Pastoral Poetry

Bengal gram / kala chana / Cicer arietinum / Chick pea ~harvested as a dry grain from fruit pods, Family: Fabaceae

Of the various pulses, Bengal gram [1]or kala chana as it is called in India is known for symbiosis through an interspecies collaboration with bacteria. Even under the most stressful drought like conditions, Cicer arietinum is able to grow, as it harbours symbiotic bacteria in root nodules that help fix nitrogen. To me though, it symbolizes, resilience. The mutualism of species that cooperate, helps the plant through a difficult time with as much give, as take. There is a vast amount of literature devoted to this chick pea in the culinary world. There exist countless recipes for what can be made out of its seeds and shoots, these include the ubiquitous ‘hummus’ or the less common (even in India and one of my favourite sweets), Mysore Pak. What endears it to me is that it’s a commonly grown legume and India alone accounts for over 60% of the world yield of this crop that has been cultivated since ancient times, over many millennia.

I prepare this legume in a variety of ways, whether in the use of its seed, flour or leafy shoots and yet, the need for the simplest basic, makes me circle back to sprouts each time, perhaps in an attempt to render it more Sattvic or calming to the body. I understand that unlike the blessed bovine, we ruminate only in the mind, so this chick pea could do with sprouting to aid digestibility, reduce it’s phytic acid [2] content so it may improve our chances at absorbing micronutrients through their increased bioavailability. The shoots though, may harbour calcium oxalate, the same as spinach.

Process ~ I washed and soaked the black gram in plain water for eight hours, drained and then wrapped in a cotton kitchen towel, tightly wound up around itself. This I kept moistened in a closed place for many hours until the sprouts were many inches long. These were stored in the refrigerator for a few days.
Sprouts after a day or two

Years ago, I visited homesteads in farming villages in the North of India and it has been a pleasant memory. They weren’t really a foreign or exotic experience but there were moments that wished to birth into a poem, the way the women appeared to me. ‘Chick pea’ is a poem about a woman in her element, within her rural home, enmeshed in her landscape, her animals, plants, daily responsibilities, her dreams, harbouring  desires we aren’t able to see in those that do not mirror our realities. She is different and yet she is the same.

I also wished the poem to reflect on the malnutrition of women in India, especially since they mostly depend on plants for their protein needs and micro nutrient  requirements. Of the five essential nutrition interventions for mothers in India, one includes improving the quantity and nutrient level of food consumed in the household and another involves preventing micronutrient deficiencies and anemia, as per this report [3] by UNICEF India, where a quarter of women of reproductive age are undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m2

Yet, in parts of the world with higher food security and the availability of highly fortified foods, I am not sure if we really know to process appropriately what we consume, if we devote requisite time or are mindful as we create, serve and consume meals. Food processing has always been of interest to me and our home is very partial to gastronomy. I have also included below, a recipe I created for a simple salad with nutty chick pea.

A prayerful symbiosis

The hinterlands in the faraway North ,
thatched homes plastered in the dung

of humped cows, a canvas of surprise.
A young woman swept away the debris

of seasonal dreams peeling off
the floor and walls alike.

Yet, happiness is in the patting
of dung cakes, for the Milch cow

is always happy. These she will use
to smoke the firewood stove as she pats

unleavened flat bread for sustenance.
Days grow in rustling up a new patchwork

of dreams, fecund as the loamy fields
coursing the arc of an overhead sun.

She will walk through the harvest,
now the soil a soft brown skin.

In a tepid romance of a moonlit night,
the black gram grew in ambition, in

fervent prayers of nitrogen. Cut down
a couple of nodes and buds diverge

to a residual pain in straw but
the Milch cow will ruminate over this.

Multiple stomachs to digest the last
of a sorrowful detritus. Little curlicues

of shoots make her wonder of her unborn
children as a fecund pastoral philosophy

hurtles her into the future. Roasted gram,
gram flour, sprouts and shoots and

will it be enough, this food of drought,
food for her, food for the Milch cow ...

Sprouted Chick Peas in water
Recipe for a nutty salad:     

Chop into fine cubes, a medley of crunchy vegetables; I would suggest a cucumber, tomato, spring onions or a sweet white onion, a lettuce head. Add cubes of a boiled potato.

Toast 1/4 of this mixture in sprouted black gram, in a wok drizzled in clarified butter or Ghee, with some cumin seeds. Add this mixture to the salad.

Create a dressing out of yogurt, sesame seed oil and extra virgin olive oil, the juice of lime or lemon, salt, cumin powder, a finely chopped green chilli pepper or half of a jalapeno or a tablespoon of Siracha. Mix well together and add to the salad.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves (cilantro).

Know your Pulse:

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. They grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes. Pulses are annual crops that yield between one and 12 grains or seeds. The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely as dry grains, which differentiates them from other vegetable crops that are harvested while still green [4]


[1] Crop information for Black Gram ~ retrieved 17/Apr/21

[2] Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains by
Raj Kishor Gupta, Shivraj Singh Gangoliya, and Nand Kumar Singh ~ retrieved 17/Apr/21