Pirandai Thogayal (Adamant Creeper Chutney)

I first had this dish about a few months back at my friend’s place when I gatecrashed for dinner. I simply fell in love with its taste. But there was no way to try out this dish at home because the shrub is not sold in city markets. Last month while gallivanting the vegetable market at Tanjore during a sightseeing trip, I found the plant. I was really excited and talked at length to the vendor, a poor old lady. I wanted to buy it but since I wouldnt be home for another 2 days, I was not sure that it would last the journey. Besides, the trouble of lugging it along separately and carefully from hotel to hotel. Yet, my wish to cook and present this in Samagni got better of me and I bought it. The next day I find that the same plant is being sold at Srirangam. I bought another bunch thinking at least maybe this one will survive if the Tanjore bunch didn’t.

Three days later, two bunches of Pirandai plants arrived at a home in Bangalore after having traveled in rickshaws, cars, buses, and trains across towns and hotels. The plants looked just fine. I was amazed by their resilience. I decided to try and plant these and selected 5 cuttings that looked like they might have a second chance. I just stuck them into the cocopeat mixture. Now, one month later they are sprouting new leaves and doing very well. In fact, two weeks earlier, in an effort to propogate this medicinal plant, I carried one of them to my mother’s home. So 5 pirandai cuttings from Tanjore/Srirangam are now thriving in Bangalore and Palakkad. What an amazing journey! Sometimes I wonder about the life of plants and animals. How we humans manipulate them, choosing to just cut and cook or nurture and grow them as we please! Okay, too much rumination, now moving on to the informative part.

Used as a medicinal plant since ancient times, this wonder plant has vast curative and therapeutic properties. A rambling shrub with fleshy stem that is margined and contracted at the nodes, it has round leaves and greenish red flowers.
English: Veldt Grape, Devil’s Backbone; Bengali: Harbhanga, Harjora; Gujarati: Chodari, Hadsand, Vedhani; Hin: Hadjod, Hadjora, Jangli-angoor; Kan: Asthi Samhaara, Mangaravalli; Malayalam: Changalam paranta; Marathi: Chaudhari, Harsankar, Kandavela; Sanskrit: Vajravalli, Asthisamhari, Asthisamhrta; Tamil: Perandai; Telugu: Nalleru, Gudametige, Kokkitaya-ralu; Botanical name: Cissus quadrangularis

As proven by my experience, it is almost impossible to kill this plant and hence also aptly named Adamant Creeper. As its Hindi name (Hadjor) suggests, this magical vine can join bones and heal fractures. It is also useful in treating gastrointestinal disorders, piles, scurvy, and irregular menstruation. In South India, it is usually cooked for the death anniversary meal (chatham/sradham) as thogayal. Thogayal is a thick chutney usually served with rice.

How you clean and cook pirandai is a very important part. During cleaning it can cause your skin to itch and if not cooked properly, it could cause an itchy throat. So be very careful to cook pirandai really well. Well worth the effort when you think of all the benefits to bones amongst other things. :)

Ingredients:
Pirandai, cleaned & chopped finely – 2 cups
Red chillies – 6
Urad dal – 1/4 cup
Tamarind – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp
Grated coconut (optional) – 2 tbsp
Salt – As needed
Sesame oil – 2 tbsp

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
4-6 servings (1 tbsp each)

Method:
You need to either grease your hands with cooking oil or wear gloves to clean pirandai. I chose to grease my palms with cooking oil. Using a knife, cut the pirandai at the nodes and remove the sharp thin edges by the sides. Wash and chop into smaller pieces.

Pour some oil in an iron wok and saute the pirandai pieces until it shrivels and changes color slightly to a lighter green shade.

Remove from the wok and let it cool. Dry roast urad dal, red chillies, and asafetida in little oil and keep aside to cool. If you are adding coconut, dry roast coconut until it gives out the roasted aroma and starts turning golden brown. Remove and let it cool. Grind all the roasted ingredients to a smooth paste and add salt.

If your ground paste is thick like how thogayal should be, you can mix it with rice or eat it as a side dish/pickle. Or you can add water to the thogayal and make it a thin chutney consistency and serve along with dosa or idli.

Notes:
1. Grease your hands with cooking oil or wear gloves to clean pirandai.
2. Use tamarind in all your pirandai recipes as it neutralizes the itchiness.

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