Saijan is something I came across last Saturday in the Chaguanas market. I remembered my parents and grandparents cooking it into a stew. The vendor I purchased them from named them saijan (pronounced si-jan), but the local word for them is “drumsticks”, since they closely resemble the wooden item.
Saijan is a vegetable of a slender tree with drooping branches. It grows to about 30 feet, but for cultivation it is often topped and sculpted so the pods and leaves can be reached. This tree is native to India and eastern Africa.
Saijan is a nice back-yard tree because it is unique and almost all facets are useful. It is big enough to provide just enough shade, and sturdy enough to secure a hammock. Its blossoms are fragrant.
It may continuously flower and fruit and start bearing within a year. It is not a messy tree and an easy market is found for the fruits. Bats and birds do not attack the saijan as other fruit trees.
Eventually green pods will form, sort of long and triangular in shape so they can be split into three parts containing about 20 seeds.
Originally the light green of bodi, they mature to a darker green and finally to deep brown, hence the “drumstick” name.
Saijan has a strong root system and can be started from seed, but it is better to use cuttings if you can find a tree. All saijan needs is well-drained soil and watered regularly during the dry season.
The botanical name is moringa oleifera, but it is known as the drumstick tree. It is also called shinga, seeng and sejanki ki pali.
The pods are long and green, about four times the girth of bodi. The skin is waxy with plenty of fibre, and should be lightly scraped before use in any recipe.
This is a typical Indian or Asian veggie. The roots of the tree are reported to have a horseradish flavour, but I haven’t seen one tree, nor will I uproot it for a taste if and when the time comes.
Once split open, the interior of the pod has a creamy pulp with some small seeds. The creamy centre surrounding the seeds is very flavourful, tasting like a sucrier banana mixed with cucumber.
In subsistence regions of the world, especially India, Cambodia and Laos, almost every part of the saijan tree plant is used for food. The dried seed is eaten like a peanut in Malaya. The thickened root is used as substitute for horseradish. The leaves are consumed as greens, in salads, cooked vegetable curries and used for seasoning. Saijan leaves are pulverised and used for scrubbing utensils and for cleaning walls.
Amazingly, this little-known vegetable’s seeds, when compressed, produce a non-drying oil, known as ben oil, used in arts and for lubricating watches and delicate machinery. Ben oil is clear, sweet and odourless, and never gets rancid. It is edible and useful in the manufacture of perfumes and hairdressings. The saijan tree’s wood produces blue dye.
Saijan is usually planted as a living fence and livestock consume the young branches and leaves.
Saijan flowers, leaves, and roots are used in folk remedies for tumours, and the pulverised seed as a folk cure for abdominal tumours. Leaves are applied as a poultice for sores, rubbed on the temples for headaches, and is said to have purgative properties.
The roots are bitter, but are boiled, mashed and drunk as a tonic for the body and especially the lungs.
Expectant mothers will gain calcium, iron and vitamins, and it may ease the delivery.
Lactating mothers can increase the flow of their milk by eating this veggie.
Eating saijan helps overcome fatigue and is a good blood cleanser and blood builder.
Saijan is an excellent source of Vitamins K, B2 and C, with plenty of iron. It is also a very good source of calcium and magnesium, and has good protein content.
Wash and clean the drumstick thoroughly. Chop off the top a bit and partially peel or skin it.
Chop into finger-length pieces of equal size and use in curries, or make a vegetable soup out of it.
During family meals where everyone is casual, the preferred method is to pick up the section of saijan with your fingers and scrape away the soft centre with the teeth.
The woody exterior is also chewed to get the flavour and then the pulp is discarded on the side of the plate as neatly as possible.
SAIJAN KI SABZI
(curried drumstick tree)
• 1/4 lb saijan
• 4 Irish potatoes, peeled and chunked
• 1 medium tomato, chopped small
• 1 onion, chopped small
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/2 TBS mustard seeds
• 1/2 TBS cumin seeds
• pinch black pepper
• 2 TS salt
• 3 TBS mustard oil
• 1 cup water
In a blender, grind onion, garlic,
mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper and set aside.
Add oil to frying pan and, once it is heated, add the potato till they turn light brown.
Add the ground paste, tomatoes and salt, and fry them till the masala leaves the oil.
Add water and drumsticks, and cover it with a lid. Simmer for 10
minutes. As long as the potatoes are tender, the dish is ready to be served.
Serve hot with rice.
• 15-inch pieces of saijan
• a little oil
• 1 cup salt
• 1 cup red chilli powder
• 1 cup mustard
• 1/2 cup tamarind paste
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the saijan pieces for about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool.
In another bowl, combine all other ingredients until a paste forms.
Add saijan pieces and let sit at least 2 hours.
•1 cup saijan, slightly peeled and cut into half-inch or smaller slices
• 1 onion, chopped small
• 1 TS minced ginger
• 2 TS sesame oil
• 1 cup condensed milk
• 1 cup water
• 1 TBS flour
• salt and pepper (bitter) to taste
Heat the oil in a skillet add the
onions and saute. Add the ginger, mix well and cook for few more seconds
Add the saijan slices, mix well, cover and cook till well done.
Add the flour and saute for few seconds. Add the condensed milk gradually and mix well.
Add water till you gain desired consistency. As you boil, continually stir and soup will thicken.
Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.