Recall the good old nursery rhyme that refers to Tom Tucker who, sitting in a corner, put in his thumb and pulled out a plum from the X-mas pie and burst out in self-praise? Well, we in the subcontinent don’t have to wait till Yuletide to savour the luscious fruit. It is part of summer bounty. There are many varieties (including imported ones) that tease and tempt.
Dr Javed Ashraf, maverick scientist and a former colleague at JNU, had studied the history of horticulture in medieval India and enlightened us that plums, apricots and peaches travelled from Central Asia to South Asia. True to form, the Chinese claim that all of them originated in the periphery of Middle Kingdom and dispersed, therefore, to the West, South and East.
Plum is called aloobukhara in Hindi and several other Indian languages. When sun-dried and pitted, it becomes a prune. In Kashmir, dried plums are used to prepare a fruity sweet and sour aloobukhara kofta and in Hyderabad Deccan, a non-vegetarian version can be encountered. The Kashmiri aloobukhara qorma, too, enjoys patronage.
When it comes to exotic dishes relying on plums, we must thank Sneha Saikia, the gifted home chef, for treating us to the most sinfully satisfying roast duck with plum sauce. This is a dish belonging to the Anglo-Indian repertoire, traditionally cooked at tea estate managers’ bungalows; it continues to be a favourite of the epicurean ‘Calcutta Club Crowd’. If duck musallam appears daunting to you, enjoy the same flavours in braised/pan-grilled duck breast or chicken.
The ultimate accolade to apricots is paid by an old Turkish saying, “Nothing tastes better than this except, maybe, the apricots of Damascus!” Incidentally, Turkey is the largest exporter of dried, deseeded apricots that have a lighter colour and milder flavour than the Indian variety with a coarser texture. The Chinese system of medicine prizes apricots for their beneficial properties. The botanical name of this fruit links it with Armenia, but that small country hasn’t been able to press its claims as the fruit’s birthplace. They are a valued ingredient in Parsi kitchen. Jardaloo (dried apricots) are key to some chicken and mutton dishes.
Peach is perhaps the most delicate of summer fruits. It doesn’t travel well, spoils easily and the skin is blemished by the lightest touch. But what joy it is to bite into a just ripe thin-skinned Alexander! An Afghan folk song compares the beauty of a downy-cheeked adolescent boy with the evanescent perfection of a peach. Cooking it can only ruin it but there is a recipe, peach paneer stew, created by an NRI foodie, that does justice to it. You may substitute paneer with tofu, if you so desire.
Homer’s Odyssey tells us that pears grew in the sublime orchard of Alcinous. “Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates, apples with their bright fruit, and sweet figs and olives.” The pear, like its cousins, is not a child of this soil. It goes by many names — naakh, nashpati, babbugosha, amrit phal, seb-e-samarkand — but is seldom used in cooking. It is mostly enjoyed fresh or stewed as a dessert. We have long wondered why no one has tried to make a guacamole from the Indian pears.
Comparatively the new kid on the Indian fruit block, apples have for long enjoyed a privileged position. Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh are the two states known for their produce. Not many know that apples were brought to India by Americans like Satyanand Stokes who planted orchards here. When biting into a juicy apple, few remember that this was the forbidden fruit that caused Adam’s fall from the Garden of Eden. But let’s not digress. Our friend Ashok Ogra introduced us to bamsoot ki sabzi, prepared with quince. Nirja Mattoo, teacher, author and cook, opened our eyes to variations in recipes for this delicacy.
And there’s more…
Among our acquaintances, Chef Nishant Choubey is most enthusiastic about experimenting with fruits. He created a wonderfully refreshing jamun chaat while working at the Roseate in the Capital and has improvised tantalising tandoori sticks in cashewnut gravy at his vegetarian restaurant Street Storeys in Bangaluru. Credit is also due to him for a mesmerising tarbooj ka shorba tempered with hing and kalonji. And, how can one forget the kaleji pav with shahtoot that wowed guests at the Michelin-plated Indus in Bankok? Inspired by Meeraj ul Haq’s original litchi kebab, he has also attempted a litchi-laced risotto.
Space and time constraints forbid us to include more of our favourite things. Like jamun or Malabar plum that gives Indian continent its name Jambu Dvipa. The fruit is experiencing a kind of rebirth in salads and soups. Phalsa pulav, which is mentioned in ‘Bida-e-Zafar’, has alas become extinct. Few have access to the recipe and fewer still have the skill to pull it off. Editor-publisher and peerless hostess Atiya Zaidi from Jaunpur, now based in Delhi, is the only one we know who can conjure up this bewitching delicacy. Shukran-e-Nemat!
