Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts

Sep 25, 2017

Ingredients: Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The Indian gooseberry, emblic, amalaki, myrobalan, or amla is the fruit of a small to medium-sized tree native to India. The spherical berries are greenish yellow with a fibrous texture. Hand harvested in Autumn, the fruit has a tart, bitter, and astringent taste. The amla tree is considered sacred in Hinduism and is a a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The amla tree or Phyllanthus emblica grows from 1 to 8 meters (pictured below) in height. It can be found on the plains and sub-mountainous regions of the Indian subcontinent up to nearly 2000 meters above sea level. Its varied natural habitat spans from Burma to Afghanistan and from the Deccan plateau in south India to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The Indian gooseberry tree has smooth, gray-brown bark. The leaves are fern-like, oblong, narrow, and up to 2 cm in length much like a tamarind tree. The flowers are inconspicuous and light green in color. An amla tree takes around 5 years to start producing fruit when propagated from seed. It also requires a well-drained loamy soil and full sun exposure. The Indian gooseberry is a deciduous tree that often drops branchlets as well as individual leaves, but generally retains some of its greenery at all times. Amla cultivars are available such as "Chakaiya" or "Banarsi" which reportedly produce better and more prolific fruits than their wild cousins.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla berries are preferably picked by hand after they turn from green to greenish yellow or greenish white in the Fall. It is recommended to check the seeds inside one berry before picking all of the berries. Seeds that have turned from white to black indicate the fruit is ripe.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla is described in the ancient texts of Ayurveda as a peerless panacea. The fruit, seed, leaves, roots, bark, and flowers of the plant are used in various preparations in Ayurvedic and Unani healing. Amla not only balances all three doshas but purportedly cures everything from dandruff to diabetes! Most advertisements for therapeutic amla products attribute the fruit's benefits to it's rich content of vitamin C. The advertisements sometimes bizarrely claim vitamin C from amla is far more potent than ordinary vitamin C. Recently, it has been shown that amla does not contain any significant amount of vitamin C at all!

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
What does amla contain? A  mix of organic acids, common tannoids, and some unique tannins. One or more of these unique tannins was mistaken for vitamin C in the initial qualitative analysis conducted on amla more than 50 years ago. In 2014 a new HPLC method for the characterization and analysis of the various constituents of amla fruit was developed by the Sabinsa Corporation. This new spectral technique allowed a research team at Sabinsa Corporation to determine that β-glucogallin and mucic acid gallates are the predominant active molecules in amla rather than ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  This novel combination of  β-glucogallin and mucic acid gallates appears have high antioxidant activity and is much more stable than vitamin C (ascorbic acid). I was unaware that tannins had antioxidant properties. I hope these tannins do not cause bezoars, liver or kidney damage as some can.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
A happy and prosperous amla grower.
The popularity of amla for use in Ayurvedic remedies has led to problems for wild amla trees. Foragers often take a deleterious short-cut in collecting the fruits from wild trees. Instead of climbing the wild trees and carefully picking each fruit by hand they resort to lopping off large fruit-laden branches which can eventually kill the trees. As a result some areas have been virtually denuded of these valuable wild trees. Government and non-government agencies in India are undertaking efforts to educate foragers to avoid such destructive practices and encourage the development of commercial plantations of amla trees.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The Indian gooseberry or amla is often confused with the common gooseberry for some reason. The common gooseberry is grown in cooler regions of Asia but is not related to the Indian gooseberry. The Indian gooseberry is similar in color to the amla fruit but contains a smooth pit, grows on a tree, is quite fibrous, and is about the same size as a golf ball.
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
Common gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa
In contrast the common gooseberry is slightly larger than a grape, grows on a bush, has a multi-seeded core, and is much sweeter than an Indian gooseberry when ripe. Common gooseberries are belong to the genus Ribes and are closely related to currants.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla fruits keep well on the tree, but they do not keep as well after they are picked. They must be used or preserved as soon as possible after harvesting. Amla berries are so tough they must be smashed on a mortar before being cut into pieces to dry!

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

One of the most common ways to quickly preserve amla is to cut them into small pieces, mix them with salt and/or lime juice and allow them to sun dry. Dried amla can be used as a souring agent much like amchur in lentil preparations. 

