Kokum is to Goa what tamarind is to Tamil Nadu

Mint ST - - TASTE - NAN­DITA IYER @saf­fron­trail

On my trips to Mum­bai years ago, I would al­ways pick up my stock of dried kokum (Garcinia in­dica) from the neigh­bour­hood store since I would not find it eas­ily in Ben­galuru. This was be­fore kokum’s pop­u­lar­ity spread be­yond its in­dige­nous re­gions. A quick search on Ama­zon tells me that rind, halved dried fruits, syrup, juice and even the but­ter, are now all avail­able at the click of a but­ton.

Kokum grows wild in the forests of the West­ern Ghats and high­land re­gions of penin­su­lar In­dia. The ripe ver­sion re­sem­bles the fruit man­gos­teen—they be­long to the same genus.

The fact that it grows wild in forests, and the har­vest sea­son and shelf life (around five days in am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture) are short, means that the col­lec­tion and trans­porta­tion of kokum presents lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems, lead­ing to a lot of wastage. That its har­vest co­in­cides with the mango har­vest sea­son de­ters farm­ers from grow­ing kokum on a large scale—the mar­ket for it is less lu­cra­tive.

Ow­ing to its health ben­e­fits and pop­u­lar­ity, how­ever, kokum is grad­u­ally gain­ing favour with farm­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Ayurveda, kokum has cool­ing and di­ges­tive prop­er­ties. It is rich in hy­drox­yc­itric acid (HCA), a chem­i­cal that is linked to weight loss and is, there­fore, a part of many weight-loss for­mu­la­tions. The bright red rind of the ripe fruit can be used as a nat­u­ral food colour. It is a rich source of an­tho­cyanins, which are known an­tiox­i­dants.

Kokum is gen­er­ally sold in three forms for culi­nary uses. The first is the ripe fruit, which is rare ex­cept in ar­eas where it is grown. The sec­ond is the rind of the fruit, salted and dried. The third is the halved fruit dried with the seeds, mem­branes, which are the cen­tre fi­bres and spongy parts that hold the seeds to­gether, and the rind. The en­tire fruit is sourer than just the rind. Apart from the sun-dried fruit and rind, kokum is also sold as a salted juice (agal )anda syrup (am­rut).

Due to the short shelf life of the fresh fruit, value-added prod­ucts are im­por­tant to make it eco­nom­i­cally vi­able for the grow­ers.

I learnt of kokum but­ter, for in­stance, when I at­tended a soap-mak­ing work­shop a few years ago. Oil ex­tracted from the seeds is pro­cessed into but­ter. Its non-greasy, light­weight and vi­ta­m­in­rich prop­er­ties make it a use­ful in­gre­di­ent for sk­in­care, such as body but­ters and foot creams. It is also eas­ily absorbed by the skin. Kokum but­ter has a higher melt­ing point than co­coa but­ter, mak­ing it a sought-af­ter in­gre­di­ent in the choco­late in­dus­try.

Sol kadhi in Goan and coastal Ma­ha­rash­trian cui­sine is a per­fect melange of sour, sweet, spicy flavours with acidic un­der­tones. This pink-coloured bev­er­age has a mix of kokum ex­tract, co­conut milk, gar­lic and chilli. It can also be served as a lighter ver­sion, futi kadhi, with­out co­conut milk.

Kokum shar­bat is pre­pared by mix­ing the sweet­ened kokum con­cen­trate (am­rut) with water for a re­fresh­ing sum­mer drink. Black salt or roasted cumin pow­der is some­times added for ex­tra flavour. The rus­tic drink has in­spired sev­eral cock­tails in com­bi­na­tion with white spir­its like vodka and gin.

A Goan veg­etable dish called sola bhende is lady’s fin­ger (bhindi), cooked along with kokum rinds and spices. Kokum also re­places tamarind in the prepa­ra­tion of a Gu­jarati-style sweet and sour dal.

A lot of savoury In­dian dishes use a sour­ing agent. Kokum is the favoured sour­ing agent in Goa, parts of Ma­ha­rash­tra, Kar­nataka and Gu­jarat.

There is a ten­dency to com­pare kokum with tamarind. Both have their own im­por­tance in their re­spec­tive re­gional cuisines. Both, while used for their acidic prop­er­ties, have com­pletely dif­fer­ent flavour pro­files. Tamarind has a sharper tangi­ness, while kokum is de­fined by a more mel­low, al­most flo­ral tart taste. Use kokum in cur­ries, dals and bev­er­ages and add a unique flavour from Goa to your dishes.

KOKUM MOONG DAL

Serves 2-3

In­gre­di­ents

4-5 kokum pieces

1/2 cup moong dal (yel­low, split)

1/4 cup co­conut milk

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp co­conut oil

2 green chill­ies, sliced

tsp cumin seeds

tsp gin­ger, grated

A pinch of asafoetida

1 tbsp co­rian­der, finely chopped

Method

Soak kokum in 1/4 cup hot water for 30 min­utes. Squeeze it to ex­tract the essence into the water. Pass through a sieve placed over a bowl, press­ing down on the solids. Dis­card the solids.

Wash moong dal and cook with one­and-a-half cups of water, un­til soft. Whisk it to get a smooth con­sis­tency.

In a pan, com­bine the cooked dal, kokum ex­tract, co­conut milk and salt. Bring to a gen­tle sim­mer.

Heat the oil in a small pan. Fry the green chill­ies, cumin seeds and grated gin­ger. Once the seeds splut­ter, stir in asafoetida and trans­fer the tem­per­ing over the dal. Gar­nish with chopped co­rian­der. Serve with rice.

KOKUM KARELA

Serves 2-3

In­gre­di­ents

5-6 kokum pieces

8-10 small-sized bitter gourds

2 tbsp co­conut oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp gin­ger, grated

1 tbsp jag­gery, grated

1 tsp red chilli pow­der

2 tsp co­rian­der pow­der

1/2 tsp turmeric pow­der

1/2 tsp salt

1-2 tbsp fresh co­conut

1 tbsp co­rian­der, chopped

Method

Make kokum ex­tract as de­tailed in the pre­vi­ous recipe.

Slice off the two ends of the bitter gourds. Slice length­wise into quar­ters. Place this in a bowl with 3-4 tsp water. Cover and mi­crowave for 5-6 min­utes or un­til ten­der. Al­ter­na­tively, steam in a pres­sure cooker. Drain ex­cess water.

Heat oil in a pan. Fry cumin seeds and grated gin­ger. Once the seeds splut­ter, add the bitter gourd along with kokum ex­tract, jag­gery, chilli pow­der, co­rian­der pow­der, turmeric and salt. Cook this on a low flame for 7-8 min­utes un­til all the liq­uid dries out and the bitter gourd is well coated with spices.

Gar­nish with co­conut and co­rian­der. Serve with kokum dal and steamed rice.

Dou­ble Tested is a fort­nightly col­umn on vege­tar­ian cook­ing, high­light­ing a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent pre­pared two ways. Nan­dita Iyer is the au­thor of The Ev­ery­day Healthy Vege­tar­ian.

(left) ‘Kokum moong dal’; and ‘kokum karela’.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY NAN­DITA IYER

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