Cooking With Papaya Flowers
We headed to the city’s outskirts yesterday to buy vegetables. There is no dearth of markets within the city but once in a while it makes sense to head towards where the produce is more interesting. And fresh. And organic. So in this little wayside market almost every vendor had mounds of papaya buds and flowers. Next to vegetable fern, more edible flowers, bamboo shoots, jackfruit seeds, lasia spinosa, colocasia (shoots, leaves/stems and tubers) apart from the many varieties of gourds that abound during this season. I couldn’t wait to try the papaya flowers as it’s been years since I last cooked them. It reminded me of the time decades ago when I heard a conversation of the family elders taking about chopping down a papaya tree because it turned out to be male. It sounded strange to know that certain plants were male and therefore, could not bear fruit. To know more about this you might find this site interesting.
Papaya flowers are bitter but there are quite a few vegetables that have the same taste and yet are so much a part of our diet. They are believed to be beneficial for our system. Bitter gourd, neem leaves, leaves of the passion fruit plant are some of them. The flowers are removed from the stalks and blanched for a few minutes before cooking.
The first dish I made was a stir-fry with the addition of potatoes and water spinach/Ipomoea aquatica.
1/2 cup blanched papaya flowers
1 bunch water spinach (I used the the leafy bits from the top portion leaving the lower ends to be used later)
2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
6-7 Bird’s eye chillies, whole (the idea is to take/taste it or leave it)
1 large onion finely diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
Half-inch piece ginger, chopped fine
A quarter tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
A dash of paprika powder
Pinch of turmeric
2 tbs vegetable oil
Tear off the top tender ends of the water spinach and wash in several changes of water. Drain.
Heat the oil in a pan. When it becomes hot, add the mustard seeds.
As soon as they sputter, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the chillies and the turmeric powder.
Sprinkle a bit of water so that the turmeric powder does not burn.
Cook till the onions turn pale then add the potatoes and the blanched papaya flowers.
Cook on high heat for about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt. Then add the water spinach and continue to cook till the leaves wilt. This happens very fast as water spinach leaves are soft. As for the taste, it is mild.
Check for adjustments and remove from the flame. Transfer to a serving platter.
This goes best with rice and dal. There is only a hint of bitterness in this dish. I loved it!