Sometimes, the most mundane of things can help bring forth the most pleasant memories. Very often, it is not the thing itself that we crave, but the fond memories associated with it that the heart yearns for.
I recently learned this profound truth when I spotted red amaranth leaves in the local farmers' market. While I have always loved the simple, earthy taste of a stir fry made with these leaves, it is only now, in the wake of having recently lost my grandmother, that I have realized how closely tied in this leaf is to my memories of her.
Some of my earliest memories as a child include her, impeccably dressed in her nine yards madisar podavai, walking to our front yard with a plate filled with tiny black seedlings. I would assist her in scattering these seeds around our coconut trees and then sprinkling water over them. I would check and water the seeds in the days to follow,my entire child's being thrilled to see the tiny shoots sprouting out of the ground. A few weeks down the line, my grandmother would harvest her crop of red keerai (red amaranth/malabar spinach) and hand them over to my mother to be cleaned and chopped. Once that was done, she would put her cheena chatti (wok) on the stove, heat some coconut oil in it, put in a simple seasoning of broken red chilli, urad dal and mustard seeds and then the chopped spinach leaves. These would cook remarkably quickly in their own steam on a low flame. A garnish of grated coconut ground with green chillies was the final touch she added to the dish and then, knowing that this was my favourite way of eating it, she would mix it up with hot rice and ghee on a plate and hand it to me.
I now know that it is not the dish alone that I am so fond of, but the heaping helping of love with which it was made and served that I long for.
What you need:
Amaranth leaves/malabar spinach - 1 bunch (Any variety of leafy greens can be used but I am partial to the red amaranth leaves that grow particularly well in Kerala)
Oil - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Broken red chilli - 2
Grated coconut - 1/4 cup ground coarsely with 1 green chilli
Wash the leaves well and chop finely. Heat oil in a pan. Season with dal, mustard and red chilli. When the seeds start to pop, reduce the flame to low and stir in the chopped leaves and salt. Cover and let it cook in its own steam until wilted. Add in the ground coconut. Stir well and heat uncovered until the moisture evaporates.
Serve with hot rice and ghee.