Apple of the eye

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on March 09, 2018

Shabnam Minwalla

The world’s bestselling fruit is also perhaps the most versatile — baked, roasted, stewed or raw

It plays the part of a troublemaker in all manner of stories. From fairy tales about pretty princesses and their jealous stepmothers; to Biblical tales about the perils of temptation; to Greek myths about devastating wars.

It has a starring role in favourite proverbs. And takes much of the credit for the discovery of gravity. It is the face of the coolest tech brand of our times. And happens to be a moniker for the city that could well be considered the capital of the modern world.

The Big Apple. The logo with a bitten apple. The fateful apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s head. The apple that keeps the doctor away. The rotten apple. The golden apple. The forbidden apple. The poisoned apple. A for apple.

All these are so much larger than life that one tends to forget that behind the hoopla lies a rather humble fruit. One that inevitably promises more than it delivers — and can never hope to compete with a luscious mango, a tangy orange or a delicately flavoured lychee.

On a good day, an apple is as crisp and sweet as a spring morning in the Himalayas. On a bad day, it can be as grainy and pointless as a mouthful of sawdust. On the worst kind of day, you bite through the tough, plastic-ky skin to be rewarded with sugary mush.

Admittedly, one shouldn’t generalise. There are apples and apples. And, of course, there are apple savants who can help you choose between a Belle de Boskoop and a Fuji. A honeycrisp and a SugarBee. A Granny Smith and a Red Delicious. (A fascinating article in The Atlantic describes the reign of the lipstick-bright-but-tasteless Red Delicious — “alluring yet undesirable, the most produced and arguably the least popular apple in the United States”. Rejected by American consumers who are rediscovering what an apple should taste like, these are now crossing oceans and flooding markets in countries such as China and India; and continuing to lord it over the other 7,500 varieties of the fruit.)

Still, for most of us, an apple is quite simply an apple. A fruit that we’ve grown up with. Familiar and convenient. Easy to slice and pack in snack boxes. Available at every street corner.

The apple is the bestselling fruit in the world — and has been for a long, long time. Apples are believed to have originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan. They were eaten about 10,000 years ago in Jericho. And they have been cultivated for millennia. (A 3,500-year-old record from the Assyrian kingdom states that an individual called Tupkitilla sold an apple orchard for three breeding sheep.) In medieval England, sniffing a ripe, sweet apple was considered a cure for “the Sweating Sickness” — and is part of the “apple a day” belief.

Despite this hoary history, the apple remains a modest, homely fruit — one that’s not about to unleash a startling surprise. Except when you turn on the heat and get cooking.

Bake an apple into a pie or stir it into a Peruvian lamb stew. Grill fat slices atop a cheese sandwich or cook it into a golden apple sauce. Pull out an old recipe for apple cake studded with raisins and almonds; or seek out a new recipe for a healthy breakfast bake comprising apples, eggs, milk and oats. Grate it into a Japanese curry. Try your hand at a white gazpacho made of grapes and apples. Sauté it alongside mushrooms and sausages for a quick lunch. And you will never again dismiss the fruit as wholesome but boring.

For there is something about cooked apples that is quite simply irresistible. I realised this as a child, whenever my mother stewed apples, transforming the prosaic fruit into soft, warm nectar that she served with cool creamy custard.

That was only the beginning of my obsession with baked, roasted, grilled, sautéed apples. I opt for apple pie over chocolate cake, every time. And will as happily consume the fried, pakora-style dish served up at McDonald’s as the traditional pies baked by Yezdani Bakery or the elegant tarte tatins created by the snowy-linen-and-silver-cutlery eateries. At restaurants I scan menus for dishes like apple gorgonzola walnut crostata and crepes with goat cheese, bacon and caramelised apple. I experiment with apple pie milkshakes. Am a sucker for apple-pie scented soaps and candles and fragrant oils. And make grand plans to surprise my daughters with a batch of toffee apples. (One of these days it will happen!)

Recently, I’ve started adding apples into savoury dishes. The results range from strange to spectacular. But in a household in which ‘vegetables’ is a bad word, fruit may well be the answer. Which is why apple potato subzi, apple rasam and chicken apple stir fry are all waiting in the wings. And if these succeed, who knows what will come next.

Peruvian stew

(Be brave, it is yummy)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 pounds mutton

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic, chopped

2 large apples, peeled, cored and

roughly chopped

2 snipped and seeded mild dried


1 bay leaf

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 cups chicken stock

Steamed rice for serving

Chopped cilantro

Pepper and salt


1 Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the mutton on all sides. Meanwhile, sauté the onions, garlic and apples in a pan with the chillies and the bay leaf until the onions are tender — about 10 minutes.

2 Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the meat is tender and just about falling apart — at least an hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3 Remove the meat, then reduce the broth as necessary; serve over steamed rice, garnished with cilantro.

Shabnam Minwalla


Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and the author of ‘The Shy Supergirl’. Her latest book, ‘What Maya Saw’, is now in bookstores

Published on March 09, 2018

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