Crafting flavorful curries by blending savory elements with sweet fruits has long been a distinctive culinary skill in India.

Across the diverse culinary landscape from Kashmir to Kerala, Indians showcase remarkable ingenuity in incorporating fruits into their kitchens.

What seemed to have irked them is the use of apples in a savory curry. Critics argued that fruits like apples are meant to be enjoyed for their sweetness and should not be incorporated into spicy gravies. One Twitter user commented, “Has someone actually told you this is criminal? I wish there was something called the food police.” Another expressed frustration, saying, “Bas ab aur jeena nahi. (That’s it, I don’t want to live anymore.)” As is often the case, the internet swiftly passed judgment and dismissed something that challenged its culinary norms.

The reality is that the distinction between fruits and vegetables in the kitchen has always been flexible. Throughout India and the world, cuisines have creatively and abundantly used fruits as the focal point of savory dishes, surpassing the typical reliance on vegetables and meat. Consider unripe cluster figs and nightshade berries (featured in seasonal curries), sour tamarind, elephant apples, hog plums, and starfruit (commonly used as souring agents), or even the everyday cucumber (widely employed in stir fries and other savory dishes). The adventurous cook’s imagination knows no bounds. In certain regional Indian cuisines, sweet fruits such as plums, citrons, guavas, and grapes take center stage in savory curries, along with the fleshy, fibrous petals of jackfruit and the meaty plantains.

Historically, this culinary inventiveness dates back centuries. A Sangam-era Tamil poem, Perumpanarruppatai, mentions a wandering minstrel in the 3rd century CE who indulged in a savory dish of pomegranate cooked in butter with pepper and karu vembu leaves. Ammini Ramachandran, in her book “Grains, Greens and Grated Coconut,” documents a curry recipe inspired by traditional Sangha Kali songs that combines sweet, ripe jackfruit with toasted cumin and ginger. If jackfruit is unavailable, pineapples or pears can be used, according to Ramachandran. In Kerala, there’s a longstanding tradition of preparing mildly sweet curries with tropical fruits, even at its temples. Sujata Shukla Rajan, author of “Bhog Naivedya: Food Offerings to the Gods,” mentions the Aranmula Parthasarathy temple’s vegetarian feast, featuring dishes like Mambazha Pulissery, made with local sour mangoes cooked in coconut paste and watered-down curd or buttermilk. Another temple, Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, includes a pulissery made of seasonal fruits like pineapple, grape, or ripe mango in the daily offerings during the Usha Puja Seva at dawn, cooked in a gravy of curd and coconut paste.

Apples and bananas are a classic fruit combination

Chef Regi Mathew from the restaurant Kappa Chakka Kandhari proposes several reasons for the inclusion of fruits in curries in a state like Kerala. One factor is the philosophy of no-waste cooking, while another is the abundance of local produce. Mathew explains, “In Kerala, home kitchens traditionally made use of whatever was available in the backyard. These ingredients, prepared in inventive ways, added variety to the fare.” For instance, the state features a unique pachadi where Changalikodan Nendran bananas and ripe pineapples are cooked with coconut. Nendra Pazham is also the star ingredient in a curry prepared by the Rowther Muslims of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, combining it with coconut milk, salt, sugar, and tempered with cinnamon and cloves.

Moving to Kashmir, the creatively used fruit shifts from bananas to quince apples called Bumchoont. Restaurateur Jasleen Marwah explains, “The quinces are typically cooked with wangun (brinjal) or lotus stem (nadru) in pungent mustard oil with the trifecta of spices: sont, saunf and hing. A little curd is sometimes added to the curry. The dish gets the color of sun-baked clay from Kashmiri red chilies. Green apples are a good substitute for Bumchoont.”

In Goa, a refreshing summer delight is Kaazwachi Xaak, a curry crafted with cashew apples. Shubhra Shankhwalker, a caterer promoting Saraswat cuisine, inherited her recipe from her mother-in-law. In this preparation, the accessory fruit is chopped up, cooked with coconut milk, and enhanced with jaggery. Culinary experts even suggest that cashew apple serves as an excellent substitute for pork in Goa’s beloved sorpotel, as it “has the right texture and also absorbs the masalas well.”

Mango Delight

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The mango, known for its versatility, stands out as a key player in Indian cuisine, featured in curries across the country in various forms. In Gujarat, the Anavil Brahmins showcase their culinary finesse with “Paki Keri ni Kadhi,” a dish blending alphonso mango pulp with a mixture of yoghurt and chickpea flour. This concoction simmers to perfection, enhanced with fresh mint, ginger, green chillies, and a fragrant tadka of cinnamon, cloves, and asafoetida bloomed in ghee.

The Sheherwalis of Bengal, renowned for their profound affection for mangoes, have crafted special recipes using the regal fruit from their orchards in Murshidabad. One heirloom recipe involves cooking ripe mangoes in ghee with saffron and aromatic spices, while another, known as “aam ka madiya,” is a thin soup made with raw mango and served with khichdi during summers. In Goan Saraswat homes, diverse mango curry recipes abound, with variations such as adding dried prawns for a savory twist or incorporating vadyo (dried ash gourd) and pineapples for a vegetarian option.

Mangalorean cuisine, influenced by various communities, presents a voluptuous mango curry bursting with flavors from mustard, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, jaggery, and tamarind water. Additionally, a tantalizing curry with tart hog plums showcases these fruits in a chili-infused gravy enriched with coconut and spices, creating a delectable pairing with rice.

Endless Possibilities

In Gujarat, the Gorasambli Nu Bharelu Shaak stands out as a lively curry featuring the fruit encased in Manila tamarind pods, stuffed with a blend of pounded peanuts, sesame seeds, fresh coriander, chili, garlic, ginger, seasonings, and chickpea flour. The dish is cooked in a flavorful gravy tempered with mustard, cumin, and asafoetida.

Fruits also play a significant role in Jain cuisine, where the devoutly vegetarian community prepares dishes like Jamfal Nu Shaak, a guava curry. Interestingly, this dish is also part of the culinary repertoire of the Parsis, who, unlike the Jains, embrace a mostly carnivorous diet.

The Thathai Bhatia community, sharing Jain dietary restrictions, offers Gidray Jo Saag – a delightful curry featuring muskmelon slices cooked with a tempering of cumin seeds, a mix of green and red chillies, and a touch of sugar for a sweet undertone.

In arid Rajasthan, where fresh vegetables may be scarce, locals make the most of available resources. The local watermelon, known as matira, finds its way into a special fiery curry, and even its nutritious rind contributes to a seasonal curry.

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