Lauki (peeled, grated and blanched) 1 cup
Boiled potato (mashed) 1
Paneer (crumbled) 50g
Dried aloobukhara (rehydrated and stone removed, slit carefully) 8-10
Almonds (soaked in rose water and skin removed) 8-10
Gram flour 1 tsp
Tomatoes (pureed) 1 cup
Onions (sliced fine or grated) 2
Green chillies (slit, deseeded and chopped) 2
Garlic-ginger paste 1 tbsp
Green cardamom powder 1/4 tsp
Fennel powder 1/4 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder 1 tsp
Cumin powder 1 tsp
Coriander powder 1-1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Oil 1/2 cup
Fresh mint 10-12 leaves
- Squeeze all the water from the grated lauki. Put it into a bowl and blend with paneer and mashed potato. Sprinkle gram flour and mix well. Sprinkle a little salt, Kashmiri red chilli powder, green cardamom and fennel powders. Shape into small balls, flatten into patties and make a hollow in the middle. Place an almond and an aloobukhara inside it. Reshape it into a round kofta.
- Heat oil in a pan and deep fry the kofta till it is evenly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain the excess on kitchen towels. Reheat oil in a pan and stir fry onions in it on medium flame until they turn light golden. Add ginger-garlic paste and stir fry for another minute. Put in the powdered spices along with salt and stir for 30 seconds. Then pour in the tomatoes, grated or pureed. Add chopped green chillies. Keep stirring lightly till the fat separates. Reduce the flame to low.
- Slide the koftas into the gravy and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Switch off the gas, garnish with mint leaves and serve with steamed rice, parantha or phulka.
Chicken/duck breasts with plum sauce
Chicken/duck breasts (filleted thinly and carefully scored with a sharp knife) 4-8
Apple cider or jamun vinegar 1/4 cup
Sesame oil 1 tsp
Dark soy sauce 1 tsp
Black peppercorn powder 1 tsp
Cinnamon powder 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Plums (stones removed) 300g
Sugar 100g (or to taste)
Salt to taste
- Prepare a marinade by mixing vinegar, sesame oil, soya sauce, a little salt, sugar and the powdered spices. Place the chicken and duck breasts in it. Coat them evenly and keep aside overnight. Prepare plum sauce by chopping the plums and mashing them in a mixer. Melt sugar in a pan and as soon as it liquefies, add semi-pureed plums to it. Cook on low flame till the desired consistency is achieved. Remove from flame.
- Heat a grilling pan or a non-stick pan and sear the marinated chicken/duck breast on medium-high flame, pressing lightly with a spatula, for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and keep aside on a platter.
- Reheat the plum sauce on low flame. Add rest of the marinade, cook on low flame and pour over grilled breast.
Peach-Paneer Quick Fix Fruit Stew
Paneer/tofu (cut into large tikka-like chunks) 300g
Peaches (not overripe but neither unripe nor hard) 300g
Apple (medium-sized, cored and diced; with or without skin) 1
Apricots 100g (preferably fresh, halved and deseeded)
Turmeric powder 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Cumin powder (obtained from freshly roasted seeds) 1 tsp
Dried mint leaves (crushed) 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
Oil 1 tbsp
Lemon juice (optional) 1 tsp
- Line a non-stick pan with a thin film of oil and pan grill the paneer tikka in it. Peel the peaches, remove the stone and cut into large, bite-sized pieces. Blanch for not more than 30 seconds in boiling water and immediately refresh in ice cold water.
- Heat a little oil in a pan and put in the paneer and peaches along with apricots, powdered spices, salt and sugar. Pour in 1/4 cup of water and cover and cook on low flame for 3 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the dried mint leaves.
- Keep in mind that appearances can be deceptive. This is a main course savoury dish, not a fruit salad.
Tarbooj shorba with hing kalonji lavash
Tarbooj or watermelon 1 piece
Corriander seeds 1 tbsp
Dry red chilli 2 -3
Cumin seeds 1/2 tbsp
Bay leaves 2
Ginger-garlic paste 1 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Corriander powder 1/4 tsp
Garam masala powder 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/4 tsp
Black peppercorns 3-4
Oil 1 tbsp
Curry leaf 1 tsp
hing kalonji lavash
Refined flour 100g
Water to make dough
Hing 1/6 tsp
Kalonji 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/6 tsp
- Peel and discard the skin. Churn it in a blender to get the juice out of tarbooj.
- Take a pan and heat it. Add oil. Once hot, add a bay leaf, corriander seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaf, dry red chilli and black pepper. Let them clutter and then add ginger-garlic paste. Stir fry for 3-4 m. Add turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder and cook for another 3 minutes. To that, add watermelon juice and let it cook for 3 mins. Add garam masala powder, season the soup and strain.
- To make lavash, pre-heat the oven at 200 degree centigrade. Make a dough with refined flour, salt, red chili powder, hing and kalonji. Roll it and bake it for 3 mts.
- Serve shorba with lavash on the side.