Say jolphai/ jolpai to a resident Assamese and you will have most of them drooling. Say that to an expat and you’ll soon have them weaving stories around many a lazy, afternoon spent around grated/ chopped jolphai flesh slathered with salt, mustard oil and chopped green chillies, assembled on a plate and each trying to get the lion’s share.And don’t forget to take in the glimpse of pure joy on their faces and the lip smacking/ tongue clicking expressions that are all associated with this fruit.They might also tell you how much they loved jolphai’r pitika- boiled and mashed Indian olives with mustard oil, salt, or the range of pickles etc. This, and numerous other tales all revolving around this fruit will be shared with much enthusiasm.
And, of course, there will be many like me, who will drool uncontrollably (apologies for conjuring up such an unappetising picture) at the very mention of the jolphair jola aru meetha aasaar ( hot and sweet pickle with Indian olives). Their eyes will invariably light up, and they will be transported back in time to when they were children and greedily lapped up this pickle with the utmost glee, and as someone mentioned, ”finished an entire bottle in one sitting”. Yes, they will have a story to tell, alright!
Yes, I remember the jars of pickles that would line the verandah, soaking up the glorious sunshine. And, of course, me beside a particular one- yes, you guessed it right. I still remember ma’s voice in the background, reminding me to go easy on it, although I am not sure I found it easy to oblige, as the urge to continue with one helping after the other was far too strong. It was as if the aasaar had its grip over me. And not just as a child, but even as an adult, this love continued, until destiny pushed us away to a distant land. Jolphai became a thing of the past now, sometimes making its’ appearance in conversations or if someone was kind enough to share the stash that they procured on one of their visits to Assam.
So, imagine the joy and the wave of nostalgia that came over me when I found a packet of jolphai/jolpai in the frozen section of the local Asian grocery store! Frozen jolphai? Really? That would raise such an eyebrow laced with a smirk in Assam! And that too just 400gms in all, and I am not going to mention the price. Well, I totally remember the huge quantities of jolphai that would enter our house, and I am fully aware of the importance of being a locavore. But once in a while, the eyes fall on an ingredient, and the hand swiftly transfers it to the shopping trolley. After all, you cannot put a price on memories, right?
So, the pack was swiftly brought home, left on the counter to defrost and the SOS call to ma, who was thousands of miles away, was made. Ma had an engagement and was not able to give me the recipe in detail, and of course, no measurements, but just a quick overview, promising to talk later. But the jolphai had already defrosted, I had all the other ingredients, and to wait was feeling torturous; a simple case of ’so near and yet so far’. So, with ma’s wise words and my own recollections of the taste, I got down to business. Yes, I made it! I made the jolphai’r assaar that I sometimes longed for so much; and for a while, I was that little girl once again with the big jar of pickle ( more like a big girl with a small jar, in today’s context), forgetting everything except the tastes that kept teasing her palate. The sweetness of the pickle with the slight kick of heat at the back of the throat? Sheer bliss!
Now, whether you are an expat like me, who has to satisfy her cravings with the frozen stuff or are lucky enough to get the real deal, the following is the recipe that I rustled up. I wouldn’t go so far, as to claim it to be as good as ma’s , but it did come real close.
400 gms of jolphai/jolpai ( Indian olives)
2T cumin seeds + 3T coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground ( I kept the mixture very slightly coarse, can be finely ground if desired)
1/2 C mustard oil
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp red chilli powder ( more or less)
2 and a 1/2 C grated jaggery
- Steam the jolphai for about 15 minutes or till tender. Wipe dry with a paper towel and cut out the flesh.You can scrape off the flesh completely and discard the stones, but keeping them with a little bit of its flesh is highly recommended.
- Heat the mustard oil in a thick bottomed pan till smoking. Turn off the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes.
- Add the bay leaf and paas puran.
- Mix the jolphai with salt, ground cumin+ coriander, chilli powder and jaggery and add to the pan. Stir everything together.
- Return the pan over low heat , cover and cook ( stirring occasionally to make sure that the mixture does not stick and burn) for approximately 10- 15 minutes, or till everything comes together into a thick, sticky mass.
- Let it cool to room temperature and then store in air tight glass jars.
This pickle doesn’t last very long if people like me are hovering anywhere near the jar ( the contents of our small jar disappeared in a little over a couple of days), but it will keep well for a couple of weeks at room temperature. You can also store the jar in the fridge for longer shelf life. Always make sure to use a clean, dry spoon while taking out the pickle.
And until you make your own batch, here’s a virtual spoonful for you to enjoy!