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla can also be candied much like ginger. Even though the box says the candy is sweet be forewarned it is VERY sour. This is a good treat to buy and share with unsuspecting non-Indians - watch their faces when they take a bite of this!
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
Amla berries can also be preserved in sugar syrup like jam or a traditional murabba. These are still quite tart!
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
In some regions amla is commonly pickled with salt, oil, and spices to make achaar. The fiery spices and astrigent amla make for quite the hot and sour accompaniment to a meal. I was served these for breakfast one morning in Delhi alongside a paratha and a little yogurt. Oh my. Having never tasted amla before that was a puckery surprise!

So, I'm all ready to retire and plant an amla orchard! The Sheikh says no and shook his head. Well, darn. What a party pooper. 
Ever tried any amla or Indian gooseberry in any form or fashion?
Is it not the most sour thin you've ever tasted (verging on caustic)?

Calmly currying on,

Dec 19, 2016

Ingredients: Persimmons, Kaki, Shizi, Haluuabed

One of the most beautiful fruits of Autumn is the brilliant orange-red persimmon. Persimmons are quite a versatile Fall fruit and work well in both sweet and savory applications. There are over two hundred documented cultivars of persimmons, although it is estimated that there are over a thousand actual varieties. Persimmons begin appearing in markets in late September and are often available through December. 

 The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe.
 The ancient Greeks referred to it as "the fruit of the gods." 

The English word persimmon is derived from the Native American words pasiminan or pessamin from an Algonquian language of the eastern United States meaning, "dry fruit." 
Modern Greek name for the fruit is λωτός (lotos), which has led modern Greeks to the assumption that this is the lotus referred to in Homer's Odyssey. The botanical name of the persimmon family is Diospyros which is said to mean, "divine fruit." In Nepali persimmons are called haluaabed. In Chinese persimmons are called shizi and in Japanese they are called kaki.

A persimmon tree laden with ornament-like fruits after a frost has killed it's leaves in Fall.

The persimmon is multi-trunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree up to twenty-five feet high and at least as wide.
It is a handsome ornamental with drooping leaves and branches that give it a rather tropical and graceful appearance. Persimmon leaves are alternate, simple, ovate and up to seven inches long and four inches wide. They are often a pale, yellowish green in youth, turning to a dark, glossy green as they age. Under mild autumnal conditions persimmon leaves turn vividly dramatic shades of yellow, orange, and red. Tea can also be made from fresh or dried leaves.

A female persimmon flower.

The persimmon's inconspicuous flowers appear in very early Spring are surrounded by a green calyx tube borne on leaf axils of one-year old wood. Female flowers are single and cream-colored while the pink-tinged male flowers are typically occur in threes. Persimmon trees are usually either male or female, but some trees have both male and female flowers. A tree's gender expression can vary from one year to the other. Many cultivars are parthenocarpic and set seedless fruit without pollination. Some varieties require pollination for adequate production. When persimmon plants that do not require pollination are pollinated, they will produce unique fruits with seeds that may be larger and have a different flavor and texture than their seedless counterparts. Persimmons prefer a deep, loamy soil and require a chill time of at least 100 hours to blossom and set fruit annually. The fruits are technically a berry.

The tiny American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

There are many different species of persimmons worldwide. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is quite small and native to the eastern United States. The black persimmon or black sapote (Diospyros digyna) is native to Mexico. The mabolo or velvet-apple (Diospyros discolor) is native to the Philippines. The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe and was known to the ancient Greeks as "the fruit of the gods." The large and fleshy Asian or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is native to Japan, China, Korea, Burma, and Nepal and is the most widely cultivated species. There are several cultivars of Asian or Japanese persimmons each with unique flavors and qualities of fruit.

A hachiya persimmon that must ripen to a jelly-like pulp before it can be eaten.

