Since having made and tasted the agathi poo poriyal ,4 years ago, this pretty ingredient has always been a much looked forward lunch dish when in season.The agathi (sesbania grandiflora) plants do grow tall and these flowers hang in attractive clusters.As I stood admiring the white blossoms which are in season now,I happened to spot thin long ,green pods growing from the withered edges of some flowers. At first I assumed that they were ornamental ,most likely used for seed.
The thin pods resembled a cross between the cluster bean and the long bean. Glancing at the elderly farm hand pottering about close by I casually inquired if these pods were edible. Chinthamani nodded and said that only the very tender ones could be eaten. She referred to it as the agathi kai .Apparently their way of cooking is to boil it in water until tender and saute’ with onions, curry leaves,chillies,mustard seeds and finish with a handful of freshly grated coconut.
So many of my food experiences have been the result of casual conversations and here was another new ingredient to try out.What also amazed me was how I had never really noticed these slender pods before. Search results online for the agathi kai yielded nothing and my books on nattu samayal 9native cooking) were of little help.
An unexplained intuition made me call Rajesh Govindarajulu and his wife Sujatha ,only to have her tell me that it is a vegetable which is very popular in their chettiar households. They pickle it in a buttermilk solution and it is referred to as oota. As the conversation progressed ,Sujatha listed a variety of seasonal ingredients which go into making this oota. She also generously offered to pickle the small bundle of freshly picked agathi kai which I carried back home and I happily agreed. She promised to share the recipe and the proportions later.
Another person who is highly knowledgeable in foraged foods is passionate agriculturist Sunitha Santhanagopal .Even when texting her one learns so much and it becomes more obvious to me each time , the staggering wealth of knowledge she possesses. This time however she wasn’t easily available but I did hear from her a day later that she does cook the agathi kai when in season and adds buttermilk during the cooking process. I hope to get that recipe as well,soon.
What surprised me was when Sujatha said that this vegetable was easily available around the Vysial street area. Most Chettiar homes apparently have perennial stock of this particular oota and is eaten as an accompaniment with upma, idli ,dosai as well as curd rice.
A quick trip to Vysial street was next on my agenda to visit my favourite street vendor ,Rajathi. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, she showed me her empty basket where she had sold out the last lot of the agathi kai. But she did have a few packets of the buttermilk cured oota. All charm and smiles she declined to reveal her source but assured me that she would let me know if she happened to receive more. Further down the road at Karur Renganathan stores,the small refrigerator contained a list of different vegetable oota.The agathi kai is also referred to here as avisi kai and was sold out by popular demand.
My search next took me to Mahalakshmi foods tucked into the tiny alleyways off Vysial street which we had frequented during our food walk some years ago. Gokula amma,her daughter and helpers were busy stocking the shelves and brought out packets of the avisikai oota made by them at home. At the moment,this one shop seems to have the largest stock of this pickled ingredient for sale. It’s tucked away into the interiors comprising of small houses and narrow lanes. A few twists and turns later,a blue doorway leads to this store that truly gives meaning to the phrase ‘hole in the wall establishment’.Gokula amma is a lady of few words but her helpers more than make up fot it !
Unfortunately we didn’t come across the fresh agathi kai at any other pavement carts that evening. It soon became apparent that this area is where one is most likely to find local, seasonal produce at it’s freshest best.
The avisikai oota tasted crunchy and has a slightly astringent after taste.The buttermilk infusion is light ,tangy and delicious. Apparently it is an extremely bitter vegetable and the buttermilk helps to remove the bitterness.
After an exhaustive search on the internet I did come across a range of sites which spoke about the edible benefits of this pod which is listed under so many names. Swamp pea, vegetable humming bird,west indian pea, katura murunga, august tree pod, agastya tree etc etc There are no recipes but all the sites talk about the tender pods being laden with medicinal properties and especially beneficial for stomach ailments.
Buttermilk being a good probiotic further enhances the nutrient profile of this native ingredient. Now I can’t wait to upload our own avisikai oota recipes from Coimbatore onto the world wide web!
Looking for oota ?
Sri Mahalakshmi foods – 2394597 , 91A ,Balaji kovil lane,Coimbatore-1
Karur.R.Renganathan- 9994536772 (oota made on order only)