I don’t know how many of you have heard of noni ka saag. It is an edible weed which grows as a creeper with a tendency to spread quickly. It is called as wild purslane (Portulaca oleracea) in English, but it is known by several names across India. It is called nonia saag in Bihar and Bengal, chivai in Maharashtra, gangavayilu in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and paruppu keerai in Tamilnadu.
The leaves of this saag are small and succulent and you can identify them by their bright pink stems. It has a slightly sour taste to it. It is supposed to be nutritious and contains one of the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids among plant sources. It also contains alpha-tocopherol, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene and glutathione.
There are several recipes that can be made from noni saag. One, it could be cooked as a simple stir fry with minimal spices. You could make a besan cheela. A popular dish in Bihar is where these leaves are made with mutton curry.
In Bihar, fritters or pakore or bajka made of noni saag are usually made to break the Jitiya fast, where they are considered auspicious. Jitiya is the locally popular name of the Jivitputrika vrat. It is a three-day festival where mothers observe a strict fast without water for the well being of their children. This festival is celebrated in most Maithili, Bhojpuri and Magadhi speaking parts of India. My friend Ruchita Prasad says that the food eaten in Jitiya includes rotis made with maruwa aata (ragi flour), noni saag, poi saag (Malabar spinach) and jhiguni (ridge gourd). All come from humble plants which multiply and spread without great care or fuss. Perhaps it is symbolic of mothers wanting their children to grow up to be resilient in the face of adversity. Here is the recipe of noni-saag ke pakore.
Noni saag ke pakore
Noni saag- 250 gm Sliced onion-1 Besan/ gram flour- 3 tbsp Rice flour- 1 tbsp Coriander powder- 1 tsp Turmeric powder- 1/2 tsp Red chilly powder- 1/2 tsp Oil for deep frying Salt
Clean and wash the noni saag with lots of water twice or thrice. This tends to have a lot of grit attached to it as it grows as a creeper. Once you are assured that it is completely clean, chop it into small bits.
Add the following ingredients to the chopped noni saag: besan, rice flour, sliced onions, coriander powder, salt, turmeric powder and chilly powder and very little water. Mix well. You need to get a semi-dry mixture which you can shape into flat fritters.
Heat oil in a kadhai. Deep fry these on medium heat. Drain on a kitchen towel.
Serve hot as a side dish with daal-bhaat. It also works as a snack at tea time.