Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gulab Jamun .. rediscovered

Serendipity, a phenomenon of happy, accidental discoveries has given the humans a lot of scientific gifts. Serendipity in the kitchens is not uncommon either. It’s common parlance that chocolate chip cookies were an accidental discovery by Mrs Wakefield and so were ‘Saratoga’ potato chips by George Crum in Saratoga Springs NY. In fact, the good thing about the kitchen is the mini eureka moments you keep getting as a chef and the element of (personal) serendipity involved. 
I had such a mini eureka moment in Kolkata in late January while spending time at the fruit market intrigued by the similarity of the fruit from the Bengal and North East to the exotic Thai and South East Asian counterparts. Outside Garihat market, a proud gentleman was sitting with fruits from famed North Bengal and Sikkim region. With him were some Malay apples (Jamrul or wax apple as we better know them) and a strange looking green fruit with pink hues called Gulab Jamun. The moment I tasted the fruit it was a food memory forever. Not very sweet, but juicy and floral like no other, it was as if the fruit had been injected with rose water. The curious-cook-siren went off. What is the real name of the fruit? Where did it originate? What came first, the dessert or the fruit? After due diligence, here are the answers.
The fruit is Syzigium jambos, cultivated in South East Asia and Jamaica. It’s been called gulab jamun from times immemorial. Here’s the interesting part though, gulab jamun as a dessert is only recorded in culinary history after the Mughals. The fruit being much older and hence probably the inspiration for the dessert. 
Not convinced? Here’s another fact. The only other country where a similar dessert also called gulab jamun is found is Jamaica. Is it a coincidence the fruit is found here as well? 
Well, I lay no claims but if this write up has gotten you taking notice of this “our” exotic fruit, the job’s done.

Jamrul-watermelon and salad
Ingredients
l White jamrul, sliced: 1 no.s 
l Watermelon, diced: 100 gms 
l Arugula: 60-70 gms 
l Greek honey: 1 tsp 
l Salad oil: 2 tsp
l Mustard powder: a pinch 
l Lemon juice: 1 tsp
l Salt and pepper to taste 
Method 
Mix the lime juice, oil, honey and mustard, blend and season. Keep aside. Marinate the jamrul slices in a little dressing and spread at the bottom of the plate. Top with tossed watermelon and arugula and drizzle some dressing. The finished salad can be sprinkled over with some goat cheese and pinenuts as well.

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