Watch this space for the launch of the book and where to buy it. Below are a few excerpts, I hope that I have given you just the right amount of encouragement to buy a copy!
I grew the 'Empress' for the very first time in an old, capacious hollowed out Harda tree trunk. The enchanting vermilion flowers and the sea green leaves spilling down the sides and contrasting beautifully with the dull grey-black of the gnarled and weathered wood. I have loved nasturtiums ever since a child; they grew profusely in the garden at St. Hilda's and I would pluck a leaf and roll a dew drop in it, and watch it pitch around wildly like quicksilver.
Make room for this lovely plant in your garden. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and will bring bountiful colour into your life. They are not only a delightful herb in the kitchen but full of medicinal value to boot. There are two species Tropaeolum majus a trailing vine with deep orange flowers vibrantly cascading down trellises and walls like flaming tongues of fire, and Tropaeolum minus a semi-trailing vine suitable for window boxes or border plants. A range of colours are now available and include single and multicoloured flowers from a pale buttercup yellow, gold, and burnt orange, to brick red and cherry pink.
Some strategy: Plant the seeds where you want them to grow. Nasturtium seeds do not have high viability so for better germination use seeds that are fresh. Stored seeds are prone to insect attack, seal them well in air tight bags or boxes. Germination can take up to ten to twelve days so keep watering those seeds.
Grow Nasturtiums organically in a loose, friable soil without too much fertilizer. Once established they are virtually free from care, but they do need to be well watered. In the South, they do best in the gentle warming rays of a winter sun. If summers are harsh, they will need semi shade.
From the garden to your kitchen:
Usually described as peppery, the leaves and flowers of the Nasturtium wilt rapidly, so pluck them just when needed, or place stems in a glass of water and refrigerate. Delicious in sandwiches paired with cucumber, tomato or salmon.
Use the flower petals to decorate a plate of open faced sandwiches. You can also use the chopped flowers and leaves in a sandwich spread.
Add the chopped leaves, flowers or seeds to butter or cream cheese and serve with warm freshly made bread or toast.
Add the chopped green leaves or the crushed green seeds to a glass of lassie or buttermilk. Replace the coriander in your raitha with Nasturtium leaves.
Post Script: Nasturtiums, bursting with vitamin C are a good remedy if you have the sniffles, eat the raw leaves three or four times a day.
Tomato soup is a staple on the menu of every restaurant worth its salt in the mofussil towns of Southern India. I think it’s what you could call a 'standard' along with a couple of others, such as a vegetable soup and a sweet corn chicken. One restaurant has in on its menu as ‘The Ever Green’ Tomato Soup’. Its popularity extends to the Indian Railways, where it makes an appearance on the menus of a number of prestigious trains. The tomato soups look more or less alike, semi-sweet, and well blended and thickened with corn flour. As a sort of reaction to these ‘mofussil soups,’ I never blend mine entirely, preferring them chunky with bits and pieces of tomato, and other elements bobbing around. To make a good soup, you need juicy ripe fruit. If available, use traditional heirloom varieties such as the beefsteaks Brandywine or Marmande. Orange tomatoes are especially good in soups, try Orange Verna or Orange Borgoin. Red cherry tomatoes also make an excellent soup. Tomatoes are wonderful to create new and funky soups because they combine wonderfully with other ingredients. Find below two ways of making soup that I regularly serve in our 'mofussil guesthouse'.
Enough for 4
Plunge the tomatoes in hot water for a few minutes, drain and allow to cool, then skin them and cut them up into large pieces. Process the tomatoes in a food processor, but keep the pulp thick and chunky, set aside until required. Meanwhile, thinly slice the onions, heat the oil in a pot, add the onions and brown them lightly. Next, add the curry leaves, the ginger paste and the sambhar powder cook for a few minutes more, adding a little stock as required preventing the mix from sticking or burning. Now add the tomato pulp and the puree lower the heat and continue to cook until the vegetables change colour. Put in the remaining stock and season to taste, add the sugar and thin the soup with a little water if necessary. Finally, add the fenugreek bring to boil once, and serve with the cheese croutons.
For the cheese croutons:
Cube the bread and dry off in the oven if required. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the oil and the dry fenugreek leaves and cook for one minute on a gentle heat. Add the cubes of bread and fry on all sides until a light golden brown. Sprinkle the cheese onto the bread, stir through and pop under the grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts, remove and serve with the soup in one large or 4 individual bowls.