Vasundhara Chauhan on the delectable flavourful rasbhari, called amor en bolsa ("love in a bag") in Portuguese and 'cape gooseberry' by Anglophiles
Physalis peruviana it may be, and indigenous to South America, particularly Peru and Chile, but I always associate it with Roorkee, in Uttarkhand in northern India, where I first happened on it. We were visiting my aunt, I was seven or eight, and I was bored. In my wanderings around the exciting, unknown garden I suddenly got a whiff of tomatoes and there were these scraggly, unkempt looking plants, a little shorter than me, with hairy leaves, and small "paper" wrapped parcels attached to the top. A parcel was unwrapped to reveal a smooth, shiny little orange globe; it was wondered at and consumed. Juicy, khatta meetha and crunchy with tiny seeds, no wonder it smelt like tomatoes - they're both, like potatoes and aubergines, from the family Solanaceae.
I discovered that the name is rasbhari in Hindustani and cape gooseberry in English though every other Anglophile, having heard of summer berries, calls it raspberry. Apparently it's not the same as a gooseberry (which is a completely different variety) and the distinguishing prefix "cape" comes either from the fact that it was brought to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, or that the fruit is covered by a cape-like papery thin calyx or husk.
In Chile they call it amor en bolsa, from the Portuguese "love in a bag", but the name rasbhari couldn't be improved on. Ras se bhari, filled with juice, filled with flavour, filled with colour, filled with a delicate crunch of seeds.
Cape gooseberry grows prolifically in South America, South Africa, New Zealand, New South Wales and Hawaii, and in Malaysia and the Indian sub-continent but we use it mostly for jam and in composite fruit desserts. This year seems to have had a bumper crop of the best quality - in some years the fruit is too tart to eat just like that, but this year, plump, deep orange rasbharis are being eaten at breakfast, plain and unadorned. But how many can you eat? So jam has been made, rasbhari fool eaten at Anita's, and then what?
Two days ago Jivi dropped in after weeks of travel, and he said that in Lucknow he had had delicious qeema with rasbhari, but had no idea of how it was made. I asked pointed questions about flavour, garam masala or not, methi, rai, saunf or not, gravy or dry, but he was vague. So I called up Sufia, who'd cooked it. She said they called it rasbhari do pyaza. Last night we made it at home. Possibly it wasn't a patch on Sufia's, but it was something else. Surprisingly, it had none of the usual suspects - laung, elaichi, tez patta, kali mirch - but, instead, bhunna zeera and dhania, fresh pudina, mint, and browned onions in addition to masses of raw onion simmered with the qeema.
The rasbhari element was the impossible-to-describe differentiator. How do you describe the flavour of a fruit; it can't be likened to another, you can't merely say it was sour or sweet; and then it wasn't plain fruit, it had been cooked with meat, onions and garlic, then refreshed with mint. The juice melded into the "gravy", which was not at all watery or runny; it formed a laga lipta vehicle to hold the qeema together.
The writer is a food writer based in New Delhi, India.
RASBHARI DO PYAZA
Qeema with Cape Gooseberries
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, sliced fine
- 1/2 tsp cumin, whole
- 11/2 tsp chopped garlic
- 11/2 tsp chopped ginger
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 500g qeema, coarsely ground
- 400g large onions, roughly chopped
- 250g ripe rasbhari
- 4-6 whole green chillies
- 1 + 1 tbsp fresh pudina (mint leaves) chopped
- To be dry roasted on a tawa and ground
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat oil and sauté sliced onion till golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan and keep aside on absorbent kitchen paper towel. In the same oil, fry whole cumin seeds until crisp and add ginger and garlic. After a minute, add turmeric, red chilli powder and qeema. Sauté on medium heat until brown - about 5-7 minutes. Stir in chopped onions, cover and cook until qeema is tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover, stir in fried onions, whole rasbharis, green chillies and 1 tbsp chopped pudina. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until rasbhari juice mixes with other elements. Sprinkle with roasted and ground coriander and cumin seeds and the remaining tablespoon of chopped pudina. Stir well and serve hot.
* Serve with phulka, although rumali rotis are the ideal accompaniment
* Sufia recommends sookhi urad ki dal as the other dish to serve with this.
Cape Gooseberry Jam
- 500g fresh, ripe rasbhari
- 300-500g sugar
When buying rasbhari, select firm, deep orange ones. Discard those that are green or over-ripe and squishy. Remove stems, if any. Wash and drain. Leaving a little wetness doesn't hurt. Halve lengthwise and place in heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for a couple of minutes until juice starts running. Add sugar, the quantity depending on how sweet and ripe the rasbharis are. For very sweet fruit, use less; for harder, greener ones, increase sugar to about 500g. Simmer over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Watch out for scorching. Remove from heat while it still looks a bit runny. It will continue to cook in its own heat for a few minutes, and later thicken when it is cool. Rasbhari has very low pectin content, so does not become jelly - this is more of a spread, with some fruit chunks, some thickened juice, and seeds. Cool and refrigerate in a clean dry glass bottle.
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Page 80 of 175
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