Fidel Castro's love for drumsticks and how he sent a friend to south India to study it
Fidel Castro, who passed away last month, was "a simple man" who "appreciated fine food, and good wine," the revolutionary leader's former private chef has told The Telegraph UK.
According to Erasmo Hernandez Leon, Castro loved almonds, olives, cheeses, and meats.
And he was even preparing a selection of snacks, brought from the US, for the leader; but Castro died two days before Hernandez planned to visit him.
"I feel like I’ve been orphaned. It was such a shock," the 72-year-old told the website.
Hernandez also said that Castro's favourite dish was a vegetable soup prepared by him.
Love for moringa
One particular vegetable that Castro loved and extolled its benefits is drumsticks, also known as moringa in Spanish.
KP Nayar, who went to Havana prior to Castro’s 90th birthday in August, wrote in a piece for The Telegraph, Calcutta, that he "found the Commandante’s residence lush with drumsticks from India".
"In complete retirement since 2008, the architect of the Cuban revolution is now quietly pursuing several pet hobbies. One of these is bringing drumstick seeds from Kerala and Tamil Nadu and cultivating them for his daily diet," he wrote.
The writer goes on to explain how Castro got interested in moringa.
It was Che Guevara who first introduced drumsticks to the region in the 1960s, but its cultivation remained limited.
When an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, it led to large scale destruction and caused suffering to the common people. Among the several problems they had to battle were cholera and hunger. Moved by the plight of Haitians, Castro approached Concepcion Campa Huergo, founder of the Finlay Institute in Cuba, seeking for help.
Castro was then told that "the answer to Haiti’s problem of pervasive hunger was moringa". After reading up on moringa, Castro told Huergo, “This is food for the hungry."
Huergo, on being requested by Castro, then travelled to Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Kerala to study the cultivation of moringa and get seeds to Cuba.
Laying down the beneficial properties of moringa, Castro once wrote on cubadebate, "originally from India, is the only plant that has every kind of amino acid. With proper planting and management, its green-leaf production can exceed 300 tons per hectare in a year. It has dozens of medicinal properties."
"Its effects on the digestive system are very good as with all plants, apart from its high protein qualities, but people should not eat more than 30 grams per day, depending on intestinal motility. Some people can handle more. I know some who consume more in the form of tea, or powder, with excellent results due to its sedative qualities which are helpful for rest," he added.
A poor man's crop and a rich man's food
Known largely as a poor man's crop and rich man's food, the leafy moringa, or drumstick tree, is an important tool to fight nutrient deficiency in the wake of climate change, says noted development practitioner Basanta Kumar Kar, terming it a naturally-occurring bio-fortified crop suited to India's climatic conditions.
Moringa is included in the array of such nutrient-enriched produce as oranges, sweet potatoes, minor millets, amla and others which are key to combat micronutrient deficiency in the climate change scenario, said Kar, opining that genetically modified foods are not sustainable solutions.
"We are urging the government to establish a bio-safety authority, map our flora and fauna and promote awareness about nutrition-rich crops and species. Genetically modified food is not a sustainable solution for the future. There is a gold mine of naturally enriched crops and species which are invisible and often ignored," Kar said.
And the humble moringa, described as a "miracle tree", extolled for centuries for its medicinal properties in India, could make a big splash in that direction, in the country where the nutrition scenario for children remains bleak, Kar contended.
With climate change acting as a hunger risk multiplier in Asia, Kar stressed that moringa, a power food (a serving of fresh leaves has more vitamin C than seven oranges) and other naturally enriched nutritious crops and species are important in tackling the problems of micro-nutrient deficiency and food insecurity without damaging the ecology.
"It is rich in micronutrients, vitamins and minerals and adapted to local climatic condition. It is drought resistant and less water is required for its cultivation," said Kar who has been involved in many successful nutrition initiatives in South Asia (particularly in India and Bangladesh).
(With IANS inputs)