Move over jackfruit and mango, and make some room for the humble bael or wood apple, also called bilva pazham or Bengal quince. Bael (Aegle marmelos Correa), found across South Asia, including in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand, is a hardy tree that thrives well in dry and arid areas. The woody bael fruit is a power-house of nutrients by most accounts. According to a paper released by the Central Institute of Arid Horticulture, Bikaner, Bael is a medicinally important fruit, rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fibre. “The fruit is used in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery and is said to act as a tonic for heart and brain,” says the paper, also adding that the fruit's “fibrous, slightly golden-yellow pulp with low seed content” is “good to taste.”
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While certainly the fruit can be eaten raw, scooping it out of its woody shell, there are a number of dishes made using the flesh of the fruit that are both delicious to taste and great for your health. Here are 3 of them
Bael muramba or jam
Extract the pulp from the fruit and blend it. Sieve the blended pulp to remove the seeds and fibre, before stewing the mix together with sugar, water and cardamom. Allow it to thicken until it leaves the sides of the pan, before cooling and storing.
Bael juice or sharbat
Scoop out the fruit and remove the seeds and the inner gel. Add cold water to the mix, mash the mix with your handstand then strain it. Add more water till you get the right consistency, add some sugar, season with mint and pour over ice. Voila, your sharbat is ready.
Not in the mood for juice or jam? Try making a curry or gojju, as it is called in Karnataka, a gorgeous sweet-sour gravy perfect for hot rice on a rainy day. All you need to do is extract the pulp, add in some jaggery, saute with regular spices, add water and let it simmer.
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Throw in some ground peanut, sesame and dry coconut powder, and stir with some extra water to thin the mixture. Simmer for a few more minutes, and there you have it; your curry is ready.