Pickling & preserving the Buddha's Hand!
Got your attention with that sacrilegious sounding title on this post, didn't I? Well, I'm as spiritual as the next person out there, and never in my life will I ever commit that variety of Blasphemy, so nothing to fret about. I still wonder why these curious looking citrus entities (other than the obvious visual reason) were called such. It turns out that these fruits are used as a religious offering to the Buddha.
My neighboring Whole Foods Market (which is quite some distance away, in Princeton) had a stock of these weird looking citrus and I must have been the oddball customer who immediately went cuckoo on spotting them. Since I had never seen one before, I immediately went for the biggest fruit with the most tentacles (since they were sold as individual units rather than by weight)
The first three 'tentacles' were peeled off for their zest, dried in the oven and went into making a citrus salt for my Food52 Secret Santa .
Making the Citrus Salt is really simple, I followed the recipe from the Kitchn. Simply dry out the zest in the oven at ~170 F, crush along with a flaky variety or sea salt (1 teaspoon of zest with 1/4 cup of salt, add more zest as per your taste) , the texture is entirely yours to decide. Store in an airtight bottle. They're great for sprinkling on your favorite cookie recipe on in cocktails.
For the next couple of weeks that fruit sat in the refrigerator while I made up my mind about what I should do with the rest.
I finally decided to stay close to home, one of my earliest recipes was for a kumquat relish which used just the pulp, no peel. This was a perfect opposite, all peel, no pulp. The relish is an adaptation of the traditional Kerala Naranga curry. Since the fruit inherently lacks any of the traditional tartness that citruses are associated with, you can play around with the intensity of the lemon juice & cayenne pepper heat according to your taste.
Buddha's Hand Relish - Kerala Style
Recipe inspired and adapted from Ammini Ramachandran's book : Grains Greens & Grated Coconuts
'Tentacles' from one large Buddha's hand fruit - yields about 1.5 cups of sliced 'coins'
1/4 cup Sesame oil (the light colored 'untoasted' variety)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon toasted fenugreek powder (toast fenugreek seeds until reddish brown, powder coarsely and use a teaspoon of this)
Salt to taste
1 - 1.5 teaspoon Cayenne chili powder (add as per taste)
juice of 2 lemons
Cut the fruit in two parts, use the zest from the thick base to make the citrus salt (its much much easier to peel) and slice the fingers for the relish.
Heat the oil in a non reactive skillet and add the mustard seeds when the oil begins to shimmer. Once the mustard seeds pop (take care to shield yourself against these micro missiles), lower the heat and add the asafetida powder to 'bloom' . Quickly add the sliced citrus along with the Cayenne chili powder, turmeric, salt and the crushed fenugreek. Saute until the citrus is soft but still retains its shape. Take care not to over cook the fruit. Transfer to a ceramic container and allow to cool completely. Add the Lemon juice and adjust for seasoning. As I said before, the citrus merely adds its magnificent zesty aroma and texture. The spicing is entirely in your hands. Transfer into clean sterilized jars (I used these beautiful Weck Tulip jars from Food52's provisions store ) and store in the refrigerator (for up to a couple of weeks).
I used these as a topping for crackers, a dab of cream cheese on whole wheat pita crackers, topped by a single piece of the relish and a teeny tiny bit of dill. Don't be surprised if you continue pigging on these treats until you run out of one of these ingredients!
So the next time you spot this beautiful citrus specimen at your local farmers market or gourmet grocery, don't walk away not knowing what to do with it. buy one, you'll thank me for the advice!