Suyash's Katahar ko Tarkāri ra Chiurā (Jackfruit Curry and Flattened Rice)
Comfort Food Inspiration:
From childhood in Nepal to cooking possibilities in the United States
The Spice of Home
Suyash is an amazing cook, always open to try new recipes, flavors and textures, part of the experiences he shares on his Instagram page, @phdumplings. A PhD student in ethnomusicology, Suyash Neupane has been living in the US for about three years, after leaving Nepal to pursue his studies in Bloomington, Indiana. His academic interests also line up with his perspectives about food, being curious about the sensorial dimensions and soundscapes of food. As a kid, Suyash says he was picky, didn't like everything but was always amazed by spices. He has since and shared his knowledge on how to enhance flavor with his friends here in Bloomington, starting an informal group called Firebreathers that experiments with spicy dishes. Being vegetarian, Suyash has looked at different techniques to create flavor like smokiness that you usually find on meat dishes: he burns coal into butter, mimicking both the fat and the smoke on a vegetable base. This innovation also comes in the form of finding new ingredients to make dishes from home. One of those is jackfruit, a difficult and massive fruit to process, but here he’s found it is readily available outside of its peel, ready to go from a can.
Boti is a long and curved kitchen tool with a blade (chulesi) held down by the preparer’s foot, and used to cut many types of vegetables and fruits.
Suyash’s mom uses the chulesi to cut the jackfruit, after smearing it in vegetable oil due to the fruit's gluey juice: “She had also rubbed some oil onto the blade of the chulesi”.
In contrast, Suyash uses a can opener, something he first used when arrived in the US, to get the already conserved jackfruit from the can. As he connects to home through the recipe for Katahar ko Tarkāri ra Chiurā (Jackfruit Curry), he shares a memory:
“Lalitpur, Nepal in winter. Having just reached home after school via an hour-long ride on an old bus that was noisy enough to give me a headache, and packed enough to leave me standing for the whole journey, I couldn’t wait to eat something.
As usual, all I wanted was something spicy enough to exorcize the headache and exhaustion.”
“Always rub oil onto your palms…this way…”, my mother had once told me, “just so the sap doesn’t stick to your hands”. This was a trick particularly useful for cutting jackfruit, which she was preparing today for khājā (tiffin) – not a full meal but something to keep the hunger away until dinner once the sun goes down.”
As a child, he didn’t like dishes with jackfruit due to its bland flavor and the difficulty to then add spices to it. The only type he was more interested in was baby jackfruit, which according to him resembles the canned jackfruit flavor. In his words:
“The spiciness hits home, and a bead of sweat trickles down your forehead. You’re attempting to cool yourself by sucking air through your mouth. This mouth-watering dish has eye-watering properties. Such sensory delights, my readers, I cannot translate for you. You will have to experience them for yourself.”
Katahar ko Tarkāri ra Chiurā/Jackfruit Curry and Flattened Rice
Prep Time: 90 minutes
2 dry Red Chili Peppers
2 Green Chili Peppers
1 or 2 Bay Leaves
Red Chili Powder
Sichuan pepper powder
1 can of Jack Fruit
2 Yellow Potatoes, diced
2 Tomatoes, diced
In a pressure cooker, heat mustard oil on high. And why mustard oil? Because it has a high smoke point, and also imparts that beautiful sharp aroma which compliments the spices.
Just as you see the oil smoking, add cumin and fenugreek seeds. Once these have started sputtering and browning, throw in 2 dry red chili peppers, a bay leaf or two, and a pinch of hing (asafoetida) – just a pinch, not more, or it will ruin any food.
After a while, the beautiful smoky and woody aroma should tell you that the oil is now flavored.
Add finely chopped onions, the ginger-garlic paste, and turmeric. Turmeric needs to cook for a while in the oil, or else it could impart a chalky and bitter taste to the food.
Once the onions turn translucent, add chopped green chile peppers, jackfruit and potato pieces. Give a nice stir, and then add tomatoes. The hardest veggies need longer time to cook, that is the order, but not always.
Mix well and let cook until the tomatoes soften up.
This is when the spices go in: coriander and cumin powder, garam masala, red chile powder, sichuan pepper powder, and salt.
Reduce heat to medium, and mix well gently. Cook for a while to let the oil and spices coat the vegetables evenly.
Add water to the consistency of a thick stew, and set the pressure cooker’s lid on. Pressure cook until 3-4 whistles (if using canned jackfruit) or 6-7 whistles (if using a fresh unripe jackfruit).
Take the cooker off of the heat and let the pressure subside, then open the lid. Throw in chopped cilantro and give a stir. Give a final taste, and adjust heat or salt per needed, and if you fancy, a few dashes of freshly squeezed lime juice.
Serve this delicious dish accompanied by rice or roti (flat bread) and enjoy!