Manathakkali (both the berries and the spinach) is a ‘go-to’ home remedy to combat mouth ulcers.

It was December 2019, the Chennai Music season that I experienced a food nostalgia moment. I was at one of the many canteens – pop up restaurants of a sort – that spring up just for two weeks during the Carnatic music season in the city. These canteens, run by wedding caterers, serve delicious South Indian vegetarian meals that are big enough for a wedding lunch. One of the many dishes I tried here was a manathakkali kuzhambu (gravy) that is made with an ingredient that is on the verge of becoming exotic.

Google Manathakkali and you’ll find black nightshade, a berry that grows in many countries that is treasured for its wellness properties. It’s not just the berry, the leaves or manathakkali keerai (spinach) packs the same goodness. Manathakkali (the Tamil word for black nightshade or solanum nigrum) berries don’t have a very strong flavour. You could best describe them as mildly tangy and mildly bitter and yet they’re quite piquant and bring a unique flavour to a kuzhambu. It’s one of the most popular dishes with this ingredient in Tamil Nadu.

Health Benefits Of Manathakkali:

Manathakkali (both the berries and the spinach) is a ‘go-to’ home remedy to combat mouth ulcers. It was my grandmother’s first prescribed solution even before we reached out for any tablets with Vitamin B12 or riboflavin and it usually worked. Manathakkali is rich in riboflavin, calcium, niacin, iron, phosphorous and Vitamin C. It’s known to cure urinary infections and as a remedy for constipation.

The fresh spinach and berries are not available round the year even in traditional markets in Chennai. But you can get the sun-dried, packaged version of the berries in many supermarkets and online. This is the version that is mostly used for the gravy.


Manathakkali Coconut Powder

Here Are Two Recipes Where You Can Incorporate The Wellness Of Manathakkali Into Daily Dishes:

Manathakkali Thenga Saatham (Coconut Rice) Recipe

(Serves 2)

This recipe adds fresh manathakkali to simple coconut rice. I also use fresh green peppercorns (instead of dried red chillies) to add a fresh twist.


Jeeraga samba (or) white rice: 2 cups

Shallots (or) onions: 1 large onion finely chopped

Fresh grated Coconut: 1/2 cup

Fresh manathakkali: 1/4 cup

Urad dal: 1 teaspoon

Green pepper 1 tablespoon (You can substitute this with 1-2 dried chillies)

Ginger a small piece (finely chopped)

Asafoetida: a pinch

Coconut oil: 1 tablespoon

Curry leaves: a few

Cashew nuts: 8-12 – crushed

Mustard seeds: 1 teaspoon

Salt: to taste


1. Pressure cook the rice. Keep aside.

2. Temper the curry leaves, urad dal and mustard seeds. Then add the onions/shallots, asafoetida, ginger and the coconut and fry. Add the cashew nuts and then the manathakkali.

3. Add in the rice to the mixture and stir fry. Serve with a veg kurma or avial.

Manathakkali Vatha Kuzhmabu (Gravy) Recipe

This recipe uses dried manathakkali (which is actually easier to find) and adds a piquant flavour to a traditional kuzhambu (gravy). You can order dried manathakkali on online stores. Serve this dish with steamed rice; it tastes delicious if you add a spoon of gingelly oil (instead of ghee) when you mix it with your rice.

For the powder:

Bengal gram: 2 tablespoons

Tur Dal: 2 tablespoons

Urad dal: 1 tablespoon

Dried red chillies: 3 – 4

Jeera: 1 teaspoon

Til seeds: 1 teaspoon

Fenugreek: 2 teaspoons

Asafoetida: a pinch

Dry roast the above ingredients. Cool and then grind. Keep it aside.

For the Kuzhambu:

Manathakkali vathal (dried): 2 tablespoons

Shallots (optional): 6 – 8

Garlic pods (optional): 6

Jaggery: 1 teaspoon

Mustard seeds: 1 teaspoon

Gingelly (Sesame) oil: 2 tablespoons

Curry leaves: a few

Salt: to taste

Red Chilli powder (if required) to taste

Drum stick (optional) One (chopped)

Turmeric powder 1/2 teaspoon


1. Soak the tamarind in warm water for 10-15 minutes and extract the water. Keep aside.

2. Use half the oil and roast the Manathakkali vathal and keep aside

3. Temper the mustard seeds and curry leaves, then add the shallots and garlic (you can make this dish without onion and garlic too).

4. Add the tamarind water, turmeric powder, salt and chilli powder and cook on a low flame. Add the drumstick (optional). Bring to boil.

5. Add the manathakkali and then the jaggery. Cook over a low flame.


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About Ashwin RajagopalanI’ve discovered cultures, destinations and felt at home in some of the world’s most remote corners because of the various meals I’ve tried that have been prepared with passion. Sometimes they are traditional recipes and at most times they’ve been audacious reinterpretations by creative chefs. I might not cook often but when I do, I imagine I’m in a cookery show set – matching measuring bowls, et all!

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