A quiet lunch, with greens

by Kaveri Ponnapa

Every now and then, the regular spread on the lunch table begins to look like too much of a good thing, particularly when I happen to be eating alone. My gaze sweeps over all the assembled dishes, the curries of mutton or vegetables, the bowls of pickles, and a vague dissatisfaction settles over my thoughts. At such times, my eyes search for, and invariably settle on a pile of stir-fried greens, kaké thoppe, that appears at least once a week on my table. A dark, glistening green in colour, it lies clumped in a disorderly manner on a shallow dish, like a tangle of seaweed washed ashore, with nothing even remotely attractive about it, except, perhaps, its colour. Stir-fried kaké thoppe, Solanum nigrum, is an acquired taste, and the local variety that grows in Coorg has an unmatched freshness and crispness.

Great big bunches lie in the kitchen, and once the somewhat tedious process of plucking, sorting and washing the leaves is done, you are just a few steps away from the finished dish. A heap of roughly chopped leaves, a thinly sliced onion, a spoonful of oil, slender, bright green chillies, slit along their length, a scattering of salt, and a very quick stir-fry. Then, a lid clamped down swiftly, to allow the pleasing bitterness of the leaves to meet the sweetness of onion, and come together under a steady steam. In a short while, you have a moist heap of elegantly bitter, tender leaves that can be combined with just about anything. Some days I eat it with a roti, for a frugal but inexplicably satisfying meal. On others, a small mound of steamed rice, a few spoonfuls of dal and the greens make a pleasing composition on my plate. Invariably, the mood turns quiet and contemplative, and memories of other, long-ago, meals, perfect in their simplicity, come floating to the surface. Either way, the palate-cleansing freshness of kaké thoppe wakes up the senses in a way a much more complex dish never can.

Kaké Thoppe Barthad


Stir-Fried Bitter Greens

  • 2 generous bunches bitter greens (Kaké thoppe, Solanum nigrum)
  • 1 oinion, thinly sliced
  • 2-4 fresh green chillies, according to taste, slit lengthwise
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds, optional
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • salt to taste

    Method:

  • Sort the greens, using only the leaves and very tender stalks. Discard all hard or woody stalks.
  • Wash thoroughly, and place in a colander to drain.
  • Heat the oil in a wide pan or khadai, and when hot add the mustard seeds, if you are using them. Allow them to sputter.
  • Add the sliced onion, and fry until wilted and soft, but not browned.
  • Add the green chillies, and stir a few times.
  • Finally, add the greens and salt, cover and cook in its own moisture until wilted and tender, approximately 5 – 7 mins. Do not overcook.

Cook's Note:

You may use a few pods of garlic, or dried red chillies to season this dish, but personally, I prefer the very simple recipe given above, as it allows the flavour of the greens to come through.
Substitutes for kaké thoppe in Bangalore: kasar gantu soppu or manthakali soppu.

Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.

Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa

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