I was shopping with the kids and the jackfruit fruits were stacked right at their eye level. It happened like in the movies. They were both somewhat horsing around and when they turned around after tugging on the other’s shirt, they froze. “Maman, c’est quoi ce melon?” They thought it was some weird-looking, spiky type of melon. At that point, my only experiences with jackfruit were in Jamaica, where it can be found fresh at the market, or in different meals, both sweet and savory.
Ok, it is the largest known tree borne fruit in the world, with fruits that can weigh up to 100 pounds! I got a nice 8-pounder from the market, and was able to make three different dishes. So a 75-pound “spiky melon” would be a little too much for me! Either way, I read about the fruit. And then I read some more. The history of this ginormous and nutritious beast is one for the books. Originating in the southwestern rainforests of the Western Ghats in the Indian Subcontinent (what is now Kerala, West Bengal, coastal Karnataka, and Maharashtra, but also Indonesia), jackfruit is also the national fruit of Bangladesh. It is consumed widely in the different tropical regions of the world, and represents an important source of nourishment for people in those regions.
After studying the jackfruit, it was time to act! I decided to make jackfruit BBQ for tacos, since jackfruit tacos are on everyone’s lips, as well as a nice curried jackfruit dish, flavored with that Indian treasure we call spices. And then, a Facebook user suggested that I simmer the diced jackfruit in coconut milk, with onions, tomatoes, and garlic. I mean… How could I not try that as well?
I have to say, the “funny” part about buying a whole fresh jackfruit is the peeling and trimming and extracting of the flesh, especially after reading that each fruit can contain hundreds of flesh pods! Each pod it attached to some stringy ligaments attached to a solid core, and all these beautiful things release some type of adhesive substance that makes the pods, the strings, and everything else in between stick to everything else!
After spending about 30 minutes on the fruit, I reached the end. Only little warning I can give is that the jackfruit has a very specific, musty scent, that could somewhat remind you of some overly ripen pineapple. But it’s tolerable. Once done, I stored the pods in the fridge, and I had my “meat” ready for the next morning.
The next morning, I started with the BBQ jackfruit for tacos. The recipes I read required canned jackfruit, but I went away anyway and just subbed my freshness for the canned stuff. It seems, according to many, that the canned jackfruit is better for recipes like those. Mine turned out nice anyway. Contrary to many, I wouldn’t say you could “pass this stuff” for pork tacos. At all. But it’s a nice way to change up your taco game, it creates variety. I topped my tacos with a simple slaw, some avocado, some cilantro, and some fresh lime juice.
Then came my beloved curried jackfruit, and because India is my second home, my second family, I am always eager to cook Indian food. The kids always love it and the house smells so good! This jackfruit curry was my favorite dish, maybe because the consistency of the jackfruit lends itself so nicely to a warmly spiced dish, and it’s also perfect to serve on rice, or any other grain.
For the finale, I created my veganized version of Ginataang Langka (jackfruit in coconut milk), the Filipino dish suggested by one of our reader on Facebook. This was great too, a very sweet and creamy sauce surrounds diced jackfruit, onion, garlic, ginger, and chile peppers. I served this one over bulgur, topped with the roasted jackfruit seeds. Yes, you can roast the seeds and eat them too! They are rich in protein, potassium, calcium, and iron.
In retrospect, I ADORED playing with the whole jackfruit! I find that it is always important to touch and discover your food, to cook it in different ways, and to explore its different components. Just to feel food in our hands is the first step towards healthy eating habits. The return to knowing what food is, real food. And the jackfruit gave me just that. To know that I’m touching the same fruits that people on the other side of the globe are also depending on for their sustenance. It makes you think, it makes you appreciate nature, and all of its wonders. Mighty jackfruit, thank you, it was quite an experience!