Fansaachi Bhaaji

Summers in Khanapur were redolent with the heady fragrance (or stench, if you didn’t like them) of ripe jackfruit among other aromas such as mango and cashew fruit and kokum, but we’ll talk about these later. At the main crossroads of this small town, on the corner of the road that led to the railway station, just before the state transport buses made their brief halt to pick up or drop people carrying thrice their body weight in luggage, was a stall; nay, a parking lot of jackfruit. Huge bolsters that looked like porcupines piled high on each other, reeking of juicy, floral notes, just containing their fleshy golden insides with all their might. Occasionally, a really, really ripe jackfruit would burst either by virtue of being accidentally dropped or having lost its balance from atop the jackfruit pile or because it just could not contain its ripeness any longer, and the jackfruit-iness would emit even further.

Maushi and Kaka’s new red bricked house was a little further down that road, just after the only college in the town, tucked behind the only bank, in a quiet lane, shaded by three large mango trees that bore so much fruit that they looked perpetually weighed down in season. To get to the local market or to visit friends in the older part of town, one had no choice but to cross the main street with its piles of bursting jackfruit. I would start inhaling deeper the moment we hopped on the bikes or started walking in that direction, readying my senses for that heady assault. I would be treated, quite often, to a few “garey”—the sweet, yellow inner flesh—hurriedly and expertly sliced away with a thin blade from their white protective membranes and rough exterior, packed into a Kannada or Marathi newspaper. Oftentimes, a neighbor or friend lucky enough to have jackfruit trees in their courtyards or farms would drop by with half a huge jackfruit much to my delight and my aunt’s disdain—ripe jackfruit had a short shelf life and there weren’t always too many people in the house to eat it. The carefully peeled jackfruit would sit in a steel bowl covered with a fruit net right in the large, airy, bright kitchen on the round table covered in blue linen tablecloth. You would take a slight detour to the kitchen on your way out or into the house to grab a treat. The seeds would be collected in a separate dish next to the bowl, and when all the flesh had been consumed, the seeds would be cooked with some salt in the pressure cooker to eat as a snack or added to a vegetable.

Those were simple times. We didn’t know the “eat local” mantra back then–it was a way of life. “English” carrots were only to be eaten in Mahabaleshwar on the banks of the Venna Lake on a holiday. Nobody had heard of dragonfruit. Raspberries were an occasional indulgence when Dada came home from Europe after work. Shopping lists did not begin and end with french beans, cauliflower and peas. Heck, my grandmother treated tomatoes also as seasonal fruit. Traditional Maharashtrian cuisine does not depend on tomatoes. Or potatoes, even. We ate gourds and raw fruits (banana blossom, jackfruit, breadfruit, raw bananas) and so many different greens that one does not even see in the markets these days.

But I digress. So that was the ripe jackfruit. A summer indulgence. During the winter months, the young jackfruit makes its appearance in the vegetable markets all over the country. I. cannot. resist. it. It is a treacherous job to clean the young jackfruit—it is a hardy fruit and when raw, difficult to cut through. Once you do cut through, you must discard the rough exterior and the tough and chewy interior and only use the fibrous flesh, oiling your hands and knife every now and then to prevent the sap from sticking, only to find in exasperation that it does stick after all. Luckily for me, my local markets sell cleaned and chopped raw jackfruit and all one has to do is to cook it. Halleluiah!

My mum prefers the really small raw jackfruit—ones that have no seed formed at all. These are the most difficult to clean, and are tricky to cook because they are starchy on the inside. She does a great stir fry with chana daal and peanuts with this after laboring over them for a long time, bent over her vili (traditional Maharashtrian cutting blade) and cleaning them carefully. My mother-in-law cooks the slightly more mature jackfruit in Goda masala and no other distractions whatsoever. I prefer the slightly more mature jackfruit, too (partly because that’s what is easily available in the cut avatar!) with the seeds just formed. The flesh is softer and silkier, and the seeds just about acquiring their nutty character. The quickest thing I make is this jackfruit stiry fry (for lack of a better name). It gets done really quick and packs so many flavors and textures—the fibrous-meaty jackfruit, the nutty seeds and cashews, the sweetness from the jaggery, the umami from the fried garlic and the lacy freshness of grated coconut. It’s usually served with Poli—the silken, layered chapatis that are typical to this region or with Jowar Bhakri. Although I must admit, I have been known to eat it just by the bowlful. Supremely satisfying.

Phansaachi Athla-Gara Bhaaji (Stir fried Young Jackfruit)

 Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups cleaned young jackfruit with some seeds formed (see below for instructions on cleaning the jackfruit)
  • ¼ cup cashew halves
  • 4 green chilies, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon asafetida
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • 1 heaped teaspoon roasted cumin seed powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 and ½ tablespoons jaggery
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh grated coconut
  • ¼ cup freshly chopped coriander

Method:

  1. First, cook the jackfruit until almost done. I do this in a pressure cooker. Place the jackfruit in a steel bowl and pressure cook (the water should be in the pressure cooker, not in the steel bowl) for one whistle, turn down the heat and cook on sim for 2 minutes and then turn off the heat. Let the pressure cooker open on its own once all the pressure is released naturally.
  2. Mash the cooked jackfruit lightly, keeping some chunks.
  3. Heat oil or ghee (I prefer ghee) in a thick bottomed wok or kadhai. Add the mustard seeds, asafetida, turmeric, garlic, green chilies, and curry leaves in that order.
  4. Once everything splutters, tip in the cashew halves and saute briefly.
  5. Then, add the cooked jackfruit, seeds and all. Season with salt, cumin seed powder and chili powder, and toss.
  6. Sprinkle a little water if necessary (if the mixture appears too dry and begins to stick to the wok). Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until the flavors combine.
  7. Add the jaggery and cook uncovered for a further 2-3 minutes until the jaggery dissolves.
  8. Turn off the heat, add the coconut and coriander, and serve piping hot.

(To clean the raw jackfruit yourself, oil your fingers and a very sharp knife well. Cut the jackfruit in half horizontally, then in quarters and then each quarter in long pieces about 2 inches in width. This makes it easier to handle. Cut away the thorny green-brown skin and then the central tough section such that you are left with the fibrous part. Cut this part into large chunks. This is now ready to use. Some of the seeds will get cut through. Don’t worry about them; proceed with cooking.)