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.
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