Gongura Thokku is a lip smacking, saliva inducing relish with unparalleled taste made of Gongura Aaku (leaves) or Sorrel leaves.
Amma used to be the condiment queen in her hay days dishing out a vast array of them at any given time. Seasonal, perennial, you name it. Being Amma’s daughter, I realized early on, I’m just like her in my affinity for condiments – all things Thokkus, Pachadis, Podis, Pickles and anything in between or in the vicinity.
When we lived in Houston, I’d routinely call Amma to make one of her recipes and she’d tell me do this, do this and so on. When I’d try making it though, it would never come out tasting even close to hers. There’s something in the hand, like they say. Kai Guna (no perfect translation but comes close to haath ka jadoo or magic in one’s hand). That – one cannot replicate, ever.
Later however, that thing kept bugging me and during one of our visits, I asked her to demonstrate making the very dish she gave instructions for on the phone. Turns out, what she was telling approximately varied so much from how she did it. Watching her make it, made a huge difference in learning the dish correctly.
I got to watch Amma cook, a sight that has become so rare lately, that it is so very precious. I watched her make this exceptional delicacy and our true favorite – her Gongura Thokku.
Amma’s other signature creations that we just cannot get enough of and are popular with readers like you are Haagalkayi (Bitter Gourd) Gojju, Amtekayi Uppinakayi, Maavina Midi Uppinakayi, Karibevu Chutney Pudi
Gongura, Red Sorrel leaves, Sour Spinach, Kenaf leaves or popularly known as the Roselle plant. Gongura belongs to the Hibiscus family. Notice the similarity in the sliminess of Hibiscus and Gongura leaves. It is closely related to Okra/Ladies finger as well as Cotton.
Baby leaves are light green in color and as they grow bigger, they turn dark, broad and develop 3-5 lobes.
Botanical name – Hibiscus Cannabinus (Kenaf – green stemmed), Hibiscus Sabdariffa (Roselle – red stemmed)
Pundi Soppu in Kannada, Pulicha Keerai in Tamil, Ambada / Ambaadi in Marathi, Pitwaa in Hindi, Gongura is one of the few leaves that are completely tart similar to raw mango. Easy to cook, when cooked briefly, the leaves turn into slimy muddy green and taste minerally as they are rich in iron.
Combination of two words Gogu+koora, Gongura is one of the important green leafy vegetables that is synonymous to Telugu culture and cuisine as well as an identifier in itself as much as Avakaya (pickle) is to Andhra Cuisine. Going by the name Punti Kura in Telangana, Gongura is how it is mostly known everywhere including stores in the USA.
Growing Gongura at home
Gongura is a hardy plant requiring minimal care and grows well into big thick bushes in hot climates such as in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. At home, it can also be propagated from store/market bought mature red stem cuttings. The dark maroon or wine-red buds are edible and medicinal too and can be turned into cooling summer drinks, teas and jellies.
Place the mature stems in a bottle of water by the window side. Make sure the stem has a couple of small leaves and trim off all the twigs. Do change water everyday. Roots will develop in 4-5 days. Transfer this rooted stem into a pot in the garden in a bright sunny spot and see it grow.
Gongura offers plethora of health benefits. It is a healing green which helps to prevent or treat scurvy as it is rich in Vitamin C. Due to the sourness, Vitamin C and Iron content, it strengthens the digestive power, improves appetite, boosts the immune system as well as helps in enhancing Hemoglobin level. The leaves also contain calcium and considered very good for consumption by women over the 40 years for maintaining good bone health naturally and to prevent osteoporosis. Due to the sliminess they possess laxative properties.
What’s the very first thought when you think of Gongura?
To me, Gongura is the promise of unforgettably tasty finger licking good morsels. Gongura can be prepared in a myriad culinary ways, but my absolute number one choice to relish this leaf is in the form of Thokku or Andhra Pachadi, particularly the way Amma makes the best Gongura Thokku that we die for.
I have tried documenting this recipe several times but sharing here finally after several years. The last picture is my attempt of Amma’s Gongura Thokku that I had made back in Houston several years back. You can see how far it is from her version in the first image.
Now that it is Chaturmaasya ( period of four months) and monsoon season, leafy greens are not consumed during this time. Mother earth is fertile and as the plant species go into pro-creation mode during the downpour, any thing that grows close to the earth including leafy greens are not consumed to avoid contamination. Amma was telling me that Gongura is one of the exceptions that can be consumed during monsoon.
Tips and Caution while consuming Gongura
Avoid cooking Gongura in aluminium or iron cookware as it will have an acidic reaction with the metal rendering the food toxic.
Plan to cook the leaves on the same day of buying or harvesting the leaves when they are fresh
Use the red stemmed variety as it is more sour than the green variety
Try to choose bunches with smaller tender leaves. Fully grown, bigger leaves contain higher amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient which can increase the formation kidney stones as well as hinder the body’s ability to absorb nutrients like calcium. For the same reason, Gongura must be consumed in moderation.
Gongura must not be consumed by lactating mothers as it can affect the breast milk production.
How to eat Gongura Thokku
This delicacy is one of the modati muddha (first morsel in Teulugu) relishes. Eaten as the first morsel mixed with steaming hot rice and a dollop of cow ghee or Nuvvula noone (sesame oil) or peanut oil is one of the best ways to savor it. It pairs well with Dosa and Chapathi too.
Don’t let the amount of oil in the recipe frighten you. It is much needed and keeps the Pachadi tasting good for a long while despite the presence of onions. Onions in this recipe are not optional.
- 2 bunches red stemmed Gongura which give 2 big handful of leaves after cleaning
- 4 small onions finely chopped
- 300 ml filtered peanut oil cold pressed
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 6 tsp red chilli powder
- 5 tsp fenugreek seeds to make powder
- 4 tsp roasted fenugreek powder
- 4 tsp salt to taste
Buy fresh looking bunches and plan to make this Thokku on the same day before the leaves lose their freshness.
First wash the entire bunch, by dipping in several changes of water. Then let the bunches stand on the stem side, inside an empty bucket or a big bowl so that the water drains off completely
Then pick the leaves off the stems and towel dry the leaves. It is alright if some wetness still remains but they should not be dripping wet.
Leave out yellow and bruised leaves.
To make the roasted fenugreek powder, first dry roast fenugreek seeds until they are fragrant and golden brown. Allow to cool and grind to a fine powder. Keep it aside. I usually have a stock of this at all times in my kitchen.
Heat a thick bottomed kadai or pan with 2 tsp peanut oil.
Toss the towel dried Gongura leaves into the heated oil and saute briefly until all the leaves are wilted and greenish-brown. They don't need to cook more.
Remove the wilted leaves into a mixer small jar and let cool before grinding till smooth paste.
In the meanwhile, heat all of the remaining peanut oil in the same pan/kadai used before
Try not to use any iron kadai as the tartness of the leaves will react with the iron.
when the oil is hot and shimmering, add mustard seeds and let them begin to splutter.
Add the finely chopped onions and stir intermittently until they are translucent. Now transfer the smooth Gongura paste into the kadai and cook stirring intermittently until the rawness goes away and it stops sizzling.
Add red chilli powder followed by roasted fenugreek powder. Season with salt and give it a good stir
Continue to cook on medium flame for another 5-6 minutes till the red oil separates and begins to float on top.
Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight glass container
Stays well on the kitchen counter if there is always an oil layer on the top.
Else you could refrigerate
Gongura Thokku always tastes best the next day, after resting when the flavors meld and settle down