Chalta, as known in Bengali, or Outenga in Assamese, is known as Elephant Apple or Wood apple universally(Dillenia Indica as scientifically) is native to Southeastern Asia, from India, Bangladesh and Sri lanka, east to southwestern China and Vietnam, and south through Thailand to Malaysia and Indonesia.
In India, chalta is found in forests along the base of Himalayas from Nepal to Meghalaya. It is also found in dry hilly regions of Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh in north and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in south India. It bears green fruits which resemble large apples. Hence, it got its name, "elephant apple". It is a tropical acidic fruit, is eaten both ripe and unripe. It is common in chutneys and other pickled dishes. The fruit comes into season in the fall months, depending on the region, with maturity in October and November in Malaya and a longer harvesting period, October through March, in India.
The fruit : The fruit of the elephant apple tree is enclosed in a hard husk, which must be cracked to get at the fruit. This can be accomplished by hurling the fruit at a hard surface or by using a hammer to crack the husk open. The elephant apple itself is very fleshy, with Astringent and resinous notes. It also has a strong smell, along with numerous small seeds.
Image source :http://www.fruitipedia.com/chalta.htm
Image source :http://pt.treknature.com/gallery/Asia/India/photo174378.htm
Different uses of this fruit and parts of the plant :
- The wood of the elephant apple is very hard and prized for construction applications in which durable wood is needed.
- During the rainy season, the tree exudes a gum that is used in some parts of the world to replace gum arabic, and it appears in watercolors, inks, varnish, and other applications in which gum arabic might normally be used.
- Products of the elephant apple tree are also used in some traditional Indian medicine, and the plant is said to be soothing to the digestion.
- The fruit is said to possess tonic and laxative properties, and is used for abdominal pains. It is also known as anti diabetic and has cooling effect on body.
- The bark and leaves are astringent.
- Dried leaves are used as a substitute for sand paper in polishing ivory and horn.
- Culinary use : Fleshy sepals form the edible portion. Though the fruits contain sugars, still these taste pleasantly sour due to predominance of acid. These are seldom eaten raw and are mostly used as flavouring in curries. These are also made into jams and jellies. The juice is sweetened with sugar to make a cooling and refreshing drink.
- Do not use if pregnant
The recipe I want to share today of this fruit, is called Chaltar Ambol, is from Bengal(Bengali cuisine), my native place Kolkata. This is basically a sweet and sour Chutney, but little different from typical chutney. Chutney can be both sweet and sour, but Ambol is always a sour dish, served at the end of the meal to provide the refreshing touch of tartness to make the tongue anticipate the sweet dishes which is served just after Ambol or chutney. Ambol, is a cooking style of Bengal, where a sour dish is made either with some fruit or vegetable or even with small fish, the sourness is being produced by adding Tamarind pulp. But in this dish, as chalta, itself is an acidic soury fruit, jaggery is used to make it little sweet.
How to cut this fruit : The fruit flesh comes into layers and its outer covering is very hard. You have to be careful while cutting, as inside pulp is very slippery because of the gum. After you cut through the middle by a sharp knife, discard the central or the most inside seeded part. Then seperate layers and cut into thin lengthwise pieces.
For this recipe, we need not too ripe or not too young fruit, a yellow greenish elephant apple.
Ingredients :Chalta(elephant fruit) : 2
Sugar Cane jaggery(akher gur) : 250 - 300 gms.(or use accrd. to your taste)
Dry red chilli : 1
Panch Phoron : 2 tsp.(is a mixture of cumin seed,
black cumin seed, mustard seed, fennel seed and
fenugreek seed-mix each in equal quantity--No. 5 in the image)
Turmeric powder : a pinch
Oil : 2 tblsp.
Salt : a pinch
Flour(APF/Atta) : 1 tblsp. (optional, but recommended)
- After cutting into thin slices, pressure cook it for 10 minutes with a pinch of turmeric. Take out and discard the water.
- Heat 1 tblsp. oil in a pan, add whole dry red chilli and 1 tsp. of panch phoron. When seeds turn light brown and you get the aroma of fried seeds, throw the elephant apple or chalta pieces. Add little salt and stir for 2 minutes. Then add about 1 cup of water. Cook with covered lid for 7-8 minutes.
- Add the jaggery. Do not add jaggery all at a time, add little by little, let it melt, taste and if needed add some more. It will be a little sweet, more sour kind of taste. How much jaggery is needed depends on the sourness of the fruit. The consistency is kind of liquidy(you can see in the image). If you think, yours is very liquidy, mix 1 tblsp.of flour with 2 tblsp. of water and add into it. This will thicken the gravy and add some taste.
- When you get the right consistency, pour into a serving dish. If a small pan, heat 1 tblsp. of oil, add rest of the panch phoron, when it splutters, pour this with oil into your serving dish over the ambol. This will add a fresh tempering flavour to the dish.
- Chaltar Ambol is ready to serve. Serve in room temperature. Leftover can be kept in refrigerator and consume cold. It tastes even better.
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