The heady smell of ripening jackfruit in many rural homes in this part of the world, defines the summer season. This humble honey-sweet fruit also represents summer just like the king of fruits, mangoes.
Sadly, unlike mangoes, this fruit, until recently, was not celebrated and was mainly considered the poor man’s fruit.
One may not easily find orchards dedicated to this fruit, or find the fruit being sold at exorbitant rates like mangoes. It grows almost wild, has a strong smell, is cumbersome to cut, highly perishable and is quite heavy – after all, it is the biggest tree laden fruit in the world!
It is probably because of these reasons that this fruit has never been in the limelight compared to other summer fruits. But, now things are changing for the better, and people from all over the world are waking up to the benefits of this fruit. It is emerging as an ideal vegan alternative to meat in the western world, and is thus, part of many meat-based dishes.
Interestingly, if we look at our traditional kitchen you will discover an amazing variety of dishes made from this fruit — both ripe and unripe.
“I love jackfruit, in any form. Be it Sushel made from very tender raw jackfruit, kuvlyache tondak (curry), bhikna ros (jackfruit seed- based gravy), gharyachi bhaaji (vegetable made from pods). My mouth is already drooling talking about it!” says USA-based Neelam Dutta who shares her mother’s traditional Goan recipes on her facebook page — ‘Ranchikood-Goan Kitchen’.
The most popular dish which many Goans love to recollect is dhonas, which is actually a jackfruit cake, which is not made in an oven. Dutta fondly remembers her mother making dhonas.
“For dhonas, my mother used to first extract the pulp, and she used to call it gharyache mhov or honey-like texture of the pulp (this was extracted by sieving the gooey pulp of jackfruit pods). Traditionally, dhonas was made over a chulha and coals. My mother also used a special pan to bake the dhonas over a gas stove. I just loved to eat the crisp, slightly burnt bits at the bottom of the pan. Oh! The smell of ghee and roasted cashews and roasted suji and jaggery, and of course, the aroma of ripe jackfruit!” elaborates Dutta.
This dish has another version, where you layer the mixture of jackfruit pulp and coarse rice flour with roasted grated coconut and jaggery and a pinch of salt. Then, this mixture is steamed and finally cut into cake-sized pieces.
There are even patolyos made from the same ingredients. The mixture of jackfruit pulp and coarse rice flour is made into a paste, and is then layered on a banana leaf and stuffed with roasted grated coconut and jaggery. This is then steamed and eaten fresh. Here, banana leaves are used instead of turmeric leaves in order to retain the aroma of the jackfruit pulp.
Another interesting aspect of the jackfruit is that not only its fruit, but also its leaves and other parts of the fruit, are utilised. Jackfruit leaves are used to make a local dish known as wheeat, which resembles the South Indian idli. The batter of this dish is steamed in cones made from these leaves. This gives an added flavour and aroma to this dish.
Photographer Assavri Kulkarni who promotes local seasonal cuisine loves to cook jackfruit. The one delicacy that she likes to share is actually made from jackfruit rind, which is usually thrown away. For this, the rind is first sun dried, and is then cooked with mango pulp and jaggery, and finally stored in a jar. This can be eaten for a few days.
Assavri has collected many recipes from her grandmother, and has also learned to make them right from her childhood—one dish being jackfruit leather. Further recollecting her grandmother’s recipes, she shares a sweet dish, kheer, made from jackfruit.
“It was a simple dish where pieces of jackfruit pods were added to coconut milk, and then, jaggery was added for sweetness along with a pinch of cardamom. It was heavenly to eat it chilled, especially during hot summer afternoons.”
Along with pods, jackfruit seeds are equally important. They are never thrown away, but are preserved by coating them with mud or layered in the sand, and are used to add flavour and body to any curry. Or, just boiled or roasted.
Asavari loves to preserve and use these seeds in many ways. “I make laddoos from these seeds and also a dip or chutney. I boil the seeds with salt, and then grind them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then serve with sliced onions. Have this chutney with nachni (ragi) bhakri (flatbread),” informs Kulkarni.
All these mouth-watering dishes make this fruit highly versatile. No wonder it was the food of the common man! It’s time we celebrate such local/seasonal fruits and bring them back into our kitchens.
Arti Das is a freelance journalist based in Goa. She loves writing about art, culture and the ecology of Goa.