Early summer is when  the cashew trees bear fruit. And nut. All along the rich, fertile coastline of India, cashew trees are laden with a flaming orange colored, papaya-like fruit, at the bottom of which, a single cashew nut hangs. This is what makes the nut expensive–one large fruit yields only one nut! The fruit is sweet and tart, and is often eaten just by itself.

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In Khanapur, where I spent several childhood summers, as in all coastal regions of India, tender cashew nuts are sold in the local vegetable markets by the kilos or by some other standard measure. These tender nuts, still in their outer skins, are very fresh, usually plucked that dawn, and are to be consumed the same day. As a result, the tender cashew nut used to be a rarity in cities far away from the cashew farms. In Mumbai, a select few vendors would bring their wares to sell in tiny, forgotten lanes in the city. In the intensely Marathi suburb of Dadar, a Konkan-based farm hand would sit  at a strategic location for just a few hours every morning to sell the tender nuts–olay kaaju (literally “wet cashews”). My mum would time her chakka-buying trips to make the most of this rare occurrence.  A few hundred grams would come home, and we’d eat this usal (a preparation that usually involves stir-frying or braising nuts or beans) as a treat. In my old Khanapur, though, the tender cashews were cheaper, and often just brought back from a farm, so they were eaten a-plenty. My aunt would freeze some and add them to chicken curries as a special treat long after the season was over. Today, thanks to refrigeration technologies, more stores have started stocking the tender nuts, making them more accessible for a longer period of time and to more people.

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A few days ago, I found these beautiful cashews at a mango vendor’s–this vendor puts up a stall every season for a few weeks, selling their lovely Alphonso mangoes from Devgad in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. They also have my beloved Pairi mangoes–sweet and sour mangoes that are excellent for aamras, freshly sundried kokum, tender cashews, papads, and other fun stuff from the coast. I promptly brought them home and made the family favorite. We wolfed it down with the season’s first aamras, hot polis, and a cool wintermelon and yogurt curry. If you are lucky enough to find tender cashew nuts where you live, I urge you to try this simple and quick recipe–it shows off the  rich flavor of the tender nut and will easily occupy a happy spot on your plate and in your heart! If not, simply soak the dried cashew nuts in warm water for a couple of hours and use. It won’t be quite the same thing, but it’ll be quite something, I promise you that!

Tender Cashew Stir Fry

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups tender cashews, soaked in warm water and peeled (you can also use soaked dried cashew nuts)
  • 1 tsp. ghee
  • 1-2 green chilies, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • a pinch of asafetida
  • a large pinch of roasted cumin seed powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated (or frozen, unsweetened) coconut
  • a small handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Method:

  1. Heat the ghee on medium heat in a wok or pan. Add the cumin and green chilies and saute momentarily until fragrant. Add the asafetida and immediately tip in the tender cashews.
  2. Toss lightly (try not to use a spoon–the cashews are very tender and brittle) and add the salt and cumin seed powder. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add sugar, coconut, and coriander and toss one final time. Remove and serve hot!

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