Takeaway

Peachy idea: Cooking with fruit

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on May 04, 2021

The makeover: Fruits were for long considered ingredients meant for crunchy, citrussy salads and berry-studded desserts   -  ISTOCK.COM

Shabnam Minwalla   -  BusinessLine

An enterprising friend presents a fruit-based lunch and sets off culinary experiments for a lifetime

* Shilpa finally explained, “I didn’t use any vegetables. The whole meal was cooked using just fruits”

* I have always been a fruit fan. Apples and pineapples, melons and strawberries have always occupied plenty of space in my fridge and my food fantasies

* I’ve already roasted chicken with cranberries and apples and pears — and am now going to attempt a roasted grape chicken on a day when my family is looking elsewhere

****

It was a lunch party that took place in the distant days of landlines, smuggled Kraft cheese tins and Kodak moments. As my friend Shilpa ushered us into her dining room, she tossed us a challenge. “There’s something different about this meal,” she announced, indicating the array of South Indian dishes on the table. “Let’s see if any of you can figure it out.”

Intrigued, we tucked into the rasam, curries and side dishes. We exchanged notes, floated theories and snuck into the kitchen to interrogate the bewildered cook. But we only figured out the answer to the conundrum when Shilpa finally explained, “I didn’t use any vegetables. The whole meal was cooked using just fruits.”

I don’t remember the individual dishes that Shilpa had made that day. I don’t remember the other guests. What I do remember though was the distinctive bzzzzzzz — the sound of a bee making its way into my bonnet. Or, perhaps, the sound of preconceived notions cracking and tumbling away.

I have always been a fruit fan. Apples and pineapples, melons and strawberries have always occupied plenty of space in my fridge and my food fantasies. Even so, I’d viewed them as ingredients meant for crunchy, citrussy salads or berry-studded desserts. Never as the mainstay of a traditional, five-course Indian meal.

All that changed on that breezy summer afternoon redolent with tangy orange rasam and sweet and sour pineapple gojju. And today — decades after that moment of revelation — fruits play a disproportionately large role in my culinary experiments.

Thai pineapple fried rice? Warm orange rice bowls with shrimp and avocado? Malabar prawn curry with mango? Iranian pulao dotted with berries and pomegranate? Moroccan mutton stew cooked with apricot? Grilled apple, walnut and cheese sandwich? Chicken simmered in orange juice and marmalade? These are the dishes that I not only bookmark, but actually cook. Even if my husband and three daughters roll their eyes and sigh gustily when they find an apple lurking in their cheese toast or banana in their bhaji.

Certain fruit are, of course, born to be boiled, grilled, sautéed and served alongside meats and vegetables. Pineapple is especially versatile and well-travelled. When we were children, my mother used to make a rice dish with mutton, capsicum and pineapple called Hawaiian Pulao. It was about as Hawaiian as a plastic grass skirt from Crawford Market — and about as useful to my spice-and-red-meat-loving father as a polka-dotted tutu. Still, its elusive sweetness ensured that it was cooked at least once every year on my birthday. And I can fully understand why this native of South America has made its way into Manglorean chicken curries, creamy Malaysian shrimp curries, as well as Thai stir fries and fried rices.

Similarly, mango pops up in the most unexpected and far-flung pots, pans and baking dishes. The Gujaratis make a delicious kadhi called ras no fajeto with raw mango that has been boiled and puréed. While the Kerala cuisine boasts a unique ripe-mango curry. Mango also features in Mexican salsas and tacos, in barbecue glazes and in Vietnamese rice rolls. During the mango season, I slip unripe mangoes into every conceivable dish — from sour dals to fish curries to sort-of sushis. And it always seems to add the perfect tang.

Middle Eastern dishes love their barberries and pomegranate juices. My favourite Persian chicken stew involves prolonged simmering with pomegranate molasses and a generous garnish of fresh pomegranate seeds. Moroccan tagines use an array of fruits — prunes and figs to apricots. (I yearn to experiment with all these extraordinary recipes, but my family is not equally venturesome. Whenever an unfamiliar stew arrives at the table, my daughters groan, “Which fruit is it this time?” And I glare and wonder how these particular apples fell so far from the tree.)

Still, I’m not defeated. I’ve already roasted chicken with cranberries and apples and pears — and am now going to attempt a roasted grape chicken on a day when my family is looking elsewhere. And, if that goes well, a grilled peach pasta and pork chops glazed in plum sauce. And, while I’m at it, a pizza topped with pear slices and spring onion; or blackberry, basil and cream cheese.

In short, I’m all set to go bananas.

Kela paak

Kela paak is a favourite dish from my childhood. It can be whipped up in 10 minutes and can be eaten warm with chapatis.

1 tsp oil

1 banana, peeled and sliced

1/2 tsp khus-khus

2 tbsp grated gur (jaggery)

Heat the oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the khus-khus. Once the seeds pop, add the grated gur and stir till it melts. Add the banana and about a tablespoon of water and cook for about three minutes. Don’t let the sauce get too thick.

Serve warm.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

Published on May 04, 2021

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