Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mango and Cardamom Bread

Mango and Cardamom Bread
Every other week or so, we make a detour on our way home from our weekly grocery store run, and turn into a narrow lane with a string of ethnic stores. There's one that exclusively stocks Middle-Eastern products, another one that sells Chinese groceries, and there's an Indian store, which is where we always make a stop. Like others of its kind, this Indian store too, is housed in a modest neighborhood, many streets away from posher addresses in the area. The shop front is small. The only parking for customers is in a small lot next to the back entrance. The owners are Indian immigrants from Fiji, a family of four - middle aged parents and their two grown sons - who've come to recognize me over many visits.  

It is always a quest for an elusive Indian ingredient that takes me to the Indian store. Most recently, I was in search of a mild chilli powder, what we in India call Kashmiri red chilli powder - the sort that adds a rich red hue to curries while sparing us the heat. Red chilli powder, I admit, isn't the most exotic of ingredients. But in the American supermarket that we rely on for our everyday grocery needs, red chilli powder is sold in unsatisfyingly small and expensive mini jars, no taller than my index finger. With the quantities of chilli powder that go into my cooking, I can hardly hope for one of those to last me longer than a few days. At the Indian store, on the other hand, they sell chilli powders by the pound in giant plastic pouches, just the way I like it. 

Another time, I was there in search of kokum, a souring agent used in Indian seafood curries, particularly in Maharashtra and Goa. Growing up, I'd never come across kokum. At home, my mother used tamarind in the sambar that made our masala dosa breakfasts a celebratory affair. The tart edge in her fish curries came from kodumpuli, a pot shaped, mouth puckeringly sour fruit. My first tryst with kokum happened, of all places, in Massachusetts, where my Maharashtrian room mate handed me a generous packet of the stuff that her mother had shipped all the way from Mumbai. I was so thankful for the introduction. To that packet of kokum, we owed several tangy fish curries that we silently devoured with steamed rice at the rickety second-hand dining table in our shared student apartment. 

Several months later, having moved to San Francisco, I searched for kokum at our local Indian store. The husband and wife, joined by the sons, searched the aisles crowded with Indian spices, oils, and ready-to-eat food mixes, for the kokum. They pushed past the asafoetida, searched behind the dried pomegranate seeds, and even hunted a while in their store room. Ultimately, they gave up. They were out of stock.

But a visit to the Indian store never ends in defeat. Surrounded by favorites from my childhood - Roohafza, the rose flavored syrup that made Delhi summers somewhat bearable, Parle-G biscuits that are dunked into 4'o clock chai everywhere in India, fresh bhindi/okra, the only vegetable that I tolerated on my plate as a child, and curry leaves which bring an irreplaceable edge to Malayali food - seconds turn to minutes before I realize it. 

Even though the hunt for kokum ended in defeat that day, I returned home a winner with a large can of mango pulp, which I spotted while aimlessly ambling through the store. I decided to try my hand at an invitingly simple and relatively light recipe for mango and cardamom bread that I found on Vaishali Honawar's website. I added a few tweaks here and there, but stuck to the plot for the most part. We loved the bread. It was like eating mango lassi by the slice. Because the mango pulp was already sweetened, I realized that the bread would have been as delicious with a touch less sugar. That's a note for next time. 

Oh, and the good news doesn't end there. The next time I visited the Indian store, the owner cheerily greeted me as I walked in, announcing that a new stock of kokum had just arrived.

Mango and Cardamom Bread (based on this recipe)


Dry ingredients
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 level tsp powdered cardamom seeds (freshly powdered is best)
¼ tsp salt
Wet ingredients
4 tbsp vegetable oil
¾ cup brown sugar
2 well beaten eggs
2 cups canned, sweetened mango pulp 

To top the bread
¼ cup slivered/roughly chopped almonds

Whisk together the dry ingredients.
In a bowl, mix together wet ingredients until well blended
Fold dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix.
Pour the batter into a standard 9X5 inch greased loaf pan, add slivered almonds on top, and bake in a 350-degree oven around 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, or with a few crumbs stuck to it. In my oven, the bread took close to an hour.
Cool on a rack before unmoulding and cutting into slices.

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