Westerners who have heard of moringa oleifera might think it is a relative newcomer to the canon of superfoods. But for a lot of the world, particularly Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, the leafy green vegetable has been an important dietary staple for centuries. Originally, it was believed to have been discovered at the base of the Himalayas, but researchers have found it as far back as ancient Egypt, where it was used in skin ointments.
So, what is moringa and why is it called a “miracle tree?” Colloquially referred to as the drumstick tree or horseradish tree in India, moringa is a nutrient-dense powerhouse that boasts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, hypoglycemic, neuroprotective and antimicrobial properties.
It possesses high doses of vitamins C, B and A, and is particularly rich in calcium, protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium. It has 25 times more iron than spinach, 17 times more calcium than milk, 15 times more potassium than bananas, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots, nine times more protein than yogurt and seven times more vitamin C than oranges.
Though it’s a called a tree, it’s technically a vegetable, as the bark, leaves, seed pods and even roots are all edible. It can come in dried form as a powder for herbal teas and capsule supplements, and can be added to everything from smoothies and oatmeal to pesto sauce and soups.
In raw form, it can replace kale, spinach, collards or arugula in many dishes, while the seed pods are pretty close to the pea family in terms of flavor.
Remarkably, moringa is even being used to mitigate climate change as it grows relatively easily, requires little water, helps prevent desertification in Africa, and sequesters CO2 in soil. It’s also being investigated as an alternative fuel source and water purifier.
If that’s still not enough reason for all the buzz behind moringa, it’s even being researched as a phytomedicine — a herbal medicine with therapeutic and healing properties — for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s.
The astounding benefits of moringa almost seem too good to be true, but do a quick search of all its applications and current pharmacological studies and you’ll quickly discover what the excitement is all about.
While there are plenty of superfoods from quinoa to kale, nothing comes close to moringa’s astonishingly rich benefits as a food, a sustainable crop, and a potential phytomedicine.
Moringa is fairly common in powder form, but the seed pods and leaves can be tougher to find locally. Call ahead to Asian Life Market, Saigon Market or Shelton Herb Farm.
For the base, blend the almonds in a food processor into a coarse flour. Add salt, cacao powder and dates and blend until the mixture sticks together. Line an 8-by-8 baking pan with parchment paper and press mixture evenly into it. Freeze while preparing remaining ingredients.
In blender, add the cashews, mint leaves, honey or syrup, moringa and almond milk and blend until smooth. Add the melted coconut oil and peppermint extract and lightly blend again. Pour the mint filling over the base and smooth out with a spatula. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the chocolate ingredients then pour over the mint filling evenly. Garnish with cacao nibs and return to the freezer for 2 hours to set. Cut pan into squares and serve immediately.
Preheat oven to 350. Chiffonade moringa leaves into 2-inch strips. Sauté diced onions in olive oil and cool. Crack eggs into medium bowl and whisk. Gently fold all ingredients together. Form into 2-inch sized balls and place on baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour. Bake for 25 minutes.
Wash the moringa pods and trim the ends. Cut into 2-inch pieces. Heat oil, add the curry leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, garlic and onions and pan sear until onions are golden brown. Add the moringa and red chili powder and stir. Add 4 tablespoons of water and cover with lid for approximately 4 minutes, or until tender. Grate coconut and fennel seeds, adding a small quantity of water to make masala and add to the drumsticks. Season with salt. Simmer until the sauce thickens. Serve with basmati rice.
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