Very few Americans have ever heard of the moringa oleifera plant, but in Africa and Asia it’s a life-saver. It needs very little water to grow and its leaves offer a full complement of protein, minerals, and nutrients to both humans and cattle. When Africans cook with moringa, they throw the tiny leaves into soups and stews just before serving. When eaten fresh this way, the leaves give off a slightly grassy flavor.
Moringa leaves provide protein, calcium, and iron, plus vitamins A and C and potassium. Vitamin A boosts immunity, strengthens skin and hair, and keeps eyes healthy. Vitamin C helps the body resist infection, helps prevent cataracts, and aids in tissue regeneration. Potassium keeps blood pressure low and the whole body hydrated. It also has been shown to decrease risk of stroke. The antioxidants in the dark green leaves boost cellular health, which helps us age gracefully.
I use the fresh leaves in soups and in my own version of a spinach dip because moringa leaves have a similar taste and texture to spinach, especially when blanched. Some people grind the fresh leaves together with olive oil and garlic to make a kind of pesto for pasta.
Moringa Vegetable Soup
For this soup, any smoked fish, such as salmon, can be used. To make this soup vegan, use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock and omit the fish or fish sauce. To give this soup an Asian flair, add 1 tablespoon of gingerroot, cut into strips.
2 cups diced kabocha squash or pumpkin, seeds removed and rind on
1 quart chicken stock
¾ cup diced eggplant
9 pieces okra, cut in halves or thirds
¾ cup cut string beans
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup diced onion
¾ cup diced medium tomato
¼ lb. flaked smoked fish or 1 Tbs. fish sauce
½ cup fresh moringa leaves or 1 Tbs. moringa powder dissolved in 3-4 Tbs. warm water
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, boil the squash or pumpkin in the chicken stock for 10 minutes.
2. Add the eggplant, okra, and string beans, and boil the vegetables until they are tender, about 7–10 minutes.
3. While the soup is cooking, heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and stir-fry until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the tomato to the sauté pan and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Add the flaked fish or fish sauce and cook an additional 5 minutes.
5. Remove soup from heat and stir in the sauté mixture. Add the moringa leaves or powder. Season with the salt and pepper.