Cooking with sewali flowers

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The sewali-sweet potato patty on the left along with the bitter stir-fried dish.

 

This is another one from my mother’s recipe books. She has about five of them and some countless other pages carefully clipped into a folder. She guards them like they were made of gold. Some of the recipes there were handed down to her from her grandfather, she says. In her cute little way, they were indeed priceless. You can never get the same feeling reading out of a New York Times bestselling cook book, she mentioned as I wrote this post.

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The flowers carry an incredible smell. The wind sometimes carries the perfume to my window upstairs after a thunderstorm.

 

Alright, so let me begin by explaining this queer little flower that grows abundantly here in the Northeast. Nearly every Assamese and Bengali house will have a sewali flower plant in its yard. If there isn’t one, don’t be surprised to see people plucking the flowers from a neighbour’s compound for their morning prayers. These fragrant flowers blossom only at night and shed themselves at dawn. The blossoms leave behind an incredible perfume even after they have fallen to the ground, and our yard is filled with a mesmerising smell in the mornings, especially if it rained the night before. There is something incredibly poetic about that. Countless writers have paid tribute to the flowers and their beauty. My family honours them in our own way through our recipes.

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Assamese cuisine involves a lot of simple, natural ingredients that can be eaten straight from the garden with very little cooking.

 

The flowers blossom almost throughout the year, peaking during the months of April and May, when the frailest of gusts can knock down a basket full. The tree is known as parijat in Hindi. A legend goes that Queen Satyabhama, one of Lord Krishna’s wives, charmed by its beauty and fragrance, asked her husband to plant the parijat in her courtyard. According to the story, Satyabhama wanted to have the prettiest flowers in the land in her garden and undermine Rukmini, Krishna’s principal and perhaps dearest wife. However, once the tree had grown, the flowers always blossomed on Rukmini’s side of the wall. Thus, Krishna had to visit Rukmini’s courtyard every morning to pick the flowers up, leaving Satyabhama distraught. Nature had its own way to punishing jealousy, I guess.

After the folklore, we come to the recipe. We were able to churn out two dishes from the flowers after collecting about one large bowl of them. My mother made a soft patty using some of the sewalis and sweet potatoes, while I stir-fried the remaining to make a bitter dish. Now, when I say bitter, I mean every alphabet. Assamese cuisine includes a lot of bitter dishes and this is one of them. But just to make it more palatable, I added some sugar to it.

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See the sieve in the background? We had flowers filled till the brim in that.

 

Sweet potato patties with sewali flowers –

Ingredients:

  • Sweet potatoes – two medium-sized, peeled, boiled and mashed
  • Sewali flowers – a good handful
  • Black pepper powder – half teaspoon
  • Chilli powder – half teaspoon
  • Garam masala – half teaspoon
  • Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon
  • Corn flour – 1 tablespoon, for binding the patties
  • Biscuit crumbs to coat the patties
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil to shallow fry

Method:

  • Mash the boiled sweet potatoes once they have cooled off after boiling. Add the flowers, spices and the salt. You could just crush the flowers a little before adding them to the mix.
  • Add the corn flour and lemon juice and mix properly to get a nice consistency. Take about two tablespoonfuls and form a patty.
  • Be gentle as the patties would be very delicate. Place them in a plate with biscuit crumbs and coat evenly on both sides. You could use any biscuit. I used the sweet Maries; they have a nice crunch.
  • Now, heat the oil. Flatten the patties evenly once more before adding to the pan. Fry till you get a nice deep brown colour for about five to six minutes on low heat. We don’t need to cook the patties a lot since it’s already boiled. Turn the patty over to the other side very carefully.
  • Once done, drain on some paper napkins and serve them with some spicy raita or sweet chilli sauce. I had them for lunch as a side dish.

The second recipe using the flowers is really simple, but it will test your capacity to eat bitter food. Science says eating bitter stuff like karelas and some flowers help rid your body of some bacteria. I am not entirely sure about that. I like to eat bitter food. Assamese khar is another of them which I really like.

Stir-fried sewali flowers with panch puron

Ingredients:

  • Sewali flowers – 1 large bowl
  • Onion – 1 large, roughly chopped
  • Green chilli – 1 large, added whole
  • Panch puron (Indian five spice mix) – half teaspoon
  • Salt to taste
  • Vegetable oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Sugar – 1-2 tablespoons (optional)

Method:

  • Heat oil in a deep frying pan and the panch puron once it’s hot. They will spluttered and strike back. Keep calm and stand a little distant from the stove as they fry away. When will I ever learn to do that!?
  • Next add the onion and chilli and stir to brown the onion on the sides. Add the bowlful of sewali flowers. This is the reason you need a deep frying pan. Much like spinach, the quantity of flowers seems a lot when you toss it in the pan. But they will shrink as the heat intensifies. Lower the heat now. One large bowl of these blossoms yields about two handfuls when it’s done.
  • Keep stirring the flowers once they begin to shrink. You are looking for a nice brown colour. It’ll take about five-seven minutes on a low heat and constant stirring.
  • After it’s done, you could serve it as a side dish in an Assamese thali or be a bit bolder and try it as a relish with some burgers. That makes for an interesting combination. But in case you have an aversion to bitter food and desperately want to try this dish, add the sugar and stir for another minute or so. That should releave some of the unwanted taste. Not all mind you! Just some. Do not add more sugar. It’ll be a ruin!

Do try these recipes if you see the flowers at your local vegetable market. If not, you could ask some friends or relatives to make it for you if you visit them in Assam or Bengal. Till then, happy cooking guys!

2 thoughts on “Cooking with sewali flowers

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Yes it grows in many parts of the country, but not many people cook with them. I’m glad you liked the post 😀

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