimore's Victorian home, doing research on Southern vultures, when murder strikes.

At one point Deborah is putting together a meal of Shrimp and Grits, which sounded extremely good.  And easy. So, we (in the Royal sense) started off with the idea of doing that well known recipe, slightly modified.  A dish which apparently originated in the low country of South Carolina, and has been a best seller and signature selection at Crook's Corner, especially since an article written for the NY Times by chef Craig Claiborne,  following his visit to the restaurant in 1985, and now a popular item in upscale restaurants around the country.

Modified because when I do anything with shrimp, there is the deal with Bob, who doesn't care for them or shellfish in general.  He might eat one, leaving me the rest, and given I am cooking for two, shrimp are usually reserved for eating OUT.  All of which brought me to left-over chicken, cut into pieces roughly shrimp size :)  What the hey?  Pharaoh's Chicken.


Pork Mofongo, Yes, Chef!

What a terrific choice was Yes, Chef, a Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson, our current read for Cook the Books Club.  His journey is a fascinating one, beginning with a small boy, carried 75 miles from his village in Ethiopia to the capitol city of Addis Ababa, on his mother's back, as she and his sister walked the whole way.  All three of them with TB!  They make it to the hospital there, where his mother dies.  He goes from that world to adoption by a Swedish couple, and growing up in Sweden.

His journey continued, through a happy, protected childhood to a life fraught with set backs, difficulties, and challenges in pursuing his career of choice, all while maintaining an early enthusiasm for cooking, inspired by his grandmother, Helga.

Marcus then takes us from early cooking school experiences to his various apprenticeships and stints in some of the top restaurants of Europe, all the while "chasing flavors" with a driving ambition to get to the top of his field.  Which he does, and then some!

His ambition included a desire to be creative and original, finding unexplored, exotic flavors from one end of the globe to the other, and using them in new ways.  All of which found an answering cord in my own life. I love finding, growing and using new herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.  There was so much in the way of inspiration here.  Hard to know where to begin as far as one preparation for our club.

However, when he mentioned Camarones de Mofongo in a discussion of Puerto Rican foods, it hit me.  I had a large cooking banana, or plantain waiting for use, and some pork for braising, which could be subbed for the shrimp.  Actually a traditional Mofongo alternative.  Perfect.  I liked that the  pieces of pork nestle here in a delicious tomatoey broth with a little savory cake of plantain.


Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Fa'alifu Ulu (Breadfruit)

I've just finished Nancy Horan's wonderful novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a fictionalized biography of Robert Lewis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne.  Their passionate love story with lots of adventure and travel.  In fact, Stevenson's and Fannys' lives beat anything fictional the well-known author ever came up with.

The book, inspired by actual events in the lives of both protagonists, is beautifully drawn from extant letters, journals and diaries by two prolific writers, as well as from the letters of their families and friends.  So, an excellent example of historical fiction.

Stevenson was plagued with illness for most all of his life, and the search for a place that would be most beneficial for both his writing and fragile health took them from one end of the earth to another, finally landing and settling in Samoa, where together they spent the remainder of his life.

Which brings me to the inspiration for my breadfruit recipe.  Here in Hawaii, as well as in Samoa and the rest of the Pacific islands it is known as ulu.  Easier on the mind, and tongue.  Anyway, Fanny at one point was bemoaning the amount of breadfruit in their diet.  Understandable if that is pretty much what you're limited to in the way of starch.   But I say if people don't like ulu they probably have not tried it at the right stage of ripeness, or with a good recipe.  Though, I also enjoy it just plain boiled and sliced with a bit of butter.   Something like saying you don't like potatoes??


Afghan Lamb Meatballs with Garlic and Mint

Really, it is the sauce that makes these tasty little meatballs extra special.  The contrast of a yogurt or kefir based, creamy sauce with added lemon, garlic and mint, just sets off the savory lamb so well.  The same sauce can be used for a salad of sliced cucumbers with extra mint  too.

I bought the book, The Silk Road Gourmet, by Laura Kelley, quite awhile ago, and as these things happen, only made two things from her book, both excellent - one recipe, was a Pomegranate- Cardamom Lamb Roast, and another, Meatballs with Lemon Sauce, though I did make that one several times, due to its excellence.  This is a re-visitation, and there is so much more in that book  needing to be cooked up.  Wonderful recipes from her travels following the ancient "Silk Road" through Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, noting the connections and links between the different cuisines and cultures.


