Food

Intoxicatingly delicious

With increasing urbanisation and changing food habits, very few people are aware of the mahua fruit and its oil, let alone its health benefits

 
By Shalini Dhyani
Last Updated: Tuesday 28 February 2017

The intoxicating sweet aroma of ripe mahua flowers reminds me of my childhood days at my grandmother’s village in central Uttar Pradesh. The pale yellow carpet made by the flowers falling around the mahua tree is still fresh in my memory. My grandmother used to extract the juice of the flowers in a wooden tub to prepare a sweet dish meethe gulgule.

She would eagerly wait for the flowering season to end and for the green, plum-sized mahua fruits to appear. She would then ask her neighbours to help her pluck a handful of mahua fruits, called kolaiya in the region, for making kolaiya ki sabzi. Though the fruit is devoid of any flavour, dishes made using mahua fruits are as delectable as those from mahua flowers.

The elderly are particularly fond of the mahua fruit because of its health benefits. They believe the fruit and the oil extracted from its seed cure arthritis, chronic ulcers, acute tonsillitis and bleeding gums. The bark of mahua tree is believed to cure diabetes, while its flowers are said to relieve constipation, hemorrhoids, eye infections and bronchitis symptoms. A report published in the Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources in 2010 corroborates the belief of many like my grandmother. It states parts of mahua tree have properties that make them useful as an expectorant and a carminative, and are also beneficial for lactating mothers.

Not so long ago, mahua seed oil was the preferred cooking oil for many in north Indian villages because of its ghee-like texture. Tribals in central India still use the pale-yellow oil as a substitute for ghee. This has perhaps earned the tree the moniker, “butter tree”. A recent research paper states mahua seed oil contains a mildly toxic compound, mowin, but it can be easily avoided if the oil is extracted properly. The oil is used for making soap and for massage. It also provides relief from rheumatism. It is also being used as biodiesel. The seed residue after oil extraction is used as cattle fodder.

With increasing urbanisation and changing food habits, very few are aware of the mahua fruit and its oil, let alone its health benefits. Mahua fruit, which was once abundantly available across northern and central India during summer, is now hard to come by. Though mahua flowers are known for their culinary appeal and are used in the preparation of alcohol, it is rare to spot people selling mahua fruits even at village bazaars.

Kolaiya ki sabzi
 
Though devoid of any flavour, dishes made using mahua fruits are as delectable as those from mahua flowers

INGREDIENTS
  • Kolaiya (peeled, de-seeded, chopped): 500 g
  • Besan (gram flour): 50 g
  • Medium-sized onion (chopped): 1
  • Medium-sized tomato (chopped): 1
  • Crushed ginger: 1 tsp
  • Garlic paste: 1 tsp
  • Green chillies: 2
  • Asafoetida: a pinch
  • Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
  • Coriander powder: 2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
  • Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt: to taste
  • Mustard oil: 1 tbsp


METHOD
Heat oil in a wok and add asafoetida and cumin seeds. When cumin starts to splutter, add chopped onion, green chilli and ginger-garlic paste.

Fry till brown. Add chopped tomato and fry till it gets soft. Add gram flour and fry for two minutes. Add coriander, turmeric and red chilli powder to the mix. Fry for a minute.

Add kolaiya and mix properly. Cover and cook on a low flame for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from flame and add dollops of butter. Serve hot with chapatti.

 

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