Moongre: The Indian vegetable that reminds me of family

This vegetable that Minreet Kaur picked and ate in India connects her to her past

Growing up I used to love going to India for one thing, a tiny green, curvy shaped vegetable called ‘moongre’. It’s part of the radish family and the English name for them is ‘radish pods’.

Moongre have been the highlight for me out of lockdown. They light up my day, they are a lovely bright green colour, they are all different shapes, some thin, others fat, some wide, some slim and they have tiny peas inside.

My grandparents lived on 55 acres of land and they grew everything from mangoes, spinach, sweetcorn, rice, chillies, garlic, onions…you name it, they had it! Moongre would grow at a certain time of year, normally in the summer, and when they did, there were lots of them.

I loved them and couldn’t get enough of them, especially the way my gran made them on the fire outside. We would sit around and talk, have a cup of Indian tea and then eat a lavish Indian dinner. My cousins and I would pick them and put them into a basket. We would be having a competition on who could pick the most and the quickest! Whilst I picked, I would be eating too.

What do moongre taste like?

They are crunchy and have a slight bitter taste to them. They are rare and unique — they can’t be found in many shops in the UK. This was a vegetable every household would grow in India. They have something special about them: fond memories. I remember getting on the tractor with my grandad, jumping out where they were growing to pick them and then setting off to the next spot. India life was simple and these memories have come back recently from growing our own.

How to cook moongre?

The best way to cook moongre is to boil them first, then you add some Indian spices, lots of chilli and some salt and butter as a base. Then add potatoes, and towards the end of when the potatoes are cooked, you add the moongre. You want them to be tender. If you overcook them, they don’t taste nice at all. My mouth is watering right now! I used to eat them morning, afternoon and night!  They also helped me to digest my food better.

How we ate moongre at home

When I was younger, I remember we had a small area in the garden where my dad would grow them. I was also the moongre picker there. I loved it. I get a very nostalgic and therapeutic feeling when I am picking them. It’s quite calming. They are easy to break off but it does take a lot of time and patience.

As a child I would go out daily and make sure they had all been picked, then my mum would make them and I loved them with a hot chapatti with melted butter, with some pickle on the side and bowl of plain yoghurt.

I have never learnt how to make them — I don’t think I could ever be anywhere as good cook as my grandma or even my mum, who know how to make them just right, tender, so you can smell them from afar. Even our neighbours loved them, so we were kept busy doing lots of moongre deliveries.

The moongre has taken over!

This year on the allotment of my dad, the ‘skipping Sikh’ has grown lots. They have taken over the entire allotment. I’ve been going to pick them. My mum and I have been dropping them to people we know as well as strangers who have reached out on social media after a picture of the vegetable went viral.

That moment when I shared the picture of them on my social media and seeing the comments from many who have such fond memories linked to their families made me really happy. It feels so good to be able to do something good and give back to those who have a love for them like me. After a difficult year, they have brought some light in darkness for many.

Moongre connects me to my grandfather

I lost my grandad in 1985. He was strangled. He had been a farmer and in the army during WWII. The police never told us who did it so we never had closure.

So when I saw how the moongre had grown so beautifully this year, it made me feel emotional. I felt this was his blessing, him watching over us. At a time when I’ve not been able to travel to see my dad’s family, this vegetable has reconnected me to India even though I am thousands of miles away. India was such a great place to be as a child and living on a farm was bliss. I do miss these times.

What picking moongre has meant now

I have used the time on the allotment to switch off and pick this special little vegetable off the tree. I have eaten moongre nearly every day for the last week. I eat them raw and cooked and am still not bored of them.

I love nature, being outdoors, reminiscing about my childhood being on a farm, eating organic food and being able to pick off any fruit or vegetable.

When on the allotment I might meditate whilst picking the moongre. It’s something my parents and I enjoy doing together. I love when the allotment holders all have a special vegetable they grow and the memories we share with each other. The food brings us together, providing a lovely sense of community.

Just like I did with my cousins, my mum and I race to see who can pick them the fastes, to see if we can pick them all before they stop growing, so we can continue putting smiles on people’s faces and hear more about the fond memories this rare vegetable brings to many.

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