How to Dry And Preserve Neem/ Indian Lilac Flowers For Culinary Use


A major part of my lockdown period was spent at my son’s previous home. Surrounded by old trees, some more than hundred years old. Among them were the Neem or Indian Lilac trees. Delhi has a fair share of ancient aging Neem trees so full of life even now.

Azadirachta indica L is not just a scared and medicinal tree but a shelter for birds, bees, squirrels, butterflies and insects of various kinds. It is a very effective air purifier too and its root bark, stem bark, gum, flower, leaves, seeds and seed oil are used for various medicinal purposes but today we will focus on how to dry and preserve the Neem Flowers or Vepampoo as it is known in Southern India for the unique culinary uses.

While I was recovering in the Hauz Khas home of my elder son the Neem trees lining the streets were flowering gregariously. The flower laden branches from the closest tree leaned on the terrace bringing in a star shower with even a gentle breeze. I was fortunate to see the transformation of little buds to flowers and then to fruits that were devoured by hungry parakeets which descend in such large numbers that sometimes the tree becomes them. In the midst of chaos I fond the solace in quietly sitting and witnessing the life nestled between the labyrinth of dark rough ancient branches and a “sea of foliage” as Lutyens wanted Delhi to be.

Throughout Southern India these flowers are used in various food preparations. I’ve savored some but not made all of them. I’ve prepared roasted flowers crumbled on hot plain steamed rice, tossed in ghee with hing and added to rice, eaten with jaggery, Ugadi Pachadi (Bevu Bella in kannada), dry podi, raita, raw mango Neem flower pachdi, rasam, tea and neer moru /  Masale majjige / Buttermilk infused with the blossoms whose recipe I will share. Then there is kozambu and yummy sadam with Mor Milagai / Dried Green chilies and dried Neem Blossoms that’s out of the world.

If you aren’t adverse to light bitterness then you’ll find Neem blossoms very delicious. The blossoms are known to cleanse the system among other medicinal benefits.

Here is a step by step method of drying and preserving Neem blossoms. The process is pretty simple. In the flowering season which is Jan – May you may gather these fresh flowers to sun dry and if there is a scarcity of sunny secure place they can be dried under a fan too.

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  1. Collect the fresh tenderly fragrant blossoms in a clean bowl or sheet of cloth.
  2. Separate the Neem flowers from the leaf axil by holding the stem in the left hand and pulling the flowers by dragging your fingers from bottom upwards to separate the blossoms.
  3. Once you have all the tiny blossoms separated take a large clean utensil and fill it with drinking water. Dip these flowers gently in it so that all the dust and dirt gets washed. Leave them there for 1-2 minutes and then slowly scoop them into a plate.
  4. Spread kitchen towels or a clean cloth on a flat surface and spread the flowers on it. You may use a large tray if the quantity of blossoms is less.
  5. Let them dry under the sun from morning till evening and bring them in at night. Keep then under sun till they’re completely dry and there is no trace of moisture. Drying under the fan takes more time. I did that as the house cat and her new kittens were all over the terrace. It will take tat least 2-3 days minimum for them to dry completely.
  6. The sign that they are ready for storage and use is to lightly crush them. If they are crisp and crush easily then it’s ready.
  7. Bring in the dried browned flowers to the kitchen counter and let them rest for a while so that they come to the room temperature. Store them in clean and dry airtight jars and use as and when required.
  8. You can use fresh flowers too after washing them as some recipes require the use of fresh ones.

Here is a recipe for  Vepampoo Neer Moru / Spiced Buttermilk tempered with fresh Neem blossoms 

 

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Ingredients : 

Fresh Neem or Vepampoo Blossoms – 2-3 tsp full

Ghee or Clarified butter – 1 tbsp

Dry Whole Red Chili – 1 small

Green chili – 1 broken in 2-3 pieces

Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp

Grated ginger – 1 tbsp

Fresh Yogurt  (Preferably Home cultured) – 1 cup

Water – 2 cups

Salt to taste

Asafoetida – 1 pinch

( You can use fresh buttermilk too instead of making one)

Method : 

Heat an iron seasoning ladle or a small seasoning wok and add ghee to it. Once the ghee warms add cumin seeds. When they crackle add whole broken red chili, green chili pieces, asafoetida (Hing) and fresh Neem blossoms. The moment you get an aromatic fragrance remove from heat and keep on counter to cool. Remove the red chili if your heat threshold is less. You may use just one variety of chili too. Make sure

Add it to the fresh buttermilk and stir. Add salt and grated ginger and stir well.

