A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)

After our tour of the Golden Triangle, arranged by a travel agent, we had the opportunity to see a more personal side of India when we flew south to Hyderabad to visit my daughter-in-love’s family.

Early one morning, my DIL’s uncle, Satish, drove us to his farm in Shamshabad, about thirty miles south of Hyderabad. Joining us was my son’s mother-in-law, Viji, and my husband. Satish gave us a tour that ended with a hearty farm-to-table breakfast.

Just before we reached the farm, we had to slow down and let the goats go by.

We visited the farm in mid-February. As a point of reference of the difference in growing seasons, Hyderabad’s plant hardiness zone is 12. Nashville’s is 7a, and Southern California is 10. The kale and radishes were ready for harvest in the fields. The tomato plants were bushy and just starting to bud.

Some of the more unusual crops I saw growing were quinoa, mango, tamarind, drumstick, and papaya.

A Field of Quinoa

I had never seen quinoa growing before our visit.

Most of the quinoa had already been harvested, but a few scattered plants remained.

Once harvested, the stalks were laid out to dry.

In the video below, the farmer is threshing the dried quinoa plants. Threshing is the process of separating the seed husk from its stalk.

Winnowing comes later and is the process of removing the husks from the seeds.

A Mango Grove

A magnificent flowering mango tree provides a canopy over a large courtyard.

A close-up of one of the branches reveals small green fruits that have set.

Satish planted a field of mango trees bordered by banana plants. Notice the shallow wells dug around each tree and the irrigation hoses that run across them. The water comes from a new reservoir located in the background of this photo.

In India, there are four seasons: winter (December to February), summer (March to May), the rainy or monsoon season (June to September), and a post-monsoon season (October and November). The reservoirs fill with water when the monsoon rains come. Read about the beautiful stepwells, built centuries ago to collect the rainwater, here.

A Tamarind Tree

If you are a devotee of chef Yotam Ottolenghi, then you may be familiar with an ingredient he likes to use called tamarind. Tamarind puts the zing in Worcestershire Sauce. Its natural acidity also makes it a great meat tenderizer. In Indian folklore, when a woman starts craving tamarind, she is probably pregnant.

The edible pods are in the legume family.

To prep, peel back the smooth skin of the pod. There is a thin layer of sticky pulp around each seed. When you suck on a seed you get an instantaneous explosion of lemony, sweet, tangy, and slightly salty flavors, much like a Sour Patch Kids candy.

In Indian cooking, tamarind is used for chutneys, sauces, desserts and a lentil-based vegetable stew known as sambar often served over basmati rice.

A “Drumstick” Tree (Moringa oleifera)

I had never heard of the drumstick tree before our visit. The long and tender fruit pods are used in soups and curries and have medicinal uses. Some call it a superfood.

The tree’s tender leaves are high in iron and are used in salads, soup,s and vegetable curries.

Here are peeled and chopped drumsticks prepped for cooking.

This is a photo of Sambar Stew. The recipe calls for both drumsticks and tamarind. I’m going to try and make this. In Nashville, one can buy all the ingredients at Patel Brothers, an Indian grocery store.

Papaya Trees

The fruit is ripe when it turns yellow on the tree. It was so fresh and tasty, I ate a bowlful!


A Field of Onions (The Quinoa Fields Are in the Background)

Daikon Radishes

We saw daikon radishes being sold on carts all over India.

In the U.S., I have seen fields of long, white daikon radishes grown as a cover crop used to break up the soil. I’ve seen it used this way on Mennonite farms in Kentucky and in a wine vineyard in Rhode Island. This Spring, I planted daikon seeds to test how well they break up the soil. If they do well, I’ll plant them as a cover crop in the Fall.

Satish grows daikon to eat as a vegetable. While visiting the langar hall in a Sikh temple in Dehli we saw volunteers prepping the daikon radishes for lunch.

Farm Life

Free-Ranging Chickens
The chickens on this farm are definitely free-range!

A Good Story about Swimming Lessons
This irrigation well was dug out about sixty years ago by Satish’s family. It is approximately 30 feet across and 30 feet down.

Satish said he was taught to swim here as a child by having a bundle of branches tied to his back. He explained that as the branches became waterlogged, they became less buoyant and he quickly learned to kick to stay afloat. As a swimmer became more confident, one branch at a time was removed until the swimmer could swim on his own.

