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Stars without a fault: The benefits of star fruit

Our President may not know about this, but the sprawling estate where the head of the state resides in central Delhi was a favourite haunt of mine, and of my equally scruffy companions, when we were kids. We weren’t so much interested in the splendid architecture of the complex than in the fruit trees that lined one part of it just outside the estate.

That was where we would pluck a fruit we could never have enough of. It was the kamrakh, and it was so sour that the very thought of it makes my lips pucker up even after all these years.

Packed with Vit C

Just the other day, I saw an elderly man selling kamrakhin another part of Delhi and remembered the pleasure the fruit gave us way back in the 60s. The curiously shaped fruit has ridged vertical lines. The vendor cuts the fruit down the lines, and then seasons the pieces with salt and masala. And there it is — a delectation, just for a few rupees, for those who love their food sour. If cut horizontally, the pieces come out shaped like stars. Hence its name: star fruit.

The image was still in my mind when I reached home that day, and found a book waiting for me. I had been eager to get my hands on it ever since I heard that a new edition of First Food: Business of Taste published by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), was out.

And, as it often happens when something is echoing in your mind, the first page I opened was about kamrakh— also called amrakh. The fruit, in fact, figures in two chapters in this informative book about little-known, or dying, food and ingredients.

Star fruit is considered a superfood now, and is a part of many a health conscious salad-eater’s diet. It is full of vitamin C and is believed to help control blood sugar. But those with a kidney problem should steer clear of it, the book tells us.

In one chapter, CSE’s Vibha Varshney recalls how vendors would sell the fruit with tamarind, guava and ber, and how it was used to garnish sweet potato chaats. The fruit, she adds, grows in abundance in Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh, about 200 km from Delhi. Star fruit is apparently used in Surinam for preparing wine and as a preserve in southern China.

Cure for hangover

“Star fruit is a one-stop medicine shop as well. According to traditional Indian medicinal systems, its consumption can treat haemorrhage. The dried fruit or the juice extracted from ripe fruit can cure fever. In Brazil, the fruit is recommended for eczema. According to the Chinese, consumption of star fruit can quench thirst and increase salivary secretion,” the author writes.

Star fruit is believed to have originated in Sri Lanka and the Moluccas and then spread to different parts of the world. Averrhoa carambola, its scientific name, the book informs us, is derived from Averroes, the Andalusian astronomer, philosopher and physician of the 12th century. What he had to do with the fruit, however, is not clear.

This edition of First Food — glossier than its earlier avatars — also comes with recipes, some of them from top chefs. In the star fruit section, there are recipes for chutneys and pickles.

For a portion of suitably sour chutney, take star fruit (one piece), coriander leaves (50g), mint leaves (50g), green chillies (3-4), coriander powder (1tbsp) and salt to taste. Grind them all together and your chutney is ready.

For pickled star fruit, take kamrakh (500g), nigella seeds (20g), chilli powder (20g), fennel seed powder (20g), mustard seed powder (20g), salt (50g) and mustard oil. Cut the fruit into thick slices. Add salt and wait till the fruit releases water. Remove the slices. Keep the saltwater aside.

In a bowl mix the star fruit slices with the seeds and powders. Transfer all this to a glass bottle and pour the saltwater over it. Add mustard oil till it covers all the slices of the fruit. Leave the bottle in the sun for 2-3 days. The pickle is ready to eat, First Food tells us.

Such a small fruit but so useful. And there’s more. Kamrakh, the writer tells us, also treats hangovers. You live and learn.

The writer likes reading and writing about food as much as he does cooking and eating it. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 11:52:05 AM |

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