Just like brinjal, drumsticks are one of the most commonly used vegetables in Tamil cooking. Most houses in Tamil Nadu have a drumstick tree and when in season they not only use the drumsticks in almost all the preparations, but also sell or gift them to their neighbours. Home-grown drumsticks are tastier than store bought, but I get mine from the stores as I don’t have a drumstick tree. In Thirunelveli, the vegetarians combine drumsticks and brinjal to make this very tasty fry; the proportion of drumstick used is much less than then brinjal due to the drumstick’s strong flavour.
The drumstick tree is a common feature in many home gardens in Tamil Nadu. Even tiny houses tend to boast drumstick trees, braving the itchy caterpillars the tree plays host to after the rains. The drumstick leaves are highly nutritious, the most significant nutrient being Vitamin E, which is a powerful anti-oxidant. In Tamil households when ghee is made by melting butter, drumstick leaves are added to the melted butter to prevent rancidity. The fruit of the tree, the actual drumsticks, are used in several food preparations in combination with other foodstuffs as in the Sambar, Aviyal, Poriyals and Meat Kozhambu, or they are used alone.
One morning my neighbour rang the doorbell and presented me with freshly plucked drumsticks from his tree. They were so tender I decided to make a poriyal. This is a recipe used in my mother’s family for drumsticks, but it can also be used for vegetables such as broad beans, cluster beans, brinjal, and fresh field beans. It’s so simple that it can’t go wrong.