Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The bitter truth

When you think of greens, what comes to mind? Spinach, kale, rocket leaves (arugula), lettuce, even mustard greens? How about bitter leaves? People in India eat leaves of the neem tree, a member of the mahogany family native to this country and Pakistan. The leaves are bitter, but take on a distinctive flavor when sauteed in oil or ghee. In Bengal, neem leaves are especially popular this time of year, when they are tender.

I remember eating, under coercion from my mother, fried neem leaves during childhood and adolescence. My parents always said neem is good for health -- it helps clean the blood and, of course, it helps diabetics control blood sugar. Later, I ate neem leaves voluntarily whenever the dish was cooked. The medicine became palatable, even delicious. My mother swears by tender leaves fried or sauteed. You can eat it another way if you want to follow the Bengali tradition. You can saute the leaves first in a kadahi, or wok, to crispness, and then, after removing them, saute diced eggplant (aubergine), and, finally, mix the two, adding seasoning (which in Bengali homes means salt and turmeric).

Have you tried neem? How does the idea appeal to you?

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