Do you remember that kindergarten rhyme-
“My house is red a little house,
a happy child am I.
I laugh and play the live long day.
I hardly ever cry.
I had a tree, a green green tree to shade me from the sun.
Under which I often sit, when all my play is done.”
I wonder when I have read last such innocent lines. One of the classic rhyme, I guess and I was so much in love with the rhyme, that I still remember it by heart. There was another reason why I was in love with that rhyme so much, it always reminds me of that old jackfruit tree standing proudly for so many years unknown separating the boundary walls between our two houses. On Sunday afternoons, it was our favourite place to play hide and seek or at times to sit and paint the flowers with the crayons. The only other companion was the big and fat black ants trailing up and down the lusty and shaded boughs of the jackfruit tree. It was so much fun to observe the army of marching ants, tromping up and down the branches, carrying their foods. During the early months of Summer, the tree was loaded with so many fruits, some were harvested when they were still young and unripe to make enchor chingri dalna and our neighbours would make some most delicious katthal ka achaar that I ever had. She used to gift some to my Ma, knowing that it would set my daily tiffin routine of paratha and achhar combo.
That regular supply of katthal ka achhar was stopped midway, unfortunately when they had to leave the job and moved to their hometown in UP. Our new neighbours were not so generous and one day they decided to cut down the tree halfway to install the dish antenna. Slowly the things turned into different directions, with years more branches were chopped down to raise the boundary wall, and as we graduated to higher classes, we too lost interest in those silly things. But even after so many decades, I still remember those innocent times spent under the green jackfruit tree.
With time everything changes, so as our choices and priorities in our lives. But at times, there are moments so strong as to stir our memories, we yearn to reconnect back with our former self, the way things used to be in those days… While DH was busy chopping down the jackfruit precisely into cubes, I was lost in those forlorn memories. He was not sure whether we would be able to manage the cutting and cubing of the jackfruit or not, giving that it’s unmanageable tough, knobby and poky hard exterior, and the sticky latex filled interiors that badly stains the fingers and knives. But when I spotted two tender jackfruit in grocery shop, I was so excited that I had decided to take the plunge. Though it is said that Karnataka’ Western Ghats are the home to this wonderful tree called jackfruit, but finding the jackfruit in Bangalore’s grocery store is tough one. You have to be extremely lucky for that. In summer months, every year in Bangalore you will find one or two Jackfruit mela in the city, most of the time it promotes the ripe fruit and not the green one. Those who are fan of this sweet smelling ripe jackfruit, they swear by its super taste and deliciousness. However I cannot tolerate its heady aroma even from a distance, may be am little allergic to it, or better call it as psychoallergy. The unripe and green one is however my favourite vegetable.
Recently I had come acrossed a very depressing article on jackfruit. In its own country, where the fruit is indigenous, it is highly underrated one and now being labeled as ‘poor man’s food’. I failed to understand the snobbishness behind it. Even the farmers in Karnataka are not keen to grow the jackfruit, as it reaps hardly any profit to sustain their livelihood. Ironically, according to the research this is one of the crop that is disease and drought resistant and has immense potential values as nutrient rich super food. While in West, jackfruit is now considered as vegan alternative to pulled pork, and they are adapting this in their diet as meat alternatives, after acknowledging its enriching nutrient values. Most of the jackfruit available there as canned product, largely imported from Thailand. While in its own country, jackfruit suffers as a neglected and forlorn crop.
If you are running out of the ideas to cook the green tender jackfruit, then let me hint on some of the delicious possibilities. Apart from enjoying it as curry, you can also use its soft flesh to make chops and cutlets. In every Holi my Ma used to make this and believe me that was so delectable that you cannot stop just at one. Pickling is another one to preserve it so that you can enjoy it during the winter months with your favourite paratha. I had come across a wonderful jackfruit biryani recipe on the internet and I am planning to try that too this summer. While I was in US I had the jackfruit as a filling in Mexican taco and was so well seasoned that for brief moment you cannot tell that it was not meat but jackfruit. Jackfruit is also very popular among the South Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Try their versions too to bring some variety to the table and that’s how the recipes evolves. Show some love to it and try to do something new, am sure its meaty taste and delicious fleshy texture will please your palate in more than one ways.
Chopping – This is one of the important step. Don’t get intimidated by its hardy, woody and poky exterior. You will need a very sharp knife to chop it into cubes. So bring out your heavy duty chef knife, grease it very well with mustard oil or coconut oil, the chopping board and your hands too. Both these oils are good for the skin too, olive oil would be little expensive and please do not use refined oil. If you are using plastic chopping board then use newspaper underneath to cut the jackfruit. It becomes very difficult to get rid off the milky latex from the plastic / vinyl board.
To make this curry, choose a green, young and tender jackfruit that roughly measures up to 15-20 cm. First slice the jackfruit lengthwise to get some even size round disc. Small sizes are easier to handle. Once you get the round disc, hold the knife at 45 degree angle and get rid of its green knobby hardy exterior. There should not be traces of its hardy exterior left after you slice it down with the knife. All you need is its soft outer skin. Once you are done with its woody exterior, cut the round disc in half and get rid of the core or the sticky latex oozing center part. From there on proceed to cube or cut the jackfruit into large chunks. The seeds and its soft outer shells (if not chewy or plastic like) are also edible. In a large tumbler, pour enough warm water, little salt, pinch of turmeric and few drops of mustard oil, stir it well and let the jack fruit soak in it for around 20 minutes. I always prefer a pressure cooker to cook this, else you can use the slow cooker too.
- Green / unripe jackfruit : 500 g
- Black cardamom : 2-3
- Cloves : 3-4
- Cinnamon : an inch piece
- Onion : 1 large sliced
- Fried Onion & ginger garlic paste : 5 tbsp (1 medium onion, 10-12 garlic cloves, 2 inch piece ginger)
- Green chillies (chopped) : 2 tsp
- Curd : ½ cup
- Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
- Red chilli powder : 1 tsp
- Cumin powder : 1 tsp
- Bengali garam masala : ½ tsp
- Salt and sugar to taste
- Mustard oil : 2 -3 tbsp
- Ghee : 1 tbsp
- Bay leaves : 2-3
- Cashews : a handful (fried)
- Cut the jackfruit in medium size chunks. Smear it with salt, turmeric powder and mustard oil. Leave it aside for 15 minutes.
- In a pan with half teaspoon oil, fry one medium size onion cut roughly into chunks, garlic cloves and ginger chopped roughly. Once the onions are slightly brown, turn off the heat, cool it down and then grind it in a mixer (all together) to make a paste.
- In pressure cooker, heat the mustard oil. Temper the oil with bay leaves, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.
- Fry the sliced onion till lightly brown. Add the marinated jackfruit pieces and fry it on medium heat for 5 minute.
- Add the fried onion, ginger garlic paste and keep sauteing.
- Add all the spices in batches and keep stirring.
- Keep stirring, add salt and sugar to taste.
- Keep braising the jackfruit on medium heat till the masala leaves oil from the sides.
- Once that stage is reached, lower the heat and add the curd in batches (not all at the same time).
- Mix it well, and keep braising it.
- Add enough water to just cover the jackfruits.
- Lower the flame, close the pressure cooker and steam cook the jackfruits till it becomes tender.
- Check if the jackfruit is tender enough, if not then add some more water and cook it till done.
- Check the seasonings and before serving garnish with fried cashews and drizzle some ghee over it and serve warm with rice or roti or paratha.