The two most common types of persimmon found in modern markets are the Asian varietals Hachiya and Fuyu. Fuyus are squat and round, and Hachiyas are long, heart-shaped, and pointed. Hachiyas are tart and bitterly astringent due to their high tannic acid content until they are extremely ripe. Fuyus can be eaten while still firm with a texture much like a peach. Choose Fuyus when their flesh is firm but gently yielding like a ripe tomato. Fuyus are mildly sweet and excellent eaten out of hand or sliced into fresh salads. Unripened Hachiyas are too tannic to eat, but once ripe the fruit becomes jelly-like and pulpy and is wonderful pureed for use in baked goods. Look for Hachiyas with taut and glossy skin, but avoid fruit with bruises as they may rot before ripening. To ripen persimmons simply leave them out at room temperature in a sunny spot until they soften or freeze them overnight and allow to thaw the next day. Store soft, ripened persimmons in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

A firm fleshed and non-astringent Fuyu persimmon.

Persimmons are enjoyed in many different ways around the world. The Japanese enjoy them pickled in lime water or massaged and air dried as hoshigaki. The Chinese love them salted and dried. They can be can be made into purees, fruit leather, candies, sherbets, ice creams, jams, compotes, puddings, breads, cookies, muffins, cobblers, clafoutis, cakes, pies, and tarts. Complimentary pairings include pomegranates, pears, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mace, vanilla, cream, maple syrup, honey, prunes, dates, citrus zest, almonds, pistachios, vinaigrettes, basil, Thai and Serrano chilis, and hard cheeses such as cheddar-y Manchego and salty Parmesan.

The Japanese specialty hoshigaki, an air dried and gently massaged Hachiya persimmon.

The easiest way to store persimmons is to freeze them. As you can see by the photos of fruiting trees above persimmons are quite prolific. They also tend to all ripen at once. While they are delicious to eat fresh there's usually more than enough from one tree for the entire neighborhood and then some. What to do with all this persimmon largesse? Freeze 'em! You can either freeze the entire fruit for later use by just putting it in an airtight plastic bag or container. (This works really well for fruit that isn't ripe yet. When the frozen persimmon thaws et voila! It's ripe and ready to be eaten.) You can also puree them and put the pulp in an airtight plastic bag or container. Your persimmons must be perfectly ripe if you wish to puree them before freezing though.

Here's Bibi pureeing ripe Fuyu persimmons in her mixie. I just give them a good wash, remove the stems, and put them in the mixie skin and all. You might want give the persimmon flesh a bit of a going through before pureeing as there might be seeds. The seeds can be rounded like plum stones or oblong like date pits. Your mixie, food processor, or blender will NOT puree these rock-like seeds. You will hear them quite loudly bouncing off the blades and mixing container of your appliance. 

See? Beautiful orange persimmon pulp ready to be eaten as is, enjoyed as frozen sorbet, or stored for your next baking project. I usually measure the pulp out by cupful and store them in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Persimmons will keep frozen for up to 8 months. You might see some separation or darkening of the persimmon pulp but the flavor will be the same as fresh.

My favorite treat! Spicy persimmon cookies with walnut and raisins. Mmmmm!
When you're ready to make a delicious treat like these cookies or just enjoy a healthy frozen snack just grab a bag out of the freezer. Hope you enjoyed my little overview of persimmons and stick around for lots of persimmon recipes too!

Jun 27, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Mangos, Aam

"Aam" is the Hindi and Urdu word for mango and this is definitely mango season! This juicy stone fruit is one of the most economically and culturally important tropical fruits across Asia. Mangos were originally found in the the foothills of the Himalayas, Burma, and Bangladesh. The mango was domesticated thousands of years ago and are now grown in most tropical and subtropical countries worldwide. Mangos are the national fruit of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines as well as the national tree of Bangladesh.

A young mango tree in full bloom.
Mangos are a member of the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, and grow into huge evergreen trees which can grow to ninety feet tall and thirty five feet across. They are also particularly long lived as some specimens still produce fruit after 300 years.

The flowers are borne in multi branched panicles and are both male and bisexual. The flowers are small, creamy white or light yellow and have a mild fragrance reminiscent of lily of the valley. 

Depending on growing conditions and variety the irregularly rounded or somewhat oval shaped fruits can be up to eleven inches in length and weigh up to five pounds each. Mangos are attached by a pendulous stem on the broadest end of the fruit. A mature mango tree can produce 2,000 to 2,500 fruits per year and some cultivars produce a double crop yearly. There are well over a thousand named cultivars of mangos in the world today. The flavors and textures vary from mild and peach-like with buttery flesh to harsh and fibrous with a resinous or turpentine-like taste.

