On my latest trip to Coorg, I was greeted at the homestay by a bowl of kathal ki sabzi. The husband looked on in wonderment as I shrieked with joy, but pretty soon the Punjab Da Puttar was hooked to the dish, and we fought a polite informal battle over who gets to lick the bowl clean (well... almost).
All around Coorg we saw Jackfruit trees and I was torn between asking for an unripe one to be lopped off for me to take home and cook, and the realization that all I knew about cooking kathal was that is was a nightmare to prepare.
Back in Bangalore, the kathal pangs struck with renewed intensity this weekend, and I marched off to the local sabjiwallah demanding an enormous slice of unripe jackfruit. He said he stocked none, but pointed at a tree across the road where lots of jackfruit was growing in clusters, like batches of bloated porcupines learning tree-climbing. When I petulantly asked for one to be plucked for me, he said he did not have a sharp enough knife! I threatened to come by with mine the next day: now I would either have the jackfruit or this guy’s head!
I was at his shop demanding my pound of jackfruit flesh Sunday morning. Reluctantly, monsieur sabjiwalla brought me the smallest fruit from the tree, and I demanded that he skin it for me. His first attempt can only be called…. depilation. Thankfully, an elderly lady customer was looking on and guided the proceedings in kannada, all the while also advising me on how to cook the veggie. So at this stage I had the complete recipe…in a language that I do not know.
Mom and mom-in-law dispensed advice over the phone, and the sabjiwallah moved to oiling the knife and slicing off the thick rind with greater ease, all the while being guided by the panwallah on the exact angle at which to hold the jackfruit to facilitate ergonomic efficiency. Life went on as usual in the street, with a goat butting its thankfully tiny horns into my legs.
Icky white liquid that reminded me of shoe polish flowed freely out of baby Jackfruit. When my hand brushed against it, the stickiness engulfed me and soon flying bugs were caught in the trap of glue. This was the low point of the exercise! Soon however, the jackfruit was peeled and cut into pieces, the core removed, and it was all set to be cooked. The sabjiwallah refuses to take any money, and mumbled something about regretting the day he was born.
I ran home with the bag and cooked the kathal as best as I could! I boiled it, chopped it up, and then fried it in onions and tomatoes with random spices for hours… I had some sticky utensils, an aching arm, and a whole lot of yummy kathal at the end of the exercise. We hogged on it at lunch, and stashed the rest of it away.
So if you’re looking for a recipe or are planning to make this dish anytime soon, just drop into our house while we’re away and the kathal is in the big round steel box in the middle shelf in the fridge.