A couple of weeks ago I was cat sitting for a friend, in a city just North of London. It is quite unlike where I live, there cultural diversity is not exactly thriving. So I get excited to wander in and out of a long stretch of enticing Asian food stores. I shake boxes, peer into tubs, gingerly sniff at strange vegetables. I squint at minuscule text on colourful packages to uncover what the contents are. These stores don't just look different. No sleek expensive displays just shelves with bulk bags of rice and bean flour, they smell different too. I revel in the foreignness of it all!
After a lengthy Q & A with a patient store owner, who matched my excitement at times (or humoured me at least), I went home with a bag of spirally fingers of green veg, a huge root vegetable called a mooli or daikon, and a last minute grab of a handful of large seeds, the colour of many a wall in British homes in the 90's...magnolia. The jolly man at the till told me what they were, but a Google search was on the cards to find out what to do with them. This giant seed that was giving nothing away!
A few of Asian websites offered their take on the preparation. In Thailand they boil them. Their wedding ceremonies use mung bean flour and coconut flour make make a dough, to shape into balls to resemble the seed (I failed to discover why) and call it Met Khannon. The sweet bake is said to symbolise that whatever fate has for the bride and groom and ensure they will have support of others, and never loose sight of their dreams. i was feeling far too single to think about weddings and confetti ....and perhaps my recent (and ongoing) green smoothie--juicing--salad munching health kick made the thought of pungent, colourful spices all the more exotic and enticing.
So I opted to transform the seed, Indian style, and prepare Palakottal.
Mine is a slightly adjusted version of a dish hailing from Tamil Nadu.
To create this dish for two you will need...
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 medium onion diced small
1 green chili with most of ribs and all seed removed unless you like some fire
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3 fresh tomatoes roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
oil for frying
Measure all your Indian spices and decant them onto a plate to sit beside your cooker top, waiting for you to enlist their beguiling flavours. Use a knife to score the thin skin of the jackfruit seed, the use thumb and forefinger to prise the seed free. Gently drop into a pan of nicely bubbling water, coloured with the turmeric powder. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the seeds jiggle in the hot broth for 25-30mins.
Drain the liquid and shake the seeds onto a chopping board. Take your knife and carefully split the seeds in half. You can use the same pan, emptied of water, to toast the spices. Toasting releases the spices natural oils and their flavour deepens as the mingling fragrance blooms into the kitchen.
But first, add oil, about a table spoon, to the hot pan and fry the onion, chili and chopped garlic and ginger for a minute or so. I love how they begin to glisten. It is a glorious union! When they are sizzling and taking on a touch of golden hue, it's time to push the spices into the pan. Stir the mix so it doesn't burn, when each fragrant spice has unfolded put the juicy tomatoes in the pan, with the seeds and gently combine it all together.
Only a few minutes is needed to coat the seeds and for the tomatoes to break down to a sauce.
Serve simply with fresh Indian bread or brittle, roasted, poppadoms and a scattering of fresh green cilantro (coriander leaves or to give it its Indian name dhania).
The seed are soft and waxy as freshly dug new potatoes. They absorb the spices and slightly acidic tomatoes so well but still layers of flavour pop intermittently.