Food Talk
Jack of all fruits
Pushpesh Pant talks about the many-splendoured kathhal

JACKFRUIT or kathhal is a much-misunderstood fruit (or vegetable, depending on how you consume it). Ibn Batuta loved it and called it the best fruit in India but Babar hated it and likened it to a sickeningly sweet sheep’s stuffed stomach.

Ludovico di Varthema, who came to the subcontinent at the outset of the 16th century, was beguiled by its muskmelon-like aroma and sweet orange-like taste with a hint of honey. The first foreign traveller to mention it is Huen Tsang who calls it by its Sanskrit name phanas that scholars tell us derives from a Munda tribal word.

The English word is a corruption of the Tamil sakkei meaning abundant in refuse and Malayalam chakka. Jackfruit is native to India and closely related to the South-East Asian champedek. A Buddhist sculpture at Bharhut depicts the fruit and there are several references to it in ancient texts both literary and professional like the Jataka tales and Charak Samhita. It is at times termed breadfruit in recognition of its nutritional value.

When the Portuguese brought the pineapple to India, it was named portu-chakka meaning Portuguese jackfruit due to the striking resemblance. A verse in Sangam literature even compares a young man’s fianc`E9 to "a tender stalk that holds large jackfruits."

It is pity that these days it is seldom cooked at home perhaps due to the messy and tedious process of cutting and cleaning it. One can get the vegetable vendor to do this for you and even if he charges a wee bit extra, it is worth it. The unripe kathhal has a fibrous texture that is uncannily close to meat and it lends itself to making excellent vegetarian kebab, biryani and qorma.

Good friend Jiggs does wonders with it removing jackfruit seeds from the succulent chunks and replacing these with dried plums in his kathhal ki biryani ‘to die for’.

Far less complicated is the recipe we share with our readers; mom used to cook this kathhal do pyaza that tasted equally delectable hot or cold with roti or parantha. (Left over dopyaza can easily be converted to a very passable kathhal ka pulav by layering the vegetable pieces between parboiled rice and sprinkling it with spicy stock).

Kathhal Do PYAZA


Jackfruit (Cut into small pieces) 1 kg

Turmeric powder 1`BD tsp

Onions (sliced and fried until translucent) 4

Ghee 2 tbsp

Red chillies (whole) 5

Green chillies (slit sideways) 4

Bay leaf 2

Cloves 5

Black cardamoms 2

Coriander powder 1`BD tbsp

Red chillies powder 1 tsp

Fresh coriander (chopped) 1 tbsp

Oil to deep fry jackfruit

Salt to taste

The masala

Green cardamom powder `BC tsp

Cinnamon powder `BC tsp

A pinch of clove powder

A small pinch of nutmeg powder


Heat water in a pot and transfer the jackfruit into it along with `BD tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp salt, boil till soft. Drain the water and pat dry the jackfruit. Heat oil in a pan and deep-fry the jackfruit. Remove and drain excess fat. In the same oil stir fry the onions and set aside.

Heat ghee in another deep pan, add red and green chillies, fry till the chillies change colour. Add black cardamoms, cloves and bay leaf, stir for a few seconds. Add coriander powder, turmeric and red chilli powder dissolved in some water. Stir. Add the fried jackfruit, salt and sliced. Fry for another two minutes. Now add cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg powders. Fry till the spices coat the jackfruit. Remove and garnish with fresh coriander.