Thursday, March 08, 2007

Disco Greens

Or red amaranth, but then there wouldn’t be many buyers, or in this context, readers drawn to this post! There’s a story behind the headline, though.

The Indian readers among you will know of an old Hindi movie called Disco Dancer, a big hit which spawned a number of similar movies/dance sequences in other Indian languages. Anything shiny and sparkly came to be called ‘Disco …’ after that, be it clothes, costume jewellery, stationery, and as I was to find out a few years ago, vegetables as well.

That day, I had gone shopping for vegetables and spied these gleaming, red bunches with a wizened old woman selling a variety of greens. I knew what they were, of course, but keen to know what they were called in Tamil, the local language, I asked the lady.

With panache and authority, and a look that said she needn’t explain more, she said, “Disco Keerai,” stunning me into inexplicable repulsion … and departure in search of better, and less ostentatious, acquisitions.

My repertoire of dishes with leafy vegetables was restricted to a rather single-formula daal (lentil preparation), stir-fry and chutneys. I don’t make too much more even now but since then, was lucky to find a book called Green Leafy Vegetables by Shyamala Kallianpur, published by the author in 1997. There are several recipes for the most popular/commonly available greens and fewer for the not-so-well-known ones.

This recipe is the only one in the book for red amaranth. (The sample in my photo is cold and sad, do excuse, but gives you an idea of its looks.) I’m sure it has done the rounds of the blogs, especially those specializing in Saraswat cuisine, but whenever something is a new discovery to me, however old and traditional to others, it seems to go into my blog nowadays.

I don’t often see red amaranth in the market and it’s been ages since I last cooked/ate it so I don’t remember the taste, but the book, the blog and the anecdote were too great a combination for me to resist. As was the opportunity to play heroine and rescue the grated fresh coconut I bought a few days ago from its inevitable destination – the dustbin. (Just as death is life’s only certainty, my friends, so is my trashcan my vegetables’ only certain fate.) And so, here comes the dish, which the author calls Bhajji Amshi. I omitted the jaggery the author mentions, but the rest of it remains.

Red amaranth with tender stalks, chopped – 8 cups
A 2 cm cube of jaggery (optional, I would say, but probably not traditionally omitted)
Salt to taste
Water – 3 cups

Grind together to a paste:
Freshly grated coconut – 1 cup
Raw rice, soaked in water for 10 minutes – 1 tbsp
Tamarind, soaked for a while – a lime-sized ball
Green chillies – to taste (she recommends 8-10, I used 5)

Oil – 2 tsp
Garlic, peeled and bruised – 8-10 cloves

Wash the amaranth leaves well. Chop along with the tender stalks. Put it in a pan, add three cups of water, salt and jaggery, if you’re using it. Cook covered on low heat – this will take a while – make sure the leaves wilt and some water evaporates.

Add the ground paste to the cooked amaranth and bring it to a boil.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and fry the garlic slightly. Put this in the curry and immediately cover it so that the flavour permeates the dish. Serve with rice.

Amaranth is full of goodness, and makes for some interesting trivia. To read up, go here and here.

This is my submission for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Anna of Morsels and Musings.



  1. We call it Red Chard and when it comes in red,yellow and green colors, they are Rainbow Chard!:))
    Disco Keerai was hilarious,only Indians can come out with that name!:p
    Recipe sounds traditional although name is 60's "ultra hip"!!!

  2. Nice write and good info. Enjoyed reading it. Tks for sharing. Viji

  3. I was going to ask what amaranth is, but Asha answered my question in her comment.

    I used to know all the moves to Disco Dancer. Remember the song? Disco... dancer... disco... ha ha!!