Or

Blend the curd with water, salt, grated ginger properly and then add the prepared Vepampoo tempering.  Mix everything well and serve. You can have this Vepampoo infused neer moru at room temperature or chilled. It is extremely cooling in the heat of summer and the addition of Neem blossoms give it a beautiful aroma and taste.

 

 

 

 

Recipe – Kokum | Kokam Sharbat


The temperatures are soaring in Northern India and Delhi is sizzling at 46 degree Celsius. I am keeping myself hydrated with various sharbats and Kokum is one my favorites. It keeps the body cool and is anti inflammatory. Kokum juice has other health benefits too but I love the tangy sweet taste of this delicious sharbat and make it often. I use kokum or aamsul, also known as Malabar Tamarind,  as souring agent too. We made kokum saar too sometime. It tastes amazing and helps aid digestion too. Will share a recipe soon.

Kokum|kokam, Garcinia indica, belongs to Mangosteen family. It is native to the western coastal regions of southern India and used extensively in the cuisines of Gujarat Maharashrta and several southern states. The fruit is usually sold as a dried dark purple to black rind or as semi wet sticky curled edges. When added to food it gives the dish a pinkish purple color and a sweet/sour taste. It is slight astringent in nature too.

Dry Kokum With salt on left and With out salt wet kokum on right.

As fresh kokum is not available in Delhi I use the dry one. I have two batches of it, one is dried with salt and the other is plain semi dried fruit petals which I use to make sharbat. I avoid buying the readymade concentrate but if fresh or dry kokum is not available in your area please feel free to use the market bought concentrate. Add roasted cumin powder, crushed mint, black salt to the sharbat and sip the tangy sweet goodness on hot summer noons. Trust me there is nothing to beat this drink. Use it for Margaritas and other cocktails. It pairs well with rum and vodka. Here is an Ice Tea Recipe with Kokum.

The semi dry or dry kokum petals have a very strong sour taste so they should be used with care. The dry kokum tastes very sour and astringent but has a sweet aroma. The fresh fruit is sweeter. The very dry kokum petals will give you a muddy and reddish brown colored sharbat but the

Kokum sharbat concentrate can be stored in the fridge in an airtight glass jar for a maximum of 3-4 weeks. Use clean dry spoon to use it whenever required.

Kokum Sharbat

Ingredients :

1 cup – Kokum

1.5 cups – Sugar

1.5 cups – Water

1 tsp.  – Black salt

2 tsp. – Cumin powder

1 tbsp –  Crushed mint leaves

Method – 

Wash and soak dry / semi dry kokum petals in 2 cups of warm water for 2-3 hours.  The petals will soften and will leave a deep reddish or deep mauve wine color.

Strain  the water and keep it aside. Now Mash the kokum with hand or blend in a mixer.

Add this mixture to the reserved water and put it over medium high flame. Add the sugar and stir nicely till it dissolves completely.  Cook for another 2-3 minutes till the liquid thickens a bit and comes to a syrup like consistency then turn off the heat.

Let it come to room temperature then sieve it through the strainer. Press the crushed kokum with the back of the spoon or with fingers to extract all the juices.

Add black salt, roasted cumin powder, black pepper ( optional ) and stir. Your concentrate is ready to be bottled.

To make the sharbat, take 2-3 tsp of kokum concentrate ( as per taste) in a glass and tip in chilled water and a little of crushed mint leaves.  At this point I empty an ice cube tray and fill the slots with this sharbat instead of using ice for the drink. Ice more flavorful. dilutes the drink so ice cubes made of sharbat make it.

Once the cubes are set we are ready to make the sharbat.

In a glass pitcher add kokum concentrate depending on how many glasses you need to make. Add chilled water and crushed mint leaves and give it a nice stir.

Take the serving glasses and  salt the rims by taking some pink or black salt in a plate and inverting the wet rims on it.

Gently pour the sharbat in the glasses then add the sharbat ice cubes to it.

Serve Chilled.

 

Method – 2 

Sometime I don’t boil the Kokum and juice to make a concentrate. I just soak the kokum in just enough water to cover the fruit petals for 4-5 hours or overnight inside the fridge then rub the kokum with fingers to extract all the flavor. Then strain and add boora cheeni or jaggery powder, roasted cumin powder, black pepper powder, crushed fresh mint leaves, kokum ice cubes and more water then stir to make a quick sharbat.  It tastes equally good.

You can also put one kokum in a glass of water and soak for half an hour, add salt, cumin  powder and drink that water too as an aid to digestion.

 

Kokum Iced Tea

Do try this concentrate to make mocktails, cocktails and Ice teas. You will definitely love the delicious and flavorful taste.

