Salsa and ‘rasam’ tango with pineapple
- The pineapple’s sweetness in savoury foods is an intensely satisfying experience
- Its subtle tartness works better than traditional souring agents in some dishes
Whether pineapple deserves to be a pizza topping is one of the most hotly contested food conundrums. Those who like it probably do so for the contrast it adds to pizza. Those who don’t like it might have a fixed mindset against having a sweet fruit as part of what is an intensely satisfying savoury experience. While I was never part of the lobby that violently opposed pineapple on pizza, it was not an ingredient I would choose for a topping. Things changed after I saw a durian pizza being sold at a Singapore pizza chain. I must say I would prefer pineapple to durian on pizza.
South Indian cuisine does a good job of showcasing the pineapple in savoury dishes. A few years ago, I learnt how to make a traditional pineapple gojju, a much loved dish from south Karnataka. The freshly ground spice paste featuring dried red chillies, coconut and spices is mandatory for this sweet-spicy-tangy curry that is served with rice. My friend Zibi Jamal is a big fan of her aunt’s signature pineapple pachadi, made in the traditional Kerala style, and served with rice. Coconut, green chillies and cumin form the backdrop for this yogurt-based pineapple curry. Pineapple rasam is something Tamil wedding caterers love to dish out. This probably started off as a variation on the usual tomato rasam, given that they have to cater for at least four meals during a wedding. I quite like the subtle tartness of pineapple in a rasam over the sharpness of tomatoes or tamarind, especially when the cook is a bit heavy-handed with these souring agents.
Pineapple in desserts, however, is a natural choice as opposed to its incorporation in savoury dishes. I love the complex flavours fruits bring to traditional desserts such as sheera (or kesari), shondesh or basundi. Canned pineapples are a mainstay in retro-style desserts like pineapple pastries (the ones from Monginis in Mumbai were a childhood favourite) or the pineapple upside-down cake with garishly red cherries sitting in the middle of each pineapple ring. Canned pineapples are preferred over fresh ones in baking recipes as they are not required to be in season, nor does the baker have to go through the tedious process of prepping a fresh pineapple. It also offers a more consistent flavour profile to the baked product.
For someone who never has any kind of fruit juice, I broke my rule once for the much raved about Victoria pineapples in Mauritius. One sip of that pineapple juice and I was swooning over the ambrosial sweetness and burst of pure tropical fruit flavour.
Here are two of my favourite pineapple recipes—a condiment to brighten any dish, and a Tamil-wedding caterer-inspired pineapple rasam.
PINEAPPLE AND ROASTED BELL PEPPER SALSA
Makes 1 cup
K medium pineapple, sliced
1 large yellow bell pepper
2 green chillies or red (or a mix of both)
A handful of coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
K tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp salt
Slice the pineapple into rings and then dice finely, avoiding the core.
Lightly oil the bell pepper and roast it over a flame. Keep turning until it is charred all over. Allow to cool, then peel off the skin. Slice open the bell pepper, scooping out all the seeds and membranes to discard. Lightly scrub to remove all the charred bits. Dice the bell pepper finely. In a bowl, toss together the pineapple, bell pepper, sliced green chillies, coriander leaves, lemon juice, cumin powder and salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before using.
Use this salsa as a condiment to go with any meal. Toss in some extra virgin olive oil and use as a topping for bruschetta. Serve as a salsa along with chips or nachos.
K cup toor dal
K medium pineapple, sliced
K cup pineapple, finely diced
1 tsp cumin seeds
K tsp black peppercorns
K tsp red chilli powder
N tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
For the tempering
2 tsp ghee
K tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies, slit
Cook toor dal in 2 cups water, mash well and keep aside. Blend the pineapple slices with N cup water, if required, to a fine purée. Keep this aside.
In a small pan, toast the cumin seeds and peppercorns for 5-7 minutes on a low flame. Grind it to a fine powder. You can also use K tsp each of cumin powder and ground black pepper, but grinding these spices fresh will give a better aroma to the rasam.
To the mashed dal, add the finely diced pineapple, freshly ground spices, red chilli powder, turmeric and salt. Let this come to a simmer on a low flame.
Stir in the pineapple purée and turn off the flame. Heat ghee in a small pan or ladle. Stir in cumin seeds and green chillies. Once the cumin seeds splutter, transfer it over the rasam and cover the pot. Serve hot with rice or as a soup.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.