Celebrity nutritionist and author Rujuta Diwekar is an advocate of aaliv seeds, also known as halim seeds and garden cress seeds. In her book Indian Superfoods (2016), she dedicated a chapter, titled The Beauty Pill, on these tiny, reddish brown seeds. They are a rich source of iron, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin E and A. “It easily grows in small pots and even in the wild by lakes and ponds,” writes Diwekar, and adds tribal communities in India forage these seeds to feed infants and young mothers.
Traditionally, in Maharashtra, aaliv seeds go into laddoos prepared during winter. They are soaked overnight in either water or coconut water, then cooked with grated coconut, ghee and jaggery, and rolled into earthy red, soft laddoos. “In Maharashtra, they are used to make a podi-style dry condiment, along with garlic and dried red chilies, and is similar to danyacha koot—a blend of roasted grains and peanuts,” says cookbook author Nandita Godbole. Her book, Masaleydaar: Classic Indian Spice Blends, will be released next year.
She informs aaliv is used in winter paak or adadiya paak, a traditional barfi popular in Gujarat during this season. These paaks include ghee, sesame, methi and dink (edible gum). “Aaliv is high in beneficial fats, and is considered essential for a nourishing winter diet. However, individuals with a delicate constitution must exercise great caution with this seed,” Godbole advises.
“Ayurveda also recognises aaliv as an important part of post-partum diet. It is shakti vardhak and provides much needed energy to new mothers. The Muslim community in Goa, especially women, consume soaked aaliv seeds in the form of porridge or kheer. You can also consume overnight soaked aaliv seeds by simply mixing them in warm milk,” says Dr Maryanne Lobo, a Goa-based holistic health expert in Goa who has been practicing Ayurveda for 19 years.
Dr Sagarika Chakraborty, a food science researcher, recommends a variety of recipes including aaliv on the website, Wellnessmunch, where she blogs regularly. She shares several ways to include aaliv in winter diets: sprinkle roasted aaliv seeds on salads, make a sandwich with aaliv seed sprouts, and prepare a multi-seed mix with roasted aaliv seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds and white sesame with a pinch of salt.
Even drinks can be infused with aaliv; think of it like chia-seed iced teas. Chakraborty makes a refreshing lemonade by stirring in aaliv seeds that have been soaked for 30 mins to an hour. There’s a herbal tea too. In this recipe, she recommends boiling overnight-soaked aaliv seeds with water and adding a spoonful of honey when the drink cools down a bit.
Apart from the seeds, the aaliv plant or garden cress herb is eaten too. “The garden cress herb is well known in Assam. It is part of a simple stir-fried potato preparation, and goes into steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves,” says chef Atul Lahkar, owner of Heritage Khorikaa restaurant in Guwahati, Assam.
In Maharashtra, these seeds have found space in restaurant menus. Paul Noronha, the Executive Chef at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai uses them to whip up aaliv makhana smoothie, berry shakes topped with aaliv seeds and aaliv puris. “In Bengal, a chutney is made with spiced mango, halim and jaggery or a thick condiment of tomato, chili and halim accompany puris,” he informs. To add a touch of sweetness, he bakes crispy aaliv cookies and prepares sticky Gujarati-style aaliv or asaliya chikkis. Although aaliv is used in home-cooking, there’s still a long way to go before it finds a permanent place in restaurant menus.
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