Valchi Bhaji

V alchi Bhaji (Soon Sasav Kadi) is a traditional Mangalorean Malabar spinach curry prepared with green papaya chunks. The tempering is done with grated coconut (soon) and mustard (sasav) and therefore it has a mild tangy dominance. This Malabar spinach is not exactly from the spinach family; it grows on vines and thrives in a hot tropical climate with sufficient sunlight and humid air. In Mangalore and several parts of Kerala, the Malabar spinach is grown in almost every home, and thus is an integral part of the cuisine.

The Mangalore region has a mix of many cultures and therefore food styles which are typically traditional due to the many communities of the region. The food, therefore, is varied, authentic and traditional. Valchi Bhaji is a very old recipe and this combination of coconut and mustard, locally known as soon-sasav, is very typical of the region. It is believed that the valchi (Malabar spinach), also known as 'basale', goes well with a soon-sasav combination as an accompanying ingredient in the preparation of this curry.

This is the traditional format of preparation of this dish, however, today a lot of tweaking is done to the preparation either by customising the masala ingredients or by adding more vegetables/ legumes to the old recipe. For example, in many Mangalorean homes, the Valchi Bhaji also features black-eyed peas/ chawli/ lobia in order to make the dish more wholesome, nutritious and of a thicker consistency. Valchi Bhaji is also made with jackfruit seeds and even fresh prawns, clams and dried shrimp. After all, how can a Mangalorean dish not feature the most popular Mangalorean ingredient -- fish?

The best way to prepare this is to separate the valchi leaves from the stem. Keep both aside. The stem goes in first in the process of cooking as it takes a longer time to cook than the leaves. The green papaya is cut into edible-sized cubes. The mustard, grated coconut, red chillies, onion, garlic cloves, cumin seeds and tamarind are ground together to make a ‘masala mix‘. The stems and the cubed papayas are stewed in oil and when they are tender the valchi leaves and the masala mix are added to the stew. Later some warm water is added and the vegetable is cooked. Once this bhaji is cooked it is tempered with golden fried onions on top.

Malabar spinach has numerous health benefits. Besides containing good amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, this leafy vegetable is rich in iron and potassium.