The month of November is filled with the promise of celebration. It heralds a season where calendars are marked by weddings, get-togethers and parties. In Valerie Bahuguna’s home in Mumbai, this promise takes the shape of guava cheese, a chewy Christmas sweet of the Goans and East Indian communities in the city. She runs Treacles and Treats, a catering business, from home, specialising in traditional cakes and sweets.
“Guava cheese is made a month before Christmas. It needs time to mature,” she says. If one were to visit her today, she would be bent over a stove, stirring guava, sugar, lemon juice and ghee for three hours on a gentle flame, the aroma wafting through the air to announce the countdown to celebrations.
Guava can be puréed to make ice cream, cooked like a sabzi and blitzed in a mixer for chutneys. Guava cheese, or perada as the Goans call it, seems to be a close cousin of aam papad and perhaps owes its origins to the Portuguese who colonised Goa. In the book Cozinha De Goa, author Fatima da Silva Gracias writes that perada in Goa is goiabada in Brazil—the recipes are similar.
Every Indian language has its own name for the guava: It’s peru in Marathi, per in Konkani, amrood in Hindi and modhuriaam in Assam. The Assamese combination of two words— modhuri, sweet or honey-like, and aam, or mango—loosely translates as sweet mango and perhaps comes closest to describing the guava’s pleasantly floral aroma, mildly acidic taste and creamy pulpy texture. Sprinkle some red chilli powder and salt, or black salt, or chaat masala to make the flavours sing.
With just three ingredients—guava, salt and chilli powder—you can make salads and chaats. “Make a chilli dressing or pick chilli oil with cayenne peppers and honey for a salad,” says Manisha Bhasin, corporate chef at ITC Hotels, Delhi. Apples, passion fruit and even prawns pair well with guava in a salad.
“Cook apple with guava for a nice sabzi. The sev-amrood sabzi is prepared without onion and garlic and I found it while planning a menu for a Banarasi food festival,” she says. Among the many guava dishes she cooks, amrood pulao is one of the more exotic. Scoop out the seeds, fill the fruit with black raisins and dum cook with a little guava juice, says Bhasin. She has even come across guava phirni and kheer laced with saffron. Kerala, the land with a mind-boggling variety of payasams, has a guava-infused version of it too.
The semi-ripe fruit can be used in savoury dishes and the soft ripened version is perfect for sweets, like perad and guava ice creams. If you can’t wait for the fruit to ripen, turn it into a chutney with mint, black salt, chillies, a squeeze of lime and a smidgen of jaggery.
“Guava and cream cheese is a great combination for dips,” says Shubham Sharma, cold kitchen chef at The Butler And The Bayleaf in Mumbai. He suggests pairing guava with citrus fruits like malta, caramelised almonds and raspberries for a refreshing winter salad.
Before Diwali, The Bombay Canteen (TBC), a Mumbai restaurant known to champion nostalgic dishes, indigenous ingredients and seasonal produce, joined hands with home-grown gin makers Stranger & Sons to launch a bottled guava cocktail. They call it Perry Road Peru and claim it is the first made-in-India distilled cocktail. Blush-pink in colour, the gin-based drink has the robust flavours of botanicals and the faintest taste of guava. It had been in the making for more than a year and the pandemic offered enough time to experiment and conduct multiple trials.
“One of the benefits of the pandemic has been that restaurants are now able to sell alcohol directly to consumers at MRP,” says Yash Bhanage, co-founder of Hunger Inc. Hospitality, the parent company of TBC. With this limited-edition product, the company stepped into a different world: the consumer goods, or FMCG, segment.
“I think we have only dipped our toes into the FMCG ocean. The restaurant business is extremely real-estate heavy. So, we have always wanted to create a product that you can take home. Cocktail-making is our strength, which, combined with the alcohol-making expertise of Stranger & Sons and the pandemic, made us quickly pivot.” Perry Road Peru launched in Mumbai with just 1,000 bottles and sold out within a month. They are releasing a second batch this weekend.
Meanwhile, as December approaches and the festive mood takes over, small parcels of perada have started arriving in the city’s Goan homes.The other day, my Goan landlady told me about stewing guava pieces in sugar and serving these with custard. It is a seasonal speciality. Then she opened a box filled with peradas and said, “Here, have.” It made me feel like the worst of 2020 is over.
SPICY GUAVA & ARUGULA SALAD
100g pomegranate arils
150g guava, cut into cubes
3 malta orange segments
1 tsp pickled onion
Half tsp fennel, roasted
1 tsp poppy seeds
4 honey-glazed almonds
1 amla (Indian gooseberry), cut into slivers
Half tsp of chaatmasala
A few blueberries
Salt to taste
For the pomegranate dressing
2 tsp honey
1 tsp kasundi mustard paste
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
100g olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp poppy seeds
Mix the arugula, pomegranate, guava, malta, pickled onion, amla, salt and chaat masala in a bowl. For the dressing, blitz all the ingredients in a blender.
Put the salad in a serving bowl. Garnish with almonds, blueberries, poppy seeds and roasted fennel. Drizzle the dressing over this, mix and serve.
—Chef Shubham Sharma