Updated: July 16, 2019 8:39:13 am
A few years ago, while scouring the local market for vegetables, Thomas Zacharias came across shevla. A long, stem-like vegetable, it had an off-white body and was deep red towards the base.
Instinctively, he picked up a piece and chewed a small bite off it. The next 10 minutes, he experienced an intense pain in the mouth that nothing could help ease. The experience made him realise the vegetable is highly toxic and a chat with the vendor taught him that shevla should always be cooked along with another vegetable called kaakad.
“Both shevla and kaakad are wild vegetables, local to Maharashtra. And the discovery had me wondering about other such local produce that isn’t widely available,” adds Zacharias, the chef at Lower Parel’s The Bombay Canteen.
Over the last few months, Zacharias has discovered close to 40 wild vegetables that are mostly “highly seasonal” and available in the market for not more than three weeks at a stretch. Of those, he is currently working with eight varieties, for a special menu that is aimed at creating awareness about them.
“Our philosophy is centred around working with local produce but most of us don’t consume more than 12-15 vegetables throughout the year when there is such a large variety available. We want to introduce these vegetables to people, get them to taste the dishes made out of them and also share some recipes on how to cook the vegetables,” he explains.
The special showcase is a two-month-long festival and after the eight vegetables go out of season in the next three weeks, the chef will bring in a new menu for the next batch of seasonal vegetables. For the first showcase, she is working with kantola, garbandi, patangiri, mahua, pendra, moras and kurasini, apart from the shevla-kaakad combination.
While garbandi and moras are leaves, kurasini is a seed that is consumed as a dried preparation, made with chopped onions, tomatoes and chillies, and had as a side. Zacharias, however, has used kurasini to make a sauce because “when ground, it has a texture like tahini and carries a hint of mushroom in the taste”.
Originally grown and consumed by Maharashtra’s tribal Warli community, the vegetables are mostly prepared using onion, garlic and green chillies. The shevla, however, is brought in by the state’s CKP community, as is phodshi. Cantle, Zacharias says, is spiny gourd with a bitter gourd-like taste. Moras, a leafy vegetable, is available throughout the year and grows wild in the marshes of Vashi. “That gives it a salty flavour and it is used to replace salt for Gujaratis during their fasting period,” he says.
One of Zacharias’s favourite ingredient this time is mahua. The caramel-like texture and flavour lends beautifully to dessert, which the restaurant is serving along with a chocolate sauce made with whiskey.
In its attempt to create awareness about the vegetables and also encourage their use, The Bombay Canteen is also giving away information cards for each vegetable that will carry a picture, alternate names, its nutritional value, where it grows and a recipe. The festival is on till August 31.
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