Pineapple Honey Pavlova with Fresh Mint and Dark Chocolate

Our Cook the Books Club read for June/July was The Wedding Bees, by Sarah Kate Lynch, an inspiring, charming romance and beekeeping mini-primer.  All about an escaped Southern Belle, who together with her queen bee and small colony of worker bees, take to a rooftop apartment in New York City, retaining from her background ample training in good manners, which are combined in Sugar's case with a large dose of kindness.

Sugar Wallace reaches out to all her needy, dysfunctional and semi-dysfunctional neighbors with that winning combination.  And what a terrific, mixed cast of  characters it is. From the shy, retiring cook in the apartment adjoining Sugar's, a sad, anorexic teen downstairs, and angry, terminally grumpy old landlords.  She even comes to see her own need for love in the end and does a healthy turn-around on some issues from her past.


Ranting with Iced Coffee

What we have here is a lovely bit of fluff, perfect for poolside or beach.  On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle, is a cozy mystery revolving around and in a New York coffee house.  Up until page 105 anyway, where drinks orders are being taken in the coffee house.  We came to a shrieking halt right there.  And, I quote:
"Double tall cap, get the lead out!"
Sixteen-ounce cappuccino with decaf.
A shudder ran through me as I glanced up and saw the wane, (Typo note: do you think she means wan?? Wane being a verb?) pale, overanxious face of the man ordering the decaf.
Okay, I'm sorry, but decaf drinkers annoy me.
Expectant mothers I can understand, but lifelong decaf drinkers give me the creeps.  They're usually the sort who have a half-dozen imagined allergies, eat macrobiotic patties, and pop Rolaids like M&Ms when their acid reflux kicks in from anxiety over the Chinese restaurant's delivering white instead of brown rice."


Fresh Pineapple for Upside-down Cake

 When you are literally surrounded by ripening, falling over pineapples, just cannot wait, and succumb to the urge to pick one on which, after all, there was a streak of yellow on one side, a leaf came out (one of the signs) fairly easily, only to discover it is NOT QUITE ready.  Here is what can be done.  Pineapple upside-down cake.  This is not headline news.  Just an old standard, only not out of a can.  Better.  And, with a hint of tartness to offset all that sweet.

First, the cored, peeled, sliced  pieces must be cooked a bit, in a little butter.  Then set aside until you are ready for CAKE!!  And, some of us consider cake a breakfast food.  But I baked it in the early morning, mainly because it's so hot later in the day I knew it probably wouldn't get made otherwise.  This is Alice Waters' recipe, which is a bit unnecessarily complicated, in my humble opinion.  Whilst separating, some of the yolk of the 1st egg went into the white, and I said, what the hey, lets beat them all together with the other stuff.


Hola!! Cuban Shredded Beef

It's just terrific when I'm reading along, minding my own (or actually the character's) business and they hit you with food that absolutely needs to be tried.  Now!  So, it was whilst reading one of my favorite authors' cozy mysteries, Death at the Door, by Carolyn Hart, that I came upon this: 
She opened the door and was greeted by a delectable scent.  She paused.  "Mmm, something smells wonderful."
"Flank steak simmering with onion and bay leaf, soon to be Cuban shredded beef seasoned with sauterne and Burgundy."  Max emptied the contents of a bowl into the skillet...
 You see what I mean.  That cries out to be made.  And, so I did.  Unfortunately, my husband has messed up sinuses, so never walks in and says "Mmm, something smells wonderful."  Sigh.  But, at least I get to savor it the whole time it's cooking.  In this case, four hours.

Annie, the heroine, and owner of a mystery book store, is often involved in helping to solve crimes on the island, off the South Carolina coast where she lives with her husband Max (also a good cook).  I love that they are happily married, besides being fully developed and interesting characters.  So many literary detectives and amateur crime solvers are riddled with angst, messed up and otherwise generally not fun to be around.

Anyway, off I went to procure the necessary ingredients, after searching Google for a righteous sounding recipe.  Which I adapted slightly.  You might think, 4 hours, oh boy, that's a lot of cooking.  But, the nice thing is, you can put it in a slow cooker or skillet on very low, early in the day, and forget about cooking dinner.  It's in the pot.