Special food combinations from the Terai that sound absurd but taste amazing

Features Issue 208 Mar, 2019

Identifying ideal food combinations is not only a culinary art but also a tedious process. If you get the combination right, the food not only tastes amazing but also has several health benefits. However, if the combination goes haywire, it might lead even to food poisoning. But we are lucky to inherit so many different food traditions handed down to us by our elders. Let’s have a look at some unique food combinations from the southern plains of Nepal.

Grass peas and brinjal (Khesari – bhanta)   Grass peas (Lathyrus sativus), grown as a forage in Europe, is considered a poor man’s pigeon pea (rahar ko dal) in the Terai. Although there’s a common belief that its prolonged use can cause paralysis, people love the 

grass peas and brinjal (eggplant or aubergine) curry in the southern plains.
Here’s how you cook it: Cut khesari leaves into fine pieces and chop the brinjal into fine cubes. Get your spices ready to start with. Then heat few spoonful of mustard oil, fry finely with chopped garlic, onion, ginger and chilly pieces. As the onion turns brown, add the brinjal pieces and fry them for a while. Then slowly add the grass peas and cook for a while. As you cook the curry, add the spices (turmeric, chilly, coriander and cumin powder) and water and cook on low heat. You can eat the curry with boiled rice but it tastes better when eaten with puffed rice.

Bottle gourd and mustard greens (Gonja)
Have you ever tried cooking bottle gourd and mustard greens together? The mixed curry of bottle gourd and mustard greens, called gonja in Eastern Nepal, is a local delicacy during the onset of the winter season.
Here’s how you cook it: Scrape the bottle gourd and cut it into small pieces. Also cut small pieces of mustard leaves. Just like other curries, start with frying onion, chillies, ginger and garlic pieces. You can also fry fenugreek and cumin seeds for a unique taste. Once the onion gets brown, add the bottle gourd pieces and fry till they pieces become a bit translucent. Then add the mustard greens. Fry them both and cook on low heat. Finally add a bit of water and add a pinch of rice flour, if available. Let it cook for a while—it'll be ready in few minutes. Serve it with either rice or puffed rice. They also cook bottle gourd and sinki (fermented and dried greens) together. It’s also called gonja but is a bit sour in taste.

Drumstick and flaxseed (moonga – aalash)

Drumstick, flaxseed and bay leaf make a yummy curry. Just roast the seeds and grind them into powder form. While cooking the drumsticks start by frying the bay leaves, dried red chillies and nicely sliced onions in mustard oil. As the onion slices turn brown add the drumstick pieces and slices of potatoes to taste and cook on low heat. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric powder, ginger garlic paste and salt to taste and add warm water. Finally, add the flaxseed powder for thick gravy and your dish is ready!

Jhilli – dahi curry
Jhilli, made of chickpea flour, looks like a jalebi but is salty in taste. Fried in mustard oil or vanaspati ghee, they are one of the most sought after snacks in haats, the weekly markets of the southern plains. And if you cook it in a thick gravy of chopped onion, spices and dahi (curd), it makes a fabulous curry.

Elephant foot yam and mango ginger (Oal- amadi)    We talked about elephant foot yam aka oal curry (http://ecs.com.np/features/how-to-cook-elephant-foot-yamaka-oal) in our September 2018 issue. When mixed with mango ginger aka amadi, the oal tastes much better.

The amadi looks like ginger but tastes like raw mango and it makes a unique combination with oal. You’ll just need to grind elephant foot yam and mango ginger, together with chilly and spices. Then dry the mixture in the sun first before packing it in a bottle with mustard oil and salt to taste. It's finger licking good!

Fresh bamboo shoots and flaxseed (Tama – aalash)

The fresh bamboo shoots are a bit bitter when cooked without treating with baking soda. But when boiled with baking soda, the bitterness goes away. And once garnished with flaxseed powder, the slurpy bamboo shoot curry tastes amazing! It's a peculiar dish cooked in the southern plains of Nepal and since the flaxseed has been deemed a superfood, the curry, if introduced to a wider audience, is set to be a hit among foodies.

Koiralo leaves and flaxseed   The Bauhinia variegata L. flowers are delicious to eat as a pickle or chutney. Called koiralo in Nepali and koilar in the local language of the southern plains of Nepal, its tender leaves are eaten as a popular vegetable. And if garnished with flaxseed powder just like the fresh bamboo shoots, it tastes superb!

The food of southern Nepal is diverse and delicious – give one of the above recipes a try, or ask for these dishes at local eateries the next time you visit the plains.