June 2017


Eat Your Greens
June 2017




Fresh greens for your daily meal

With plenty of vitamins and minerals, nourishing and detoxifying green leaves are a regular accompaniment in a Sri Lankan meal.


Words: Jennifer Paldano Goonewardane
Photography: Rasika Surasena


The man pushing a cart with fresh greens shouts out ‘keerai, keerai' as he comes to a halt before a row of houses. Housewives, one by one approach him to buy their daily quota of leafy greens. The crispy leaves and the healthy colour show that they are picked fresh from the garden. Each variety is neatly tied into a full bundle. The ‘keerai man' is doing his routine morning rounds with his own cartload of green leaves.


Keerai is a term for a variety of leafy green vegetables consumed by Sri Lankans, of which at least one of them makes it to the lunch menu.


Principally cultivated in the low-lying areas, Keerai is the Tamil term while ‘Palaa' is the Sinhalese expression describing these greens. It was customary back then as now to serve two vegetable curries, one white and the other fried and curried and a leafy green vegetable such as mukunuwenna, kan kun, thampala, sarana and gotukola in Sri Lankan households.


While keerai is generally a term that describes the greens that grow in marshy soil, a host of other leaves, such as kathurumurunga, nivithi and anguna kola have been collectively labelled as keerai. All these leaves are prepared either as a mallung or sambol.


Mallung is a Sri Lankan specialty made with grated coconut, finely sliced onions and green chillies all sautéed in oil and curry leaves. Any leaf that is prepared as a mallung has to be finely shredded. In addition, green leaves are cooked in coconut milk or sautéed in coconut oil with onions, garlic, green chillies and other spices. Green leaves are also prepared raw with grated coconut, onions, green chillies, salt and lime juice. Consuming greens as a raw sambol retains the nutritive properties, although one has to make sure the leaves are rinsed well. Greens that are cooked as mallung or curry must not be overcooked, or the leaves lose their colour and nutrition.


Many of the greens have healing properties and are sometimes eaten to alleviate certain diseases. Greens contain no cholesterol and are low on calories (energy). The combination of ingredients maximises the absorption of nutrients into the human body. Thus grated coconut becomes an essential addendum to the mallung and sambol, as a medium of fat for the body to absorb certain nutrients in the greens.

Greens contain no cholesterol and are low on calories. The combination of ingredients maximises the absorption of nutrients into the body.


Mukunuwenna

Undoubtedly the staple green vegetable in all Sri Lankan households, it contains vitamins, protein and fibre. Ask any native about mallung and they will say mukunuwenna! The best mallung is definitely made from mukunuwenna. The leaves along with the young stem are finely shredded for mallung. Well, on rare occasions, people do cook the uncut leaves in coconut milk. This leafy green is good for the stomach.


Sarana

The whole plant of the two varieties, maha and hin sarana are edible. Grown as pot herbs, sarana leaves contain and absorb water, hence it is most often prepared as a curry with coconut milk or combined with dhal, and if prepared as a mallung, is cooked on high fire. The juice of the maha sarana leaf released into the nostrils is said to relieve migraine.


Thampala

It is not without reason that leafy greens are one of the most affordable vegetables for Sri Lankans. Experts say that thampala is a common weed that grows in wastelands and even along the roadside, while it can also be grown effortlessly in a home garden or in a small pot. There are four varieties, although if you ask the keerai man, he would offer you the generic thampala and one would hardly notice the difference. The tender leaves of the rana thampala is consumed as a vegetable and also added to soup. The tender leaves of walu thampala, the prickly katu thampala and kura thampala too is eaten as a green vegetable, ideally cooked as a white curry.


Kan Kun

This mild flavoured leaf full of nutrients has been given exotic names such as ‘Devilled Kan Kun' and ‘Kan Kun Temparadu' as it is tastefully mixed with an assortment of ingredients to bring out the best of this leaf. Tender leaves taste best. Kan kun, among the many leafy vegetables is the fastest to shrivel and lose colour in the process of cooking. Therefore it is mainly sautéed in oil with garlic, onions and red chilli flakes. Kan Kun is an excellent source of iron, calcium, vitamin B and C.


Gotukola

The leaf of longevity! This small round leaf along with its young stem are edible. It is best eaten as a raw salad, finely shredded and mixed with grated coconut, chopped red onions and green chillies with a sprinkling of pepper, salt and lime juice, gotukola sambol exudes a pleasant piquancy that makes ‘Sri Lankan rice and curry' a true native experience. Gotukola leaves prepared as a porridge is consumed for breakfast. In the midst of the heat, it will rejuvenate you with its natural coolness.


Kathurumurunga

Mildly bitter kathurumurunga leaf is of a slender tree that grows up to at least nine metres. Prepared as a mallung or raw salad or stir fried with garlic, onions and chilli flakes, an addition of roasted cashew makes the dish tastier. In Ayurveda, these leaves are precious. It is used to treat fever, sinus and respiratory problems. One may want to ignore the trifling bitterness in the leaf given its cooling properties. And what a natural way to deal with high blood pressure.


Anguna Kola

The tender leaves of this bitter green twining shrub is eaten as sambol. Kiri anguna, known as the sweet variety, is cooling and tonic.


Nivithi

In Sri Lanka, the green leaves and the young stems of this straggling climber are prepared with dhal owing to its water content.

 

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    A 'keera kotuwa' in Gannoruwa

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    A 'green booth' at a local fair selling keerai and other greens

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    Mukunuwenna mallung - the staple green among locals

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    The watery sarana leaves are best cooked with coconut milk or dhal

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    Thampala with the red stalk is one among several varieties of the same leaf

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    The Kan Kun is sauteed with an assortment of ingredients to make it exotic

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    Gotukola sambol is a dish that must be tasted by every visitor to the country

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    Kathurumurunga is a tall tree but is identified as a 'keerai' by natives

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    The health benefits of anguna will make you want to eat it despite its slight bitterness

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    Nivithi also known as Ceylon Spinach tastes good when cooked with dhal

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