Do away with market bought drinks and invest some time in our indigenous and traditional drinks.

 

 

 

Healthy Traditional Indigenous Indian Coolants


The  Indian Summer is at its peak with all the right ingredients including merciless sun, scorching winds which sap the energy out of  the body. Soaring temperatures diminish the want to eat and one longs for some chilled refreshing drink. In the days when  fizzy, carbonated drinks full of empty calories, artificial sweeteners, colours and synthetic flavors beckon you from every food mall, roadside shops and eateries our home is heaven for traditional nutritious summer coolers. Natural home-made drinks which not just keep the body cool but are also healthy.

Summer in our country is ferocious and most of the body fluid is lost in sweat. It is an age-old tradition to offer water with something sweet ( at our home peda or petha) to anyone who comes from outside. It helps to keep the person hydrated and the sugar gives instant energy.

All the summer coolants are region and season specific and can be divided into two categories – Dairy and fruit based. Some fruit based summer drinks are hibiscus and Rhododendron drinks. We have the most common Nimboo pani( shikanjee) , lassi( sweet and salted)( thick creamy whipped curd /, taken plain or with dash of sweet concentrate or blended with mango) , buttermilk, fruit smoothies, fruits crushes, kokam (fruit of a tropical evergreen tree (Garcinia indica) )  sherbet, thandai, sherbets made from local seasonal fruits like bael, phalsa, raw mango ( aam panna).  Tender coconut water and fresh fruit juices are also popular. Jal zeera is another summer favorite. All these drinks are rehydrant and prevent heat strokes and other summer maladies. Sattu drink ( sweet and salty) are again making a place for themselves.  Then there are very popular mixes of sugar and natural essences like rose, kevda, khas, and other sherbets made by infusing herbs and natural essences. These are a little high on sugar but still a popular choice.  Most of them have medicinal properties and good for summer.

Aam Panna made with tender boiled raw mango, water and sugar

The plan is to help the body stock up on essential vitamins and minerals.

raw mango pulp with spices, salt and sugar

raw mango pulp with spices, salt and sugar

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You can roast the mango on direct flame of stove or preheated oven at 200 degree for 30 min depending on the size of the mango. Wrap it in aluminium foil and place on the rack. to get gorgeous roasted mangoes. Add jaggery for a healthy drink. I use organic jagery granules or shakkar

Sattu ka ghol ( Sattu drink) 

Sultry day demands something cooling to give a boost to your energy levels. Sattu ghol is our own indigenous substitute for whey protein shake. Made of roasted channa ( gram) flour, this composition is one of the highest sources of vegetarian protein and a quality that is most easily absorbed by the body. Sattu is a special unique drink with a good source of natural fiber and carbohydrates and is made with scientific formula. Originally sattu was made from roasted powered chick peas but with time it has evolved and we can get many variants and mixes of pulses,legumes and cereals like barley, maize, wheat, rice, horse gram, oat etc in form of sattu. Sattu was originally known as Sat-Anaaj(seven cereals, millet and pulses). All across the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarpradesh , and Orissa Sattu is eaten daily in various forms. Sattu drinks can be sweet or salty according to the taste. Jaggery is used instead of refined sugar to make it more healthy.

Black Gram and Barley Sattu

I make it at home. There is a separate post on blog that you can look for.  Sattu has innumerable health benefits and has digestible dietary constituents of vital importance. It has high protein value and beneficial for diabetic patients. 

Sweet Barley and Chana Sattu drink

Packed with Protein, Calcium, Fiber, Iron and magnesium Chana Sattu is one of the healthiest things to have this summer. It is cooling to the system too. 60 grams (4 tbsp) of this roasted gram flour will give you 19.7 grams of high quality vegetarian protein that is absorbed easily in the body. Good for people with diabetes and for bone health, treating anemia etc. It aids fat and weight loss too.

Ingredients : 

Chana Sattu – 1 Tablespoon

Barley Sattu – 1 Tablespoon

Salt – as per taste

Roasted cumin seed powder – a pinch

Lemon Juice – To taste

Mint powder or crushed mint leaves – 1 few

One can add, grated raw mango, coriander , mint, etc. as per taste. One can also make with sweet with jaggery.

Method :  

In a glass add both sattus , salt, cumin powder and other ingredients. Add chilled water. Mix well.  Your healthy summer drink is ready to be savored.

You can also make it sweet by omitting onion, mint , lemon, salt  and adding shakkar (Fine jaggery powder and roasted cumin seed powder like I did in the earlier one).

 

Related Post 

Phalsa Sharbat