Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Hen, Indian Style

To keep a marriage fresh, I recommend spending a weekend without children every once in a while. We have just had our second such weekend since our oldest daughter was born eight and a half years ago, so clearly I am no great practitioner of what I preach; but a weekend spent eating, drinking and lolling around with one’s husband has done wonders for my attitude to marriage.

I am, however, not just a newly rediscovered sex goddess but also and always a cook and mother of three, and so I couldn’t resist heading out on the Saturday morning to a local organic market. When their parents go away for the weekend, some kids get souvenir t-shirts; ours got goats cheese dusted with ash, raspberry jam, a bag of tiny nectarines, some local bacon, and an enormous bunch of fat hen.

Fat hen, which is also known as lamb’s quarters or goosefoot, is a mild and slightly sweet green. The leaves contain vitamin A and C, and have been eaten since prehistoric times. Use the leaves wherever you would spinach, either raw or cooked. Many people also recommend eating the nutritious seeds, which are packed with protein, calcium, potassium and other goodies, but I haven’t tried them, myself.

You often see fat hen growing on wasteland, which tells you it’s a weedy plant. If you grow it in your garden and want to control it, cut off all flowering spikes before they set seed and throw them to the chooks; if you let it set seed, you will have fat hen in your garden forever. Pull up any unwanted descendents and eat them, or give them to your feathered friends.

Weedy it may be, but with a name like fat hen, who could resist? The bush forms a lovely soft grey-green mound which grows to one and a half metres or even taller. It has large arrow shaped leaves, and one or two bushes provide plenty of leaves for humans and poultry alike.

As for fat hen Indian style, it is not, alas, a large chicken in a sari, but leafy greens simply dressed with a few Indian flavourings. This is an easy dish to serve alongside rice, dahl and perhaps some pappadams.

Fat Hen, Indian Style

- a bunch of fat hen (or spinach or leaf amaranth or baby passionfruit leaves or turnip tops or any other tasty edible green)
- a small onion
- ½ tsp turmeric
- flavourless vegetable oil (I used non-GMO canola)
- ¼ cup flaked or desecrated sorry dessicated coconut (Don't use the standard dusty brand; look for good thick threads.)
- the juice of a lemon
- a pinch of salt

Wash the fat hen well. Warm a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil in a wide frypan with a lid. Add the onions and a good pinch of salt, and fry gently until the onions begin to soften. Add the turmeric and stir for a few seconds; then throw in the fat hen. Squawk!

Clap on the lid and leave for three or four minutes or until the fat hen has wilted. Add the coconut and the lemon juice, and toss and stir until the liquid has been absorbed into the coconut. Serve!

Adapted from a recipe in Charmaine Solomon’s Vegetarian Food, a slender volume now well and truly out of print. One of these days I plan to check out her acclaimed Complete Vegetarian Cookbook; perhaps the recipe is in there too.

(Victoria: fat hen, onion, lemon, salt, and, I hope, the canola oil. From many miles away: turmeric. And also from many miles away, but fair trade and organic: coconut.)

Complete Vegetarian Cookbook


  1. Baby passionfruit leaves? Really? Please tell me more.

  2. Hi Natalie, Young passionfruit leaves are eaten in many countries (including Sri Lanka and the Maldives) - either raw in salad or cooked as a green vegetable. Like all greens, eat some then eat something else; it's good to mix greens up. Alison.