Did you know that our sense of smell in responsible for about 80% of what we taste? Yes! the aroma of a dish can make or break the taste of the final product. Every good cook in the world knows that a good aroma is the best indicator of how the dish has turned out.
In my state of Tripura, we are blessed with a variety of herbs that can turn any bland dish around. From herbs that add tanginess to leaves that make your stomach growl with hunger, there are herbs that are specifically used for specific dishes. Here is a list of five such herbs that are easily found in markets and shops and that you must try on your next cook-off.
1. Banta Bwlai: Bwlai means leaf/leaves. Banta looks a bit like basil but smells different. This plant grows in backyards and in kitchen gardens. Once it grows about half a foot tall it is uprooted and the leaves are used to liven boiled vegetable dishes. It adds a lot of flavour to dishes made of bambooshoots, brinjal, and beans. It is also added to a dish called "gudak". It is so aromatic that you can smell it from a distance. The plant is not allowed to grow too old or it loses most of its aroma. One or two plants are left on the ground so their seeds can be used for the next sowing.
2. Kasing Mosla: This herb has a very tangy taste to it. It gives an intense aroma to dishes and is usually used while cooking the local fish curry. In many indigenous homes, fish is either steamed or boiled with spices. Kasing Mosla is added to the dishes to bring out the flavour of almost all local fish found in Tripura. It can also be used in chicken curry. Like other herbs on the list, it grows on any land and just needs watering from time to time.
3. Zambi Bwlai or lemon leaves: Tripura grows several varieties of lemon. They are big in size and are used to make lemonades. They are also eaten raw with salt or turned into chutneys. But, a lemon's true use lies in its leaves that add a tangy freshness to the dishes. Many households plant lemons so that the members can pluck the leaves and throw them in the pots once the dish is almost cooked. Lemon leaves are mostly used in chakhwi dish.
4. Khundrupui: It looks like coriander but smells completely different. It is more floral to smell and is used in all vegetarian dishes. It is not added to non-veg dishes as its smell clashes with that of meat. It can be planted in the kitchen garden or in flower pots. Each plant grows about a foot tall. At home we use it in the preparation of a dish called awandru which refers to vegetables cooked in rice gravy.
5. Dhaniya: Of course! Can any kitchen garden be complete without coriander? Tripuri indigenous people also use coriander in all sorts of dishes. From salads to chicken curry, it instantly turns any dish into a mouth-watering delight. It is called "Dhoinya" in the local parlance and was probably introduced more recently that all the other herbs.
For this article, I cooked pork chakhwi to show how the lemon leaves are used for flavour and garnish. Hope it looks good. What are some of the herbs used at your place? Let us know in the comments.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.