I love visiting Auroville, the Mother’s experiment in international living to promote peace, because I always come across something unusual—from the mundane to the exotic.I dropped in at the Pour Tous store where vegetables from the local farms are brought in, most of which are organic. I stumbled upon a vegetable that I rarely see in Chennai, the bearded bean (the winged bean or thadi avarai as it is known in Tamil). Its scientific name is Psophocarpus tetragonolobos.
It is a crunchy vegetable, which makes an excellent salad. Just chop it in ½ cm slices, add a liberal quantity of lime juice, salt and a few tiny pieces of green chilly. It tastes delicious and I usually have it with sambar sadam (rice). Many south Indians love it as an accompaniment to curd rice. The vegetable with a very benign taste can be modified as you like—you can add chat masala, mayonnaise or pep it up with feta cheese. And if you like the juice of mahali kizhangu (Decalepis hamiltonii plant), you can soak them in the juice, which has many therapeutic qualities. It is an excellent antioxidant.
I got a huge quantity of winged beans, distributed them among friends and relatives, got a jar of mahali kizhangu juice from my sister, soaked the pieces of thadi avarrai in it, and I am generally enjoying my acquaintance with thadi avarrai. It is great for weight watchers as it is low in calories and can be a substitute for salad. It is disease-resistant and pesticide-free. The winged bean is nutrient-rich with almost all parts of the plant—leaves, flowers, seeds and tubers—being edible. We have not really exploited the potential of this plant.
A lady with whom I was having a conversation said she cut the vegetable into small pieces and sautéed it like ladies’ fingers. Since the bean is rich in copper, it is extremely good for the heart. It is an excellent source of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A and minerals. It is also a rich source of protein and B-complex vitamins. It is easy to grow from seed and can be grown in backyards and terraces. It is a prolific yielder and gladdens the heart of the gardener, as it is pest-resistant and manageable. Yet another concoction that I love is elandai vada (Indian Jujube) made from small jujube fruits (Ziziphus jujuba). The one we get in the market are the bigger ones and taste like pears or apples. The small fruits,
which have everything from anti-cancer properties to anti-obesity properties, once used to be the favourite
fruit of schoolchildren in Tamil Nadu. You will see vendors selling these jujube fruits along with mangos, groundnuts, and small gooseberries outside most government schools here.
The way I love to eat elandai vada is where the fruit is crushed by hand (along with the seeds) and added to roughly pounded red chillies, tamarind, salt and asafoetida. The mixture is made into small round cakes and sun-dried. Once sun-dried, it can be stored in bottles. It is a great appetiser with anti-oxidant properties. It is also said to prevent diabetic neuropathy and helps reduce anxiety.
Next time I visit Pour Tous in Auroville, I hope to see the small variety of jujube fruit, and may also come across some forgotten or rarely used vegetables or fruits. The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at sheelarani.arogyamantra@gmail. com/arogyamantra.blogspot.com