The Field Hands
Four generations of families work and live on Satish’s farm. These darling girls, who were playing with their “dollhouse” when we arrived, captured my attention and my heart.

Their dollhouse is full of precious finds.

Making Chapati/Roti Bread
The family’s matriarch showed us how to make roti (aka chapati), a round bread made with flour and water. No oils are used in the cooking process, although the bread is spread with melted ghee when served at the table.

The bread was referred to as both roti and chapati, interchangeably, all over India; I have yet to discover a difference in the two. Some are made with ground millet and some with ground wheat. Millet is more nutritionally dense than wheat and is preferred by the farmers who need the extra calories to work.

The first step is to get the fire going. The cook uses a small open oven and a stack of long branches for fuel. Only one end of the branches are in the oven. As the branches burn, the cook pushes the rest of the long branches into the flame. Brilliant!

Her cooking supplies include a covered tin of millet flour, a mixing bowl, a cylinder of water, and a tava, a metal concave cooking pan.

She adds the boiling water to the millet flour and kneads the dough. With millet, you don’t need to let the dough rest for twenty minutes as with wheat flour.

She flattens the dough on the stone by patting it with her hands.

I had to call Viji to ask what she and Satish were discussing in Telugu in the video’s background. They were discussing whether to kill a chicken for our breakfast!

A Delightful Breakfast!
Making chapati inside the farmhouse kitchen.

I’m getting one of these pans.

A container of heated ghee for the bread. Ghee is clarified butter. It has a longer shelf life than butter and a higher smoke point for cooking. The chapati is delicious with ghee on it!

As we drove home, we saw a farmer growing coriander (aka cilantro),

and a rice field.

The farm also contains a Function Hall for weddings and cradle ceremonies.

As we got closer to Hyderabad, we passed this landmark fish-shaped building, the National Fisheries Development Board’s regional office. For an interesting story by CNN about this building, look here.


It was a fantastic morning!

Next up: shopping for sarees.

Related Posts:
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)
Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)
Shopping for a Saree in South India (India, Part 6)

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17 thoughts on “A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)

  1. So glad to get the southern India farm post. We didn’t get there and even if we had, we wouldn’t have had family to show us around. All so fascinating.

  2. Judy, I loved reading this and seeing the photos. Amazing!!
    Now that we are finally beginning to catch up from our trip, I hope to go back and read your blog postings that came in while we were gone.
    What a wonderful trip you had, and one that, no doubt, will provide fabulous memories in the years ahead. I’m sure your DIL and her family were honored to have you visit India.

  3. Judy, I have really enjoyed your India posts. I visited India in 1978, when I was 20, interesting to see that some things have changed and others not so much. This article in particular was fascinating to me; how cool that a south American crop is now being raised in India. Quinoa is so nutritious–‘m happy to see it spreading. Does Satish’s crop get consumed in India or is it for export?

    I noticed those lime green glass bracelets in the roti-making section. I had a set of those when I came back from India to finish school in Santa Cruz, CA in 1979, after my trip. As the bracelets broke off one by one, my culture shock at being back in the US after 15 months away subsided. (I had spent 9 months in school in Italy before travelling for 6 months in Europe and Asia.)

    I had a salwar-kameez suit tailored for me in Jaipur, but never bought a saree–too fancy for me! I got such a kick out of seeing you in your saree and your son in his wedding finery in one of your other posts. That must have been one fabulous wedding! The Indians know how to do it.

    I also enjoyed your photo essay about the Golden Temple. I feel like an idiot for not partaking in a meal when we visited there. We were thinking, “we don’t need charity, leave it for those who do.” I understand now that it was hospitality, as well as charity.

    1. Barbara, Satish uses the food he grows to support the farm hands. He doesn’t sell any of it. About the quinoa — my husband has been all over it since we got back home. He’s been making a wonderful quinoa salad every week since we got home. It will be a blog post one of these days because we all love it. The woman who was making chapati never takes those bracelets off. The saree experience was sooo interesting and fun.

      If I was 20, I probably would have passed on the meal at the langar, too, for the same reason. I asked Daljeet about it and he told me, “the poor eat for nourishment and the rich for holy food.”

      Thanks for writing, Barbara.

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