The words nana and anana both mean “excellent fruit” in the language of the Tupi Indians of Brazil, where the pineapple originated.
And Sir Walter Raleigh called it the “princesse of fruits”, but when sailors returning to Europe managed to grow pineapples and presented one to Charles V, “he refused, with characteristic hesitancy, to touch it” (Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food). Well, it does look like an intimidating creature, and peeling and cutting one is so daunting that I rarely do.
The first time I ate a pineapple was many, many years ago, in the time when they were not sold in Delhi. My father went to Kerala and flew back from Ernakulam with a tall narrow basket, bound with cane. I’ll never forget the strangeness of that fruit; I had never seen anything like it outside a book, but, the moment I tasted one, I was hooked. Not my mother. It wasn’t the taste that she had any problem with; but what to do with so many. In my memory there were at least two dozen but, given that they were cabin luggage, couldn’t have been more than a dozen. So we had gallons of juice every day and, ever since, that’s my favourite kind of juice. But now that I pay close to Rs. 100 for one, no more fresh pineapple juice. Instead I devise ways to make one pineapple in different ways.
For years it seemed an interesting coincidence that a pineapple and a pine cone not only looked alike but had similar names, but obviously the Spanish explorers who first saw them had the same idea; because they looked like pina, pine cones, they were named pineapples.
Ananas comosus has been in India for more than 400 years now and gone on to Java and China. Many varieties exist: Cayenne, Red Spanish, Sugarloaf and Variegated, and possibly more of the fruit is canned and processed than eaten fresh.
Apparently pineapples contain something similar to papain, the enzyme made by papayas. This is bromelin, an enzyme that breaks down protein. So while it is used commercially as a meat tenderiser, overuse can break down meat so much that it disintegrates. And workers handling it must wear rubber gloves or their hands will get eaten away!
Another quality of pineapple, thanks to the bromelin, is that a jelly made of fresh pineapple with gelatin just doesn’t “gel”; it won’t set. So no Pineapple Bavarian Cream. In any case, I don’t think that the taste of milk or cream combined with some fruit — like pineapple, watermelon and oranges — works, so that’s no great loss.
Fiddling with fruit and cooking and spicing, it is a luxury that should be enjoyed by those who have the fruit in abundance. But there are some combinations that have become classics. Pineapple salsa with pork chops is one and kebabs, cubes of pineapple and pork, skewered alternately and then grilled.
Many people do a whole ham for special occasions, but one I remember is at Kavita’s, when she had covered the whole thing with mustard embedded with pineapple rings.
Vasundhara Chauhan is based in Delhi and works with Pratham’s ASER (Annual Status of Education Report).
Photos: Sarang Sena
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Pineapple and Cardamom Chicken with Mint
4 green cardamoms
1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cups pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
Powder cardamom seeds and mix in a small bowl with salt, pepper and lemon peel. Pierce chicken pieces all over with a fork. Rub cardamom-lemon peel mixture onto chicken. Heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft but not browned. Push onion to sides and add chicken to skillet. Sauté until brown on bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn chicken, sprinkle with pineapple, and cook on low heat, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through.
Check if it’s done by piercing the largest piece with a knife tip. The chicken should be opaque and whiteish. Add broth and pineapple juice and bring to boil over high heat. Transfer chicken to platter. Add butter to sauce and boil until thick, scraping in browned bits. Add mint leaves and stir briefly. Spoon sauce over chicken.
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Pineapple Chilli Salsa
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups pineapple, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh pineapple juice
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp gur or sugar, dissolved in a spoon of water
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh coriander
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Toss all ingredients together in a bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes, to blend flavors. Salsa can be made a day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.
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Grilled Pork Chops
1 tbsp vegetable oil
21/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 pork chops, with bone in, about 1-inch thick (about 1 kg)
Stir together oil, cumin, pepper, and salt in a small bowl, then rub all over pork chops. As each chop is coated, transfer to a tray. Lightly oil a ridged grill pan over medium heat.
Grill pork chops, turning over once, until just cooked through, 6 to 9 minutes total. Transfer to a clean platter and let stand 5 minutes. Serve with pineapple salsa.