Fish, bean, and fruit

Chikoo is a wonderful fruit. You can scoop out the sweet and slightly grainy flesh with a spoon, whisk it into a puree to mix with rum, and, after you are done, as I discovered, use its peel to cook with. If you don’t know what a chikoo is, look for sapota. The problem I was trying to solve was what to do with chunks of basa. This fish has taken over the cheaper end of the market since it can be easily farmed at high density, and being scaleless, can be rapidly bagged. I find that the lean meat is a little tasteless. In this second lockdown I’m back to having trouble getting interesting deep sea fish, so we land up with basa every now and then, and I have to make it interesting.

“How many r’s in intolerable?” the Egg asked. “Two”, said the Crumpet. “Why?”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

A quick cook is what I promised myself. The fish came cut into small slabs, so I cut into half the usual cooking time of two minutes to the first side, and one for the other. I’ve always seasoned oil with a bay leaf and jeera, and even now that I use only a teaspoon of oil in the pan, I continue with both. After quick frying the fish, I turned down the heat, doused the thing in a 1:2 mixture of dark and light soya sauce, dropped in a de-seeded green chili sliced lengthwise, and added chikoo peels. I brought the liquid to a boil quickly, reduced the heat, added a dash of water, covered it and let it simmer for five minutes. I took the pan off the heat, threw away the peels, chucked in some chopped spring onions as garnish, and covered the pan again and set it aside for serving. I like the spring onions to wilt before they reach the plate.

“Well”, said Oofy, beaming, “this will certainly be something to tell my grandchildren. I mean, that I once lunched with a member of the Drones Club and didn’t get stuck with the bill.”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

The other thing I made for a east-Asian flavoured Indian meal was tofu with beans. I’d cooked a slab of tofu earlier and kept it for a couple of days in the fridge, soaking in dark soya sauce with a de-seeded green chili, hoping to use it on a day when I needed to bulk out something. I took it out when I found that we had a small quantity of fresh green beans. I stir fried the beans to keep their crunch and freshness, and served them with the tofu.

It was a twice- or even more than that- told tale, but the Bean embarked upon it without hesitation. “That ass Bingo Little. Called upon me at my residence the day before yesterday with a ravening Pekinese …”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

It’s nice to be able to take ingredients from across Asia and Central America and bring them together.

The six seasons: 4

Sharad follows varsha. Sharad is often translated as autumn, but this is incorrect. It is still astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere when the season starts; the sun has yet to cross the equator on its southward trend. This is what the British called Indian summer. It is an uncomfortable time, since the monsoon has left the air full of moisture, and the weather warms up again. At this time the weather in the Himalayas is turbulent, there are dramatic cloudbursts and floods, and passes are closed. But also this is a time when nature reawakens in the plains, with warmth and water in plenty. On the coast the monsoon storms have passed, the time of the spawning of sea life is over, and traditional fishermen take their nets out to sea in newly painted boats. The featured photo was taken in Goa.

On land, I would scour the countryside in this season with my camera for wildflowers and insects. This photo of a chocolate pansy butterfly (Junonia iphita) was taken in the comfort of a garden. Even here photographing insects involved keeping a steady hand on the camera if a mosquito bit it just as you were about to release the shutter. When you look around you, it is clear that sharad is not autumn. Nature is bursting into renewed life. The fruits of this season are specially sweet and flavourful, the late medieval imports of chikoo (Manilkara zapota, also called sapodilla, or sapota), sitaphal (Annona squamosa, known elsewhere as sugar apple), and Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana, which has no local name although it is so widespread). I love these fruits just by themselves, or in jams and ice creams, or in rum based drinks.

But most of all, this is the season of festivals. It starts with the Ganapati festival, and culminates with the Navaratri, or Durga puja. There is an almost continuous stream of festivals from Ganapati to Christmas. It is a part of the year when your resolve is badly needed. The weather is uncomfortable, and you are tempted to forgo the daily exercise that had almost come to a halt in varsha. And now there’s the tempting food, from the wonderful fresh catch of pomfret (Bramidae, also called pamplet or paplet) to the special sweets of the many festivals. Everything conspires to force you to put on weight. It’s the season to be careful.