Khamen akhaba is grown extensively across the northeast and used in indigenous medicines to treat asthma, allergic rhinitis, nasal catarrh, skin infections and swollen joints
The first sight of the extremely cute little pumpkin-like green vegetables was exciting, to say the least. I wanted to buy them, but the people at the Manipur stall in the 2018 Pusa Organic Fair in Delhi refused, saying it had to be saved till the prime minister’s visit to the event the next day.
I somehow managed to convince them to part with one piece. It piqued my curiosity and a month later I had my friend from Manipur get me 200 g of it.
Khamen akhaba (Solanum aethopicum) or khamen akhabi, as most Manipuris refer to it, is a variety of brinjal (khamen means brinjal in Manipuri). Just like brinjal, khamen akhaba is botanically a fruit.
Slightly bitter in taste, it comes in three sizes, with the smallest one shaped like a cherry tomato while the largest being the size of amla (Phyllanthus emblica). The medium ones are most popular, but my favourite are the small ones, which are more bitter.
Khamen akhaba is grown extensively across the Northeast and is available during the summer months. It becomes red when ripe but is usually cooked when it is still green. Diana Chingakham, founder-editor of Happy Tipsy, an online media platform covering the food and beverage industry, says, “Unlike most Manipuri dishes, khamen akhaba is sautéed well with oil and spices.”
It is also cooked during Cheiraoba, the Manipur new year of the Meitai community, which falls in April. “We cook it as part of our vegetarian dishes since we offer only vegetarian foods during the festival to the gods,” Chingakham adds. It is also a part of the traditional Manipuri thali which can have as many as 108 dishes.
Khamen akhaba is cooked in a myriad ways. It is cut in slices along the length and fried in tadka prepared with fermented fish popularly known as ngari; it can be cut into cubes and cooked dry with potatoes; and, it can be boiled and eaten too.
“These tiny brinjals can also be consumed with vegetable stew or lentils. It is cooked dry like other subzi. Since it is tiny, it is appropriate that they are stir-fried. The large brinjals can be made into a vegetable stew or eromba, a traditional Meitei dish,” Chingakham adds. What do Manipuris do to reduce its bitterness?
“Nothing,” she says. “Manipuris like the bitterness. Unlike in north India, where people scrap bitter gourd, rub salt on it or immerse it in salt water to reduce its bitterness, khamen akhaba is consumed with the flavour intact.
“My mother simply steams bitter gourd before tossing it to make the dish. The same goes for bitter brinjals,” she says.
THERE HAVE BEEN a few studies on the nutritional aspects of the fruit. A study published in the International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Science in 2017 says it is used in indigenous medicine to treat asthma, allergic rhinitis, nasal catarrh, skin infections, swollen joints and in weight reduction medicines.
Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies in 2018 highlights the usefulness of khamen akhaba in mitigating hunger because it contains immense amounts of minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and antioxidants.
The study says it a resilient crop which can withstand the effects of climate change — a crop which is easy to grow; is resistant to pests and diseases; and, produces a good yield even under adverse conditions. It labels it as an “underutilized vegetable of North Eastern Himalayas”.
Such indigenous fruits need to be promoted.
(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. Among other things, she writes on unusual food)
STIR-FRIED: KHAMEN AKHABA
Wash the brinjals and slice them finely. Heat oil and add all the spices. Wait for a few minutes for it to heat properly. Add the brinjals and keep frying till they are done
(This article was first published in Down To Earth’s print edition dated August 1-15, 2019)
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