If the post title has not made you shudder and click away, then consider yourself smothered in a hug from me! I understand that sometimes it takes courage to even read about certain food items, let alone trying them or eating them. Mention squid or muskmelon and I want to run away. And there are several who follow suit when it comes to the idea of eating bitter neem leaves.
But ‘bitter’ has been part of our daily meals since forever now. As is the case with meals from all regions of India, the Bengali meal too is balanced to satiate the six basic tastes. This, in turn, covers a variety of food that makes a wholesome balanced diet.
Leaves of a neem tree or Indian lilac are renowned for their medicinal properties. Type in the word ‘neem’ in a search engine, hit enter and you’ll have enough material to write a thesis on the humble leaf!
It is this medicinal property that inspires my mother to chomp on these leaves early in the morning. “I just tear a few leaves from the trees on the road, wipe them clean and fold them into my mouth,” she is heard mentioning almost every time she is cooking neem leaves – simply because that is the only way I will eat those leaves.
The bitter taste is a characteristic of any dish with neem leaves which, in all honesty, is an acquired taste. There are ways of eating this dish – some prefer to mix lightly stir-fried neem leaves with salted mashed potatoes and then eat it with rice. Some like to add some fried brinjal while most others prefer to run away from it altogether.
A few words of caution – I eat this more for the medicinal and nutritional value. You’ll often see me starting my meal with a neem preparation mixed with some steamed rice in a separate bowl or plate. I dislike when the bitter taste mixes with other food tastes.
- 1 cup Fresh neem leaves
- 1 Potato small
- ½ tablespoon Oil
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon Turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoon Desiccated coconut
Thoroughly wash the neem leaves in running water to remove all dust, roughly chop and keep aside.
Dice the potato into small pieces and soak in water.
Heat oil in a kadhai or wok.
Add the potatoes to the hot oil with a pinch of salt and stir fry for 5 minutes.
Keeping the heat low, add the chopped neem leaves to the vessel along with 1/4th teaspoon salt and the turmeric powder.
Stir well and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the desiccated coconut to the leaves and mix well.
Spread the leaves inside the kadhai or wok to ensure all of the leaves get adequate heat and let them cook on low heat.
The neem leaves are ready to remove from heat when they are crispy.
Serve with hot steamed rice.
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