There once was a tree growing in my backyard. A tree that bore a skinny, green vegetable that was too hard to ingest, but much fun to chew and suck out the bean-like seeds inside. The Moringa tree, or saijan as it is known in Indo-Trinidadian vernacular and drumstick in India, is among the super food category. As a tree that hails from Asiatic countries, the Moringa tree also grows quite well in dry, arid climates such as West Africa, as well as the tropics of the Caribbean and Latin America. Celebrated for its deliciousness as much as its fantastically hyped medicinal benefits, the Moringa tree is pretty much all encompassing.
Dr Jed W. Fahey, a nutritional biochemist who heads the Cullman Chemoprotection Center at Johns Hopkins University in the US, touts the Moringa’s chemical and nutritional composition from root to tip. As his findings details, the Moringa tree is heavily researched for its inherent medicinal properties as much as its culinary uses. While scientific research is ongoing, there are indications that the plant aids in diabetic prevention and even believed to prevent certain types of cancer.
More immediate uses are the edible parts of the tree; from the leaves, which can be used in salads despite its bitterness, to the creamy innards and seeds, which are slurped through the fibrous casing in stews and curries. Moringa seed oil is also used to produce Ben oil that is the basis for making beauty oils and other aromatic sundries. The oil can also be used as salad dressing. Interestingly too, the crushed seeds that can purify contaminated water, or steeped in hot water to make Moringa tea. The bark is used for firewood where needed and honey can be gathered from Moringa flowers.
With the wow factor fully in place, the one thing that stands out as a Caribbean resident is curried saijan. A staple in many Indo-Trinidadian homes, this dish is made with potato and optional salted cod to add some island flair. For the epicurious reader, here is a simple curried Moringa/saijan. Be forewarned though, there will be lots of chewing and slurping involved.