Alphonso mangos
The most popular mango variety for eating fresh in South Asia is the "Alphonso" cultivar you see in the above photo. The Alphonso mango's skin is a distinctive rich yellow with a peachy blush and it's flesh is very pulpy and sweet. The most common commercial cultivar you'll see in western countries is called "Tommy Atkins."

My favorite variety are these little unnamed mangoes they bring up from the southern region of Nepal called the "Terai" and the northern Indian state of Bihar. We have friends who live in Terai and they send us crates of these from their trees when they ripen in late Summer. They are small, fitting in the palm of your hand and range in color from blue green to brilliant red. Despite their small size they have that fruity-floral nectarine flavor I love and the perfect balance of tart to sweet. Their flesh is firm but buttery.

Mangos they are enjoyed many different ways in South Asia. Green mangos are made into spicy, sour, and hot pickles with are a favorite accompaniment to meals. I've already talked about "amchur" which is a souring agent made from dried green mangoes. Good old American Tang even comes in a delicious mango flavor in South Asia too. Mangos are used to make chutneys, lassis, kulfi, a form of preserves called "murabba," curries, and all sorts of goodies. Mango jams are quite lovely and dried or frozen mangos are fine but I'd recommend avoiding canned mangos. Like lychees, mangos do not can well and lose all their fruity floral flavors in the process.


Jun 19, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Lychee, Lichee, Li Zhi, Litchi

These beautiful fresh fruits are called lychee, litchi, liechee, liche, lizhi or li zhi, or lichee. Lychees are native to China but now cultivated in tropical and subtropical climes all over the world. Fresh lychees are a common summer sight in markets all across Asia. Their juicy white pulp is famed for it's floral fragrance and delicately sweet flavor. 

Lychees have a history of cultivation going back to 1059 AD in China. Fresh lychees were so prized by the Chinese Imperial court they formed a special courier service utilizing the fastest horses to deliver them from the country side. Lychees were first described and introduced to the West in 1656 by Michal Boym, a Polish Jesuit missionary who drew the above print. 

The lychee tree, also known as Litchi chinensis, is an evergreen member of the Sapindaceae family. It thrives in warm, frost free climates with high summer heat, abundant rainfall, and intense humidity. The tree can grow as high as sixty feet and prefers slightly acid yet well drained soils. Their are a wide range of lychee cultivars available to suit warmer and slightly cooler temperature ranges.

Lychee trees have distinctive laurel-like leaves to help them shed water easily. The blossoms grow in clusters of ten or more and are distinctively fragranced. Fruits mature in 80–112 days depending on climate, location, and cultivar. The fruits' bumpy, leathery inedible skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red. The skin turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting or when placed in refrigeration.

Fresh lychees are really unique in flavor. They sort of taste like a blend of fresh peach, kiwi, strawberry, mango, and a light floral note I can't quite place. Some people say they taste like grapes. While they do resemble grapes in texture lychees are unlike any grape I've ever tasted. Unfortunately, when canned they lose their lovely almost perfume-like fragrance and flavor and don't really taste like much of anything.

Other than eating lychees fresh out of hand, Pierre Hermé's signature "Ipsahan" macarons are my favorite way of enjoying lychees. Early in his career the famed French pastry chef came up with this divine combination of lychee, rose, and raspberry for the upscale boutique Ladurée.  Ladurée still sells this amazing combination of pink macarons sandwiching rose buttercream and raspberries with a single fresh lychee in the center. The velvety red rose petal with a single dewdrop aside a single perfect raspberry still adorns the top of this culinary icon. Pierre Hermé continues to experiment with this amazing Ispahan flavor combination in cakes, ice cream, parfaits, and even a buche du Noel. Bibi tried making a recipe for an Ispahan flavored poundcake with fresh lychees and raspberries folded into the rose infused batter. Bibi regrets to inform you that lychees do not bake well either. They collapse into viscous, beige, and bland puddles which unattractively ooze out of your poundcake when sliced. I guess I'll just have to fly to the nearest Ladurée or Pierre Hermé's to get my next Ipsahan fix. Paris, Dubai, or Tokyo?

