April opens with an exhausting stillness and relentless heat; occasional lashings of hot air draft in, if at all, through the windows, and with it, out goes all inspiration or energy to cook. Mercifully, the markets are overflowing with gorgeous summer produce, and most of it needs little or no cooking. Take, for instance, the many different varieties of cucumbers that are available on carts in busy bazaars or the little mounds of berries we may not even identify!
Meals begin to sound heavy with the mere mention of roti-subzi-daal-chaval, and as wheat, jowar and bajra begin to weigh our digestive systems down, our indigenous millet, Ragi, comes to the rescue. This local superfood is grown in abundance in most parts of India, and is affordable, readily available, and fuss-free where cooking is concerned. Or the Alfalfa, for which you only need to invest a few minutes a week to get into a sprouting routine, and they will serve as great additions to almost every meal in various ways.
Apart from the obvious indulgence in Alphonso mangoes, it would be a great idea to also pick up the foraged goodies that the tribals bring to local markets this time of the year. Bring home some cooling Ice Apples or Tadgola and eat them (instead of popcorn) on a hot Sunday afternoon as the family watches a movie or treat yourself to a cone of Jamun with a sprinkling of salt after gym. Or try using some of these in your salads and smoothies!
Over the years, this poor fruit has gained some unnecessary bad press and most of us fear it because we are convinced that its natural sweetness is going to cause more harm than good. Truth is, the jackfruit is rich in protein (perhaps that is why the raw jackfruit is often used as a substitute for meat!) and antioxidants. While the smell of the ripe fruit is offensive to some, it may be a good idea to use the seeds (you can buy them from the same vendor) and use them in stews along with other vegetables. You could also pressure cook the raw jackfruit and use them in curries or rice preparations. Most vegetable vendors are happy to help you skin the jackfruit—just make sure you discard the inedible central portion. Ripe jackfruit is great in idli batter along with a touch of green cardamom (eat these sweet idlis with a contrasting chutney with lots of chilies) or if the flesh is firm, you can add it to a salad along with sharp lettuces such as arugula, a few toasted nuts for crunch, and a tangy vinaigrette.
If you’re the kind that finds it difficult to drink lots of water to stay hydrated in the summer, you may want to try the Tadgola or Ice Apples. This palm fruit helps regularize the body’s temperature by increasing the water content in the body and also provides a host of minerals. In contrast to Neera, which is derived from the sap of the same palm, Tadgolas are lower in sugar content; so win-win! Eat the Tadgola chilled or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
This is one variety of sprouts that brings the advantages of bean sprouts (protein, dietary fiber, and micronutrients, etc.) without the tooth work that other sprouts such as Moong, Masoor, Moth, etc. need. To sprout the alfalfa seeds, simply soak a few tablespoons of the seeds in a bowl of water and leave covered for 8-9 hours. Then, drain the water and bundle the seeds in a muslin cloth. Tie the cloth with a rubber band and leave to sprout for 2-4 days. Use once the sprouts are long and there are bits of green sticking out! Besides the obvious use of alfalfa sprouts in salads and smoothies, top your daal-chaval or soup bowls with these for added nutrition and texture and a spot of prettiness!
A powerhouse of calcium and minerals, Ragi or Nachni is a versatile millet. While it can be used to make breads and cookies of various kinds, it also cools the body when cooked in combination with buttermilk. The traditional Maharashtrian Nachnichi Ambil is made by cooking a slurry of sprouted ragi flour with water and a pinch of asafetida, a green chili, and salt and then diluting it with thin buttermilk. This makes for a refreshing and filling drink (use it as a replacement for your post run drink!) and in combination with a light salad, it can be a meal by itself. Try making dhoklas or idlis using the ragi flour; these will make for a welcome change from a heavy cooked meal.