Cheap & Good

Light, homely vegetarian fare at Greenleaf Cafe

Banana flower vadai (above) is a tea-time snack not typically available at South Indian restaurants, but is offered at Greenleaf Cafe.
Banana flower vadai (above) is a tea-time snack not typically available at South Indian restaurants, but is offered at Greenleaf Cafe. ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN

While "healthy Indian vegetarian food" may seem an oxymoron to many people, Greenleaf Cafe in Little India may just have cracked the code.

From the few dishes my dining companion and I try, we can immediately tell that there is significantly less oil, ghee and salt used in the cooking.

The food is more similar to what one might find in a South Indian home, rather than the standard, ghee-laden items one often gets at a South Indian chain restaurant.

For instance, lentil vadai made with banana flowers, or vazhaipoo vadai (two pieces for $3.50), is a typical South Indian tea-time snack I had eaten only at my grand- mother's house.

I am pleasantly surprised to find it on the menu here. It is one of a rotating list of five vadai varieties, which also include urad dahl vadai (four pieces for $2) and masala vadai (two pieces for $3). The options change daily, so you have to check what is available on the day.

The vadai fritters, despite being probably deep-fried, are not soaked in oil. In fact, they are fairly dry, but the dryness is negated once they are dipped in the sambar (a lentilbased vegetable stew) that comes with them.

  • GREEN LEAF CAFE

    43 Cuff Road, tel: 9783-7476, open: 11am to 11pm (Wednesdays to Mondays), closed on Tuesdays

    Rating: 4/5 stars

Then there is the poha (rice that is dehusked and flattened into flakes), another dish that you will get in many Indian homes, but not necessarily at a restaurant.

I try the Poha kichadi made with curry leaves ($3.50). The flavourful and fragrant rice, served in a kitschy, boat-shaped bowl, is made with tomatoes, dried chilli, mustard seeds and onion. While it is usually eaten as a breakfast or tea-time dish, it makes for a light but filling lunch.

In the earlier part of the day, it is served with sambar. But if you go later, you are more likely to get it with chutney. I feel it does not need any other condiments and is delicious on its own.

There is a fair bit of evangelising about natural food and vegetarianism in the menu, with lengthy explanations on how each dish contributes to your well-being.

Banana flowers (or banana hearts), for instance, are a known superfood and there is an explanation on how chlorophyll extracts "have been found to stabilise blood sugar levels, which may help those suffering from diabetes".

But that aside, this hidden gem is a spot that will not give you a food coma after the meal, though you will probably have to head somewhere else for masala tea. It serves only healthy herbal brews.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'Light, homely vegetarian fare'. Print Edition | Subscribe