  4. Ha ha enjoyed reading the writeup for disco greens. Have not cooked with Amaranth at all...thanks for sharing.

  5. Sra,
    Loved the post especially the part of disco keerai.

  6. Ha, ha...Disco Green/red !!! Thats a innovative name :)

    Nice writing, sra

  7. Hi Asha! This doesn't seem to be red chard, to make sure I compared the two in Google Images - and it came up with different pix (leaves) for both. The recipe book I used gave the Hindi name as Chaulai and Kannada name as Dantu for the green version of this. Thotakoora in Telugu and Mulaikeerai in Tamil - don't know if the red has its own name in these languages. It's also called Lal Sag in Hindi.
    And yes, Disco anything is hilarious!
    Thank you, Viji.
    Mallika, hope your question was answered. "I am a Disco Dancer - zindagi meri pakaana" - is that what we should sing?
    Prema, thank you.
    Krishnaarjuna, thank you.
    Sandeepa, thank you.

  8. Hi sra
    so u discovered a filmy name for this lefy veg!great!!enjoyed ur write up!!very funny !!normally in India if one film comes after that clothes and all will get the hero or heroine's names.but now veggies also coming up like that!1hee hee..
    the color of the dish is good!

  9. It does sound interesting. I've never seen this or tasted it. Love to try it sometime.

  10. if iam not wrong i guess its kempu harive(kannada). its quite common green(err!!! red stems) in my mom's kitchen. i am quite fond of this veg and my fav are sambar and palya.
    very good writeup sra. i always enjoy reading it:)

  11. Disco greens!! Hahhaahaaa!! How funny! I quite like these greens, err... reds!

  12. Hi Sra,
    I had heard of disco sarees , bangles but they have not left vegetables now :))) Enjoyed reading the whole write up on Amaranth. Here locals call it lal palak :)

  13. Sra,
    I was confused whether this was "lal Saag" but when Asha said "Red Chard" I thought ok that is it
    I have not tried the Chard but the Lal saag was a big favourite at home in India, more so because the rice would turn a nice pink with this. Have seen this sometimes in the Asia/Chinese stores here.

  14. Thank you, Swapna, yes, isn't the colour lovely?
    Kalyn, I don't see it often myself.
    Thanks a bunch, Sia.
    Jyothsna, thanks for stopping by.
    Archana, thanks.
    Sandeepa, the red chard I saw on the Net had red stems and red veins but the leaves were green. And it's a different shape altogether. Guess where I saw this picture - on a Net shopping & gifting site!!! I wonder how they will ship it and keep it fresh!

  15. Amaranth in Canada is something quite different from chard - a tall plant, mainly grown for the grain. I never heard of it eaten as a vegetable before, nice post!

  16. The colour is lovely. Never knew about the leaves. Here we only get the crops. :(
    Thanks for sharing the information. :))

  17. hahah...Very catchy name and enjoyed the write up too :)

  18. Hi Sra, first time here...loved your write up...

  19. Disco

    Yerra thotakura, isn't it? But this recipe is something new to me.

  20. hey whats up ? Busy, busy ?

  21. Pepper, thanks. Amaranth IS different from chard - the grain here is almost a speciality food, or available only when a certain festival comes around. The leaves are very common food in India.
    Helene, thank you. It is a nice colour, isn't it?
    Mishmash, thank you.
    Sunita, welcome, and thanks.
    Sailu, yes, it's yerra thotakura. I think this is just the second time I've cooked it myself.
    Sandeepa, yes, busy with a holiday! But am back now, came back a few hours ago, thanks for asking.

  22. Hats off to the world of google and internet!! I was dreamily remembering amma's bhajji amshi which she used to make about once a year, usually in the monsoon. But I did not have the exact recipe.. so I "googled'.. and out popped your version, which came out exactly as hers did. Only jaggery is an integral part of this dish.. it is a sweet and sour kind of dish, traditionally eaten along with rice gruel (and hot ghee.... mmm) during the monsoons when fresh veggies were hard to come by. Thanks again.

  23. Nutan, glad I was able to help. Thanks for letting me know, nice to know it tasted authentic.

  24. HI SRA,
    The bhajji amshi is a very popular saraswat receipe. Cooking with green leaft vegetable is an awesome book and a very rare book to find. The book is the only one with such details of the leafy vegs with food values.

  25. Hi Supriya,
    The book Cooking with green leafy vegetables..when u said it's an 'awesome & rare book' there a personal connection u have to it? Just wondering :)

  26. Supriya, sorry I took a while to get back to this comment. Even I'm curious to know - any family connection to the author?


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