Jun 6, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Kachri, Kaachri, Sane

These are a wild melon called "kachri" or "sane"  found in various parts of South Asia. You'll often see these for sale at markets in both rural villages and urban markets in Northern India. They range in color from green to yellow and can be as nearly as big as a football to about the size of a walnut. As they are wild and never cultivated you'll often see kachri vines volunteering along roadsides, amidst crops, and in jungle thickets throughout India.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the exact name of this plant, it is variously called Cucumis callosus, Cucumis pubescens, and Cucumis melo sp. agrestis. I suppose that's not surprising given all the different shapes and sizes of it's fruits. The plant looks rather unremarkable and like most cucumber, melon, or gourd vines in South Asia. Whether these are actually different species or not isn't known, but evidently they can all freely interbreed according to one study I read.

This rather blurry photo shows how they look when ready to be picked, the vine withers and the small melons can be green to yellowish brown. The flesh inside is watery and seedy like a cucumber and can range from pale green to yellow. When green kachri can have a bitter astringent taste but when ripened they turn yellow and have a definite melon flavor that's rather tart.

I've seen fresh slices of kachri being sold at markets in Delhi for snacking as well as children in the countryside in Uttar Pradesh nibbling on them. Kachri are quite popular in Rajasthan where the harsh desert climate makes growing most vegetables impossible. Rajasthanis make several chutneys and vegetable curries out of kachri.

Here you can see how tiny the melons can be. Since they are a feral and foraged (or "wildcrafted" as the hipsters say) fruit their size depends primarily in the conditions in which they grew. South Asian cultures have a lot of these foraged plants in their cuisines that you don't often see nor hear about in cookbooks.

Kachri are also sun dried for later use in India. They are then ground to powder for use in chutneys or as a meat tenderizer. Kachri powder is also used as a souring agent much like amchur or dried mango powder. It is advised to buy dried kachri whole and grind them yourself as flavor is said to dissipate after grinding. There are commercially available brands of kachri powder available though.

Guess where else you can find kachri powder? Yes, indeed! It's souring my favorite chat masala by the brand Catch!

Catch brand Magic Chat Masala ingredients : Salt, Dry Mango, Kachri, Black Salt, Cumin, Bishop's Weed, Mint, Long Pepper, Sugar, Black Pepper, Tartaric Acid, Big Cardamom, Red Chilli, Clove, Cinnamon, Coriander, Nausadar, Asafoetida

That's what I love about these Catch brand masalas. They have these really unique blends featuring traditional spices that have become a bit obscure in modern times. This really stands out in the complex flavors of their spice blends. (If you are wondering what the ingredient "nausadar" is it's ammonium chloride. The same ammonium chloride that's used in Scandinavian salty licorice.)

Feb 22, 2016

Ingredients: Mango Powder, Aamchoor, Amchur

Amchur, aamchoor, or aamchur is a spice powder made from dehydrated unripe mangoes. It's tart, fruity, sweet, and honey-like flavor is used to add acidity and brightness to dishes in north Indian cuisines. You can taste amchur's tangy note gracing samosa and pakora fillings, stews, soups, fruit salads, pastries, curries, chutneys, pickles, and lentils. It is also used in marinades to tenderize meats, and poultry. 

An unripe, green mango destined to become amchur.
To make amchur, unripe mangoes are harvested, peeled, cut into thin strips and dried in the sun. This results in rather unappetizing slices of dried green mango that look like tree bark you see in the photo below.

Dried strip of green mango that will be ground to make amchur.

These unsightly dried slices of green mango are then ground into a fine pale beige powder that usually comes foil sealed in a box like this in India:

Amchur has a sour, citrusy, and slightly fruity flavor with a fragrance often described as honey-like.  In North Indian cuisines it is commonly used in curries, chutneys, dals, samosa fillings, and stir fried vegetable dishes. It is also used to tenderize chicken and mutton in marinades. Primarily it is used as a souring agent, but lends a bit of sweetness and fruit flavor along with it's acidic brightness to foods too.

Use amchur sparingly and always add it near the end of a recipe. Amchur is very potent and tart so about a 1/4 teaspoon or a pinch is all you need for most dishes. Amchur is also prone to scorching or burning so be sure to add it in towards the end of a recipe after any frying or high temperature cooking is over.

If you can't find amchur where you are, lime juice, lemon juice and tamarind are considered substitutes.

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