Forget the picture above, Look down..Remember this fruit? Yep, the stinky durian's lesser cousin the 'Jack fruit' .
People can be divided into 2 categories when it comes to this fruit, those who love it & those who loathe it. When the edible part of this monster fruit has been picked completely, the last of the sticky gummy latex like sap wiped off using ladlefuls of cooking oil and the whole pile of lemony yellow arils has been demolished, despite the dire predictions of horrible stomach aches,
all that one is left with is seeds the size of quails eggs. The outer covering which is smooth and oily textured when freshly ripped off the fruit, turns into a papery/leathery casing when dry. The seed is seldom thrown away, Its tossed into stews as a vegetable or roasted over a flame & eaten as a snack. Just like the classic chestnut.
I admit, the prospect of tackling a chestnut has always been daunting, kinda like storming a fortress. It was always easier buying freshly roasted nuts from the vending carts that dot almost every street corner in New York once nippy Fall weather rolls around. The aroma of roasting chestnuts is one of those iconic New York memories that is ingrained into ones brain for a lifetime.
This year however, curiosity got the better of me & I succumbed to picking a handful of them from the local grocery. A quick Google tutorial on roasting chestnuts & I was well on my way to falling in love with this delicious starchy nut.
To roast a chestnut..Score the rounded concave side of the nut with an 'X' using the sharp tip of a paring knife.
Place about 5-6 of the scored nuts on one of those grilling contraptions used to 'puff' up Rotis over the gas flame. (you can get one of these grilling thingies at any Indian grocery store). The scoring is necessary to keep the nuts from transforming into mini exploding missiles.
Once the outer brown shell has charred and starts peeling away from the nut, remove onto a plate and allow to cool. Break off the charred pieces of shell and peel off the brown papery skin that sticks to the meat. This is what you'll be left with.
One bite into the aromatic flesh & I was instantly reminded of the roasted jack fruit seeds of days gone by. Which in turn led to thinking about all the wonderful dishes that these were incorporated into. The easiest is the classic South Indian 'Kootu', a stew made with pumpkin & coconut. The jack fruit seeds would be peeled, smashed and tossed in, to be cooked along with seasonings to reveal a characteristic smooth starchy texture. Almost exactly like a boiled chestnut. While I could have made this stew exclusively with chestnuts, it can be a time consuming process, roasting, peeling & chopping them, not to mention that they aren't exactly cheap (retailing for anywhere between 3.99 - 6.99 a pound).
Butternut/ Chestnut Kootu
For the paste:
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 tablespoon Cumin seeds (Jeera)
1-2 red arbol chiles
Combine the grated coconut, cumin seeds & red chiles and grind to a fine paste using as little water as possible.
For the stew:
1 1/2 cups roasted & peeled chestnuts, diced into small cubes (~ 1.5 lb of raw nuts)
2 cups Butternut squash (or calabaza pumpkin) diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Coconut milk (optional)
1 sprig curry leaves,
1/4 cup cilantro finely chopped
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Boil the butternut squash, and chestnuts in 2 cups of water with the turmeric added. When the veggies turn soft, add the Coconut/cumin paste along with the salt and torn curry leaves. Cook down until the stew has thickened to your personal taste. Add the coconut milk as per your requirement (Disclaimer: I added it only because the red chiles I used packed a real punch) and stir to combine.
In a small cast iron skiller, heat the canola/olive oil till smoking and add the Mustard seeds. Once they've popped, add this mix to the stew to finish the dish. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot with plain rice.