Last month, we finally made that long-pending trip to Thailand. This voyage had been waiting to be undertaken for years on end, and it did happen over the bub’s Dassera holidays in October. Thailand is where the bub turned 4, and we spent some happy days there, roaming around and exploring as much as we could. This time around, I saw Thailand from the eyes of a food and travel blogger, a completely different experience to the one I had previously, on our honeymoon. Among the foodie souvenirs I brought back to India from our holiday were these edible flowers, called Vegetable Hummingbird.
Walking around the aisles of Big C, a departmental store in Pattaya, I spotted this packet of flowers – labelled ‘Vegetable Hummingbird’. Apparently, these are flowers of the Sesbania Grandiflora, called so because their shape resembles that of the beak of little hummingbirds. The flowers, called Dok Khae in Thai, can be white, pink or red. They are used in several Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Lao, Maldivian, Indian and Sri Lankan. The Thais use vegetable hummingbirds, mostly the white ones, raw in Nam Prik, and cooked in curries like Gaeng Som. I was intrigued, and absolutely had to pick up a packet of these to carry back home with me.
It was only after I got back home and did some quick reading on the Internet that I got to know that these flowers are the same as Agathi Poo, quite commonly consumed in Tamilnadu in the olden days. With time, though, there are fewer and fewer families in South India using these flowers, sadly. I have never had them before, and had no way of knowing these were from our very own Tamilnadu – I lugged them all the way from Thailand! The family had a hearty laugh, at my expense, but I was thrilled to have had an opportunity to cook with something new to me! 🙂
The Internet also told me that these flowers are also commonly used in Bengali cuisine. The Bengalis call these Bokful, and they are dipped in chickpea-flour batter and deep-fried to make delicious Bokful Bhaja. I cannot help but marvel at these little similarities in cuisines throughout the world!
Both the flowers and the leaves of the Sesbania Grandiflora – agathi poo and agathi keerai in Tamil, respectively – are chock-full of nutrients. The flowers have the power to ward off ailments like asthma, rheumatism and epilepsy, and to keep stress and anxiety at bay. Rich in calcium, the flowers have a cooling effect on the body, too. In Tamilnadu, agathi poo are used to make a lip-smackingly delicious stir-fry or poriyal, the slight bitterness of the flowers balanced by the addition of sugar, grated coconut, onions and/or beans.
Check out the lovely Tamilnadu-style Agathi Poo Poriyal I made using these flowers, under Amma‘s expert tutelage. It was, indeed, super delicious and made for a wonderful pair with piping hot rasam rice!
Ingredients (serves 2-4):
- 15-20 vegetable hummingbird flowers aka agathi poo
- 1 medium-sized onion
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
- 3 green chillies
- 1/2 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (rai)
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)
- Open up the agathi poo and remove the stamen – the hard stalk within. Discard the stamen. Chop up the agathi poo finely – you should get about 1 cup of the chopped flowers. Keep aside.
- Chop the onion finely. Keep aside.
- Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add the asafoetida and the finely chopped onion. Stirring intermittently, saute on medium flame till the onion begins to turn translucent. This should take about 2 minutes.
- Now, add the curry leaves, the slit green chillies and the chopped agathi poo to the pan. Add in the salt to taste, sugar (if using) and turmeric powder too. Cook on medium flame, stirring intermittently, till the flowers are cooked. This should take 2-3 minutes. You may sprinkle a little water if you feel the poriyal is too dry or is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Mix in the fresh grated coconut and cook for a minute more. Switch off gas. The Agathi Poo Poriyal is ready!
- The agathi poo has a slight bitterness to it, and the onions, sugar and fresh grated coconut help to counter that. You may skip the sugar if you don’t want to add it, but I personally think it adds a lovely flavour to the poriyal.
- Agathi poo comes in red, pink and white hues. The white ones are less bitter and tastier than the pink ones. Thai cuisine makes use of the white flowers only, while Tamilians use the white, red and pink ones.
- Coconut oil or gingelly oil works best in this kind of poriyal. However, you can use any other kind of oil you prefer, instead, too.
- You may add finely chopped coriander leaves to the Agathi Poo Poriyal too. We usually don’t, in this kind of poriyal.
- Typically, only the heat from green chillies is used in this kind of poriyal. However, if you feel it is too mild, you may add a dash of red chilli powder too.
- Considering the vegetable hummingbird flowers are quite thin, they cook really easily. There’s no need to cover the pan while the flowers are cooking, but you may if you want even faster cooking.
- Vegetable Hummingbirds or Agathi Poo are quite fragile, and do not have much of a shelf life. They are best consumed straight after plucking or buying at a vegetable vendor’s, as the case may be.
- The calyx of the agathi poo – the greenish part at the bottom of the flower, which holds the petals together – is okay to consume. The stamen – the hard stalk within each flower – needs to be removed.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!