A symbol of auspiciousness, betel leaves are a ubiquitous feature in South Indian homes. An intrinsic part of all religious and cultural events, betel leaves are mandatorily bought along with fruits, flowers and coconuts as a symbol of prosperity and plenteousness. The deep green hued, heart shaped leaf belongs to Piperaceae which is a vine family and is native to South East Asia and South India. Often referred to as “Paan ka Patha” or Paan leaf, betel leaf is known as Tamalapaakku in Telugu, Veeleyadelae in Kannada and Vettrilai in Tamil.
Available throughout India, this evergreen vine is believed to have been sown by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati themselves in the Himalayan region. According to Hindu mythology, several Gods including Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati, Lord Shiva and Vishnu reside in different parts of the leaf and hence it is an integral part of all festivities and auspicious occasions. Accompanied by betel nuts, which are the seeds of the fruit of the areca palm, betel leaves are often offered with a fruit or some flowers to women who come home as guests. Called “Thamboolam”, this offering is a symbol of hospitality and longevity. The leaves are a key component of the kalash that is set up at the beginning of any celebration or festival. Betel leaves are also known to symbolize freshness and truth and hence are an integral part of weddings and engagements.
Health benefits galore
The chewing of the betel leaf is an ancient practice and is known to offer a host of health benefits. Loaded with vitamin C, it is a rich source of calcium and is good for oral health. It is known to have a positive effect on digestive health and helps cure gastric ulcers and relieve constipation. Betel leaves also help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. The leaves are replete with essential oils and have anti-inflammatory properties. It is a known analgesic and hence used in the treatment of cuts and wounds.
Betel Leaf or Vethalai Rasam Recipe
Easy and convenient to prepare, the below recipe makes the most delectable betel leaf rasam. Vetrilai rasam is an interesting concoction of spices and healthy ingredients that has a warming effect on the body and is effective for minor problems like cold, cough and sore throat.
- 3-4 tender betel leaves
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 -2 tsp thick tamarind juice
- 1 tbsp jaggery powder
- 1 -2 sprig curry leaves
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp Asafoetida
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp ghee
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp pepper corns
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1-2 Byadgi red chillies broken into pieces
- 2-3 pods garlic
- Heat 1 tsp ghee in a pan. Dry roast the ingredients mentioned under “for grinding” until aromatic. Cool and grind to a powder.
- Remove the stalk of the betel leaves, chop it roughly and grind with a small quantity of water to extract the juice.
- Take a thick bottomed vessel, add the extract of the betel leaves along with 2 cups water and heat on low flame. Add chopped tomatoes and boil on low flame.
- Add the powder prepared in the first step as well as the tamarind juice.
- Add salt, jaggery, turmeric and asafoetida; lower the flame and boil for about 5-7 minutes.
- Add curry leaves just before you switch off the flame.
- Heat 1 tbsp ghee, add mustard seeds. Once it splutters, add cumin seeds and Byadgi red chillies and garlic. Allow garlic to turn golden brown. Pour tempering over the hot rasam.
- Serve with hot rice or enjoy as a soup.
- Adjust jaggery and tamarind as per your taste.
- Ensure that there are no hard stalks of the betel leaves and the leaves are young and tender.
This is part of a continuing series on the world of rasam, be sure to check out the last one, Amla or Gooseberry Rasam: A Perfect Blend of Taste and Health