Sunday, May 20, 2018

How to Make Kokum Sharbat

Home made foods do taste better and once in a way something totally random really rubs that fact in. I, like a zillion other people, had been enjoying kokum sharbat out of a mini jerry can and had taken it for granted that it was quite nice. It was. And then I had home made kokum sharbat made by Kunda Maushi.

Kunda Maushi lives in a village near Chandore and is very fond of the hubby. She took care of him and his team while he was excavating at the archaeological site at Chandore, and fed them good home cooked food an entire season when they couldn't find an alternative. One day as he drove the team towards her house he saw an adivasi boy with a mound of fresh ratambe or kokum fruit harvested from the trees in the neighbouring forests. He knew Kunda Maushi would happily do her magic with the fruit and there would be sharbat for sure, and so he bought whatever the boy had, much to Kunda Maushi's delight.

At the end of the excavation season he came home with a large plastic canister of Kunda Maushi's home made sharbat. I haven't been able to drink the commercial stuff since then.

Last weekend we were in the Konkan again and we encountered village women selling fruit on the side of the main road on the Mumbai -Alibag road. We stopped because I had seen fresh kokum among the mangoes, jackfruit, rose apples and other assorted fruit. To cut a long story short - we came home with a LOT of kokum... the lady's entire stock! That's the hazard of marrying a caterer, they have of sense of quantity when buying for personal use 😆

I did some reading, bugged a couple of friends and set out to make kokum sharbat. The process itself is fairly simple but needs patience, something I'm famous for lacking. But anyway, I was determined to try even though I had way more kokum than I had bargained for. I gave some to a friend and tackled the rest.

Kokum Sharbat

fresh kokum fruit

twice as much sugar as fruit. I used castor sugar.

clean glass jars with wide mouths and tight lids

Wash and dry the kokums. Once dry halve each fruit and discard the inner whitish pulp and seeds.

Now all you have to do is combine the fruit with the sugar and place it in a jar. A good way of doing this is to scoop sugar into each half of kokum and then place the filled fruit half in your jar.

Layer the filled halves of fruit in the jar and add extra sugar as you go.

Pack the kokum as tightly as you can and then shut the jar tightly. You can cling wrap the jars before putting the lid if the lid feels loose.

Leave the jars on a sunny windowsill and let the sugar dissolve slowly with the fruit as you can see in the jars below. The fruit will collapse in size significantly in the first couple of days itself. As the fruit breaks down the sugar will combine with the fruit and create a thick fruity syrup. Let it bask in the sun for 4 days to a week. Remember to shake the jars once in the morning and again in the evening.

Once the sugar is completely dissolved and only the bare shells of the fruit remain your sharbat is ready to be strained. Take a large colander and carefully drain the syrup into a thick bottomed pan or vessel.

Collect all the syrup in one large vessel if you, like me, have a lot of kokum to process.

Taste the syrup by making a serving of sharbat at this stage to check the sweetness. You can add some plain sugar syrup at this stage if it's not sweet enough.

Bring the kokum syrup to a boil adding a little salt. You can also add some toasted jeera powder if you like. I didn't as the hubby dislikes it. Once the syrup is boiled cool it down completely and then pour into clean bottles and store in the fridge.

To make a glass of sharbat take one part of the syrup and add 4 or 5 parts chilled water depending on how strong and sweet you like sharbat. My friend Saee often serves it with soda and a sprig of fresh mint from her windowsill.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Aloo diye Laal Shaak - Red Amaranth Greens with Potatoes

I always ignored the fresh greens section at the veggie shop frankly because I'm a lazy cook and the thought of spending endless minutes picking out a ton of leaves in prep put me off. But then with age comes patience (maybe) and better sense (bigger maybe!) and I bought a bunch of laal shaak or red amaranth leaves, also known as laal maath, tambi bhaji, etc.

Moni used to cook it quite often and I remember her insisting we eat at least a little of it, as she did with whatever she cooked especially the vegetables. We didn't need much coaxing to eat meats or fish! Of all the leafy greens she cooked the laal shaak was the most attractive - rice would turn a beautiful pink once mixed with the laal shaak and this miracle in the plate fascinated me. She would always add a generous amount of garlic and occasionally she'd cook it with potatoes. I never needed convincing when she added potatoes. The pretty pink batons would call out to me and I would even ask for more.

Like most vegetable side dishes, laal shaak is cooked with barely any spices and is done in minutes. And like most of our vegetable dishes the prep takes time.

Aloo diye Laal Shaak

1 bunch red amaranth leaves
1 small potato
4-5 cloves of garlic
2-3 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp nigella or kalonji seeds
mustard oil

Pick out the leaves and the tender stems of the amaranth greens. Discard the thick, woodier or stringier parts of the stem.

Wash thoroughly and drain in a colander. Chop roughly or finely, as you prefer.

Cut the potato into thick matchsticks. Peel and chop the garlic (do not mince).

Heat the oil in a kadai and fry the potatoes till nearly done. Add salt and mix.

Push them to one side and chuck in the nigella seeds and garlic, letting them sizzle for a half a minute. Tilt the kadai if it has a flat base so the oil collects together and is deep enough for the garlic and nigella seeds. This way you don't have to add more oil.

Now add the chopped greens and a little salt and then stir well to mix. Cook covered for a few minutes till the greens are completely wilted and cooked through. Check that the potatoes are done to a nice softness. Adjust salt if required.

Serve the laal shaak with daal and rice, or with soft phulkas. We Bengalis usually have it as a 'bhaja' that accompanies the daal course in our traditional meals.