Love Apples, Anyone? What To Eat This Summer
It may not feel like it yet, but we’re not far from saying goodbye to what has been a very pleasant, extended winter in Mumbai. You can already see the change in the markets. Mangoes have started making an appearance, even if they are tiny and prohibitively priced. Leafy greens aren’t looking as perky as they did a few months ago. When my grocer told me that ponkh and fresh tuvar pods will be gone soon, I bought a couple of kilos of each, and popped them into the freezer. Defrosted and then steamed, they will still taste good and fresh for the next couple of months. Summer may not have winter’s bounty, but there is so much more to it than just mangoes. Light, refreshing, easy-to-digest fruits and vegetables such as watermelons, litchis, musk melons, cucumbers, white pumpkins, bottle gourds (doodhi), pointed gourds (parwal) and ridge gourds (toori) are at their best during the hottest months. If winter gave us drumstick flowers, summer brings us the pods. When I want to eat seasonal food in the next few months, this is some of the produce I will be picking up from my bhajiwala and fruitwala.
A weed that’s recently become trendy all over the world, purslane is making appearances on fancy menus from Manhattan to Melbourne. Bhajiwalas here call it looniya. With its tiny clusters of leaves on fine, slightly reddish stems, it looks more like a herb from the thyme family. But pluck off a couple of the leaves and nibble on them and you can tell why it makes a delicious addition to stir fries, salads or a potato dish. The leaves are silky, the stems have a delicate crunch and the nice vegetal tang proves that it is very rich in vitamin C. This citrusy note also pairs really well with baked and steamed fish dishes. There is a good recipe for Andhra-style dal made with purslane here, one for a Turkish dish made with purslane and tomatoes here, and another for a summer salad with purslane here.
Also known as wax apple or love apple in English (safed jamun in Hindi, and jamrul in Bengali), this Asian fruit is bell-shaped and has a delicate taste that varies from sour to mildly sweet. In Kerala, where it is called chambakka, they often make a pickle with the fruit. Supermarkets in Mumbai have been offering the large red variety from Thailand, but the ones grown in India are much smaller (about the size of a large lemon) and mostly greenish yellow in colour, though you occasionally get pink ones too. Sniff the bottom of the fruit; when it smells floral, it is ripe, and likely to taste best then. Halve it vertically and pull out the candy floss-like textured seed pod, and you’re ready to go. This summer, I’m going to try pickling water apple using this recipe.
This berry is green and sour when unripe, and turns red and sweet as it ripens. Karonda is among my favourite things to pickle or make a chutney with because its fruity and slightly astringent tartness combines well with many other flavours, including those of sugar, mustard and really hot chillies. They make a good substitute in recipes that call for cranberries, and when poached in sugar syrup, they add brightness to muffins and cookies, or as a compote over dark chocolate ice cream.
This translucent, jelly-like, liquid-filled seed case of the palmyra or toddy palm is best enjoyed by biting into it with your mouth facing up to catch all of the slightly sweet juice inside it. In Gujarati, tad means “palm” and gola means “ball”, so it’s an appropriately named fruit. The whole fruit looks a little like a small coconut. When the outside husk is cut away, a few seed pods reveal themselves. I like to buy tadgolas from Matunga market because the sellers cut out the seed from the husk after you ask them to. In most other markets, the seeds are removed at the beginning of their work day. To keep tadgolas looking fresh, some vendors keep peeling away at the layers of the seeds’ outer white skin (which browns with exposure to air and sunlight). I’d rather be sure that they were plucked just before I bought them, and not have to wonder how long the delicate fruit has been sitting in the heat. It is fun and refreshing to eat them while they are whole, tender and raw, but they can also be blended into drinks and desserts. Bengalis make a sweet, fried dumpling from tadgola called taler bora, of which there is a step-by-step recipe here). Neera, the sweet, clear drink sold at some railway stations, is essentially the sap of the tadgola tree.
To most people who haven’t grown up eating jackfruit, the banana- and papaya-like aroma of the ripe fruit can be off putting. But the relatively smell-free unripe jackfruit is highly adaptable to a variety of cooking methods. Unripe jackfruit is a great meat substitute, and many people compare its texture to cooked chicken or firm fish. The flesh can be cut up and cooked in the same sort of spices that you would use to make a chicken or fish curry. Alternatively, it can be shaped into patties and pan-fried. In Konkani, it’s called kadgi, and the community makes pakodas with it. My mother deep fries the unripe fruit, including the lacy fibres that surround it, until it is crunchy. She then serves the fried fruit sprinkled with salt, red chilli powder and amchur (a powder made from the flesh of unripe mangoes). Jackfruit seeds can be added to a curry as well, and can be roasted for a nutty snack. But the best introduction, and the easiest way to eat the fruit is through the hugely addictive jackfruit chips available at shops like Chheda Stores in Matunga and Hot Chips stalls at various locations across the city including Andheri and Chembur.
Winter gave us bunches of spring onions; now summer offers us bouquets of white onions, their translucent, papery skins slipping easily off the bulbs. White onions are slightly sweeter than red onions and are fantastic for jams and chutneys. They can be used in pretty much any dish that calls for red onions, but because of their finer layers and milder taste, they shine most in simple dishes like omelettes, salads and sauces. One of my favourite ways to serve them is to top toasted leftover roti with the raw slices sprinkled with a little lime and salt. For a sweeter snack, quarter them, toss them in olive oil or melted butter, sprinkle with salt and slow-roast them until the edges of the layers caramelise. This way, the complex sugars in the onion break down making them sweeter. Drizzle them with balsamic, and eat them while they are still quite warm. Sweetness, crunch, silkiness, fat, salt and a touch of acid—it’s a combination that’s easy to love.