Dera a.k.a. Alpinia nigra

The dark green leaves, the tender stalks, and the fruit

One of our region’s popular vegetables is the Alpinia nigra. From the family Zingiberaceae it grows to a height of about 3 feet. The leaves look somewhat like those of the turmeric. The plant  has a faint gingery smell very much like galangal. The stalk and the fruit are widely consumed. Known as dera in Dimasa, this vegetable is usually cooked in a khari that is thickened with rice flour. It is also made into chutney with the addition of hot chillies, fermented fish, alkali, chopped onions and salt. The fruit (derathai) resembles miniature banana flowers. Only the harder outer skin is removed while preparing the vegetable. The innards are pretty much tender so they can be lightly steamed and boiled and mashed into chutney.

The tender stalks and a dish made from the same

In my hometown, this plant is a common back garden feature. So other uses, apart from eating also comes up. For instance if you notice that some of the chillies or tomatoes are ready for the picking and you haven’t carried a basket with you, never mind. Just cut a leaf or two, and wrap up the harvest in those leaves. A dried stalk from the same plant works as good as a string to tie up and carry the produce back to the house. Bamboo “strings” are of course the most commonly used in our region to wrap up and tie up produce before selling them. Two of these examples can be seen in my pictures.

The pretty blooms of the Alpinia nigra

The vegetable dish in the collage was made with the tender stalks (deragong) of the Alpinia nigra with the addition of diced potatoes, eggplants, chillies, ginger and garlic pastes, turmeric, salt, chopped tomatoes, coriander and cumin powder. It was cooked in mustard oil and garnished with finely chopped serrated coriander. Good with plain rice or even with roti.

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