While growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, summer holidays were different.
We were urban dwellers, and like many fortunate kids those days, we spent our vacations with our cousins and grandparents. To our parents’ surprise, we’d be up early morning without being asked to. Everything we did could be summarised into three activities — playing, eating, and sleeping. In spite of all the food we ate, we were perpetually hungry, which can only be explained by our speedy metabolism and the incessant running around. Eat, drink, play, sleep, and repeat — perhaps not always in that order!
We had a tonne of fresh, seasonal fruits to devour — mangoes, cashew apples, jackfruit, champakka (rose apple), lubica (sour cherry), and jamun (black plum). The sweet fruits were preserved as jams, while the sour ones were made into pickles and curries. Irumban puli (bilimbi) pickle was one of our favourites.
The highlight of the season, however, were cashew nuts. They came in various forms. In early summer, you got green cashews. A few weeks later, you could devour cashew apples. And towards the end of the summer — roasted cashew nuts.
The green cashews were my favourite. My grandmother used to make a delicious curry with the tender, green nuts. This was her signature varutharacha (a dish of ground coconut fried with spices) curry. Grated coconut was fried in coconut oil with spices and then ground to a fine, butter-like paste. Green cashews cooked in this earthy, coconut base was the delicacy that I looked forward to.
Prepping the green cashews was exhausting. The cashews had to be split open with knives and soaked in warm water so that the shells would come off. As soon as you opened the cashews, the acid from the cashew would seep out. If you weren’t careful, the acid would burn your fingers. Soaking the cashews in warm water helped get rid of some of the acid. There was a thin, second layer that needed to be removed before you could cook them. The elaborate processing time meant that this curry was a rarity, making this delicacy even more special. The cashew nuts soaked up all the flavours and melted in your mouth. Every time my grandma made this curry, we would wipe the chatti (earthen clay pot) clean.
25-30 whole green cashew nuts
2 cups grated coconut (1/2 coconut)
2 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tbsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil
10 shallots (thinly sliced)
4 sprigs of curry leaves
4 dry red chillies
Cut open the green cashew nuts into two with a knife. Put them in warm water, leave for a few minutes to wash off the cashew acid, and then drain. Rinse a couple of times with warm water to remove any remaining acid. Using a knife, extract the cashew nuts from the thin inner shells and keep aside. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a cast iron pan (or any thick-bottomed pan). Add the grated coconut, and fry on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Once it starts turning brown, add the coriander powder, mix well, and continue frying. Once the mixture browns, add half of the curry leaves, two dry red chillies, and the chilli powder. Mix well, and sauté for another couple of minutes. Switch off and allow the fried mixture to cool down. Transfer this to a blender and grind to a fine paste, adding a little water. The paste should be butter-like in consistency, without any lumps. Heat a pan, and add the ground paste, the cleaned cashew nuts, one cup of water, and salt. Mix well, and bring to a boil on a medium flame with the lid closed. Open the lid and let the curry reduce to a thick sauce. Switch off. Heat a tablespoon of oil in another pan and fry the shallots. Once golden brown, add the remaining curry leaves and dry chillies. Mix well, cook for another minute, and switch off. Use this to garnish the curry. Mix together just before serving.