The last days have been super hot in the small Indian Coastline state Goa and the retrieving rains seem to be over. Yet the heat is dragging along and I am starting to turn into a raisin. I am looking for water and I am yearning for cooling sights. I remember the days when plump water drops would fall on the broad Elephant Ears in my tropical garden Goa. I miss the rains….
But on the other hand it’s time to get into action. The Tourist season is knocking on the door and with the arrival of the Hindu Light Festival Diwali, the whole scene in Goa has changed. The familiar sounds on the roads of busy people going after their duties and the happy screams of drunk domestic Visitors passing the neighborhood on their bikes is a little wake up call for me and I have been welcoming the changes to a certain extend.
We have been busy cleaning up our “jungle” and it’s finally looking more again like a civilized place, just that this time the trees and plants have grown and we have acquired a wider variety of plants since my last tropical garden post. On top of that we bought a few new plants for our garden. Some have pretty leaves and their purpose is to make us happy at the sight of them. Others are going to come handy in my cooking soon.
My husband loves to take care of young fruit trees. He keeps himself motivated with the thought of indulging the fresh homegrown fruits someday. Our tropical garden Goa is counting more then 20 fruit tree varieties. A few such as the Olive tree and Italian Lemon tree are usually not grown in Goa, however they seem to love the space and care we gave them. The Olive tree was barely 20 cm tall when we bought him and 21 months later he has reached 2 meters up. The lemon tree has already produced fruits as well and more are in progress.
The new trees include a young and skinny ficus tree and a a bilimbi (cucumber tree). We don’t know what kind the ficus tree is, there are plenty different types and I will have to ask the experts at Mr.Farmer in Guirim, Goa. One thing is sure, the fig fruits of the ficus tree are going to be completely enjoyed, but for that it will have to grow plenty more. The Bilimbi Tree is a young smaller tree as well so fruits won’t happen so soon but we are patient folks. The fruit looks like a smaller cucumber. It’s juicy but also super sour and usually locals cut open bilimbi fruits, or bimli as it is known in Kokani, and add them to Curries to add more flavor dimensions to a dish.
We also thought of getting a few Green Chili plants since the last one drowned in the heavy Monsoon July rains. I always prefer to cook with freshly picked fruits, veggies and herbs so Green Chili is a must. You can always buy a small plant and keep them in small pots in your room near a window. A few friends of mine have been doing this and the green chili fruits have turned out beautifully.
A plant that I absolutely adore in my garden but which has been eaten up again and again in the past, is lemongrass. Not one lemongrass of the so many which we had planted survived so this one is our last try. You ask why? Our dogs have a ridiculous habit of chewing on lemon grass, especially one famous big white fella enjoys destroying the lemongrass. I usually love lemongrass tea but I also use the plant finely chopped in Thai food. Of course the sight of it alone should be enough to motivate you in growing your own lemongrass at home.
It’s called a Culantro (Thanks Facebook friends for the help in naming it!) and it tastes and smells like a coriander plant. My husband had brought it back one fine day. It seems the vendor was laughing when he tried to explain that it was a coriander plant. Obviously it doesn’t look like coriander, also known as cilantro, but it tastes like one. Apparently this plant originated in Central America but since Coriander plants for the home garden can not be bought in the market, the vendors sell this instead. I haven’t used the culantro yet in my cooking, no I am waiting for it to grow a bit more before I start attacking it and then I will let you know how and where I used it. I suppose that the culantro can be simply used instead of Coriander in many Indian dishes.
Another new addition is a small Italian Basil plant. It was a little useful gift by a friend who seems to have a green finger with Italian Basil in Goa, while I am the Tulsi queen of course (Indian Basil).
Have you ever heard of a plant called Insulin plant? I haven’t made it up, nop. This particular spiral plant, as the name indicates, is a practical medicinal plant that seems to reduce the blood sugar levels. There are enough locals here who eat one leaf every single day. I on the other hand keep on forgetting to do so. ^.^ The insulin plant is not used in any culinary cuisine, so maybe that’s why I keep on forgetting chewing on one daily. This one grows wild in a tropical climate and it loves lots of water.
I think so I have never showed you my numerous Aloe Vera plants growing in different locations in our garden. They have a habit of growing upwards for some reason, so some literally pop up and some days later it looks as if the plant tried to run away. The only way I use aloe vera is by cutting off a bit and spreading the jelly transparent flesh on a sunburn for example. It also does wonders for dry skin. Aloe Vera needs daily small amounts of water in India, or they go dry and die.
Since my husband loves his spinach, and he indirectly requested more dishes with spinach, I decided to grow my own. As you can see the seeds are alive and I will be transplanting them soon into my veggie garden space. Now I just need to find some red spinach seeds and I am good to go.
The many Vanilla plants have been growing extremely well too, although it will take some time until the first flowers will appear and then the next challenge will be to turn those flowers into aromatic vanilla beans. The Vanilla plant is commonly found in South India but the pollination has to be done manually. Once I have tried it for myself I will be able to tell you more in the future. The Vanilla is a climber and loves growing up trees such as Coconut, Mango etc. The little roots are quite strong and we noticed that they don’t mind growing on walls as well, so now we have more space to grow them.
Looks like we will have another Papaya fruit party soon. One Papaya tree, which appeared to be dieing, came back to life and is currently working on a few Papaya fruits. I am not a big Papaya fan but I love making my Papaya dip and the unripe green papaya skin with some flesh is the best meat tenderizer in the world, so we welcome the little production in our garden. Did you know too that the female papaya tree produces the fruits? When flowers grow on the stem, it is a female papaya tree but if the flowers grow on a green long stem, then it’s a male papaya and the male doesn’t produce fruits.
We have a few young banana trees right next to our house and the most beautiful thing happens when they are old enough to produce fruits. First a big purple flower will appear and slowly the same flower will grow out (away from the tree) with little fruits in between. Every few days a banana flower petal will fall on the floor until the flower has turned into a whole bunch of edible ready to eat fruits. It’s hard to explain, one has to have it seen to understand how bananas grow and I wish I could keep a camera pointed at it for a few weeks so to fast forward the process in minutes. Oh and the Banana Flower is edible in it’s younger days but I have never tried to cook with it since I prefer if the flower turns into a load of bananas.
I am not sure if I had published a photo of a Curry tree before. As you know Curry leafs are commonly used in the Indian cuisine. Curry powder has nothing to do with Curry leafs, Curry powder masala is a mixture of spices. I am glad that I have my own small Curry tree since it comes so very handy to have fresh leafs right next to my house. Once plucked, curry leafs can not be stored for long since they loose their aroma, so a Curry tree is a must in Goa. As you can see the small tree is producing fruits. Apparently those are edible but the seed inside is poisonous. I haven’t tried eating the flesh and I haven’t seen anybody doing that, so I just leave them as they are and they will fall off and produce new little plants on the ground. Curry plant needs lots of water and sun and initially mine took about 2 years to finally grow a bit in size. We have a bigger tree, the size is comparable to an apple tree, so they can grow quite big but the curry tree is slow growing.
That’s all for now. I do have more culinary and medicinal plants but those are not really in season right now, so I will show you more another time. In the meanwhile you might want to check out the Tropical Fruit Garden post Part I.
Before I forget… I picked this fruit from a tree in the neighborhood a few days back. Can you name the fruit in the picture underneath? A little tip, it’s commonly used in the western countries and it has something to do with cocktails. Also there is a sweet and sour version of the fruit and it can grow to the size of a fist. The flesh inside is rather hard and moderately juicy.
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