Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Making Chakka Ada /Jack-Fruit Dumplings away from Home

I was a kid born towards the end of an era where there were no TV, Refrigerators, or even uninterrupted power. I was raised in my grandmother's house, which was 30 minutes from the nearest asphalt road, by foot. Our food consisted of whatever was caught/dug-out/plucked the same day. Every dish made had its season. Every vegetable was grown within 5 miles, every egg eaten and every chicken killed were from my Grandma's own yard. On a stormy night if we listened hard, we could hear loud foghorns from the very sea where the fish we ate, came from.
Our home was surrounded by huge trees that bore fruits like mango, tamarind, jack-fruit, bread fruit and mini-jack-fruits. Near our fresh water well, we had Amaranth, Drumsticks and Spinach which thrived on the rich soil and shade and also gave us options for days when we didn't get any vegetables. And when I say we didn't get vegetables, it wasn't because we couldn't buy it but because the lady who brought it door-to-door took a day off. I guess we wouldn't have even noticed her absence, if we took into account the expanse of tapioca, my aunt grew in our property.
In short, we lived royally, off the land!!!
Since I was lucky enough to be born in that time, I got to experience the best of both worlds. My grandma would make all three meals at home, over a wooden fire and in earthern pots which to this day, us kids miss sorely.
Our treats were all made at home, with love and all the goodness of nature, even before it was a "cool" thing. One of the most memorable ones were "Chakka Ada" which were essentially rice flour mixed with ripe seeded jack fruit (mashed and kneaded into the flour) and stuffed with a sweet mixture of fresh coconut, jaggery and scented delicately with cardamom. These heavenly dumplings were wrapped in green banana leaves and steamed in a large earthern pot. No one needed to call us kids, we were drawn by the aroma to the kitchen. I remember the feeling of our tiny hands tossing the hot packet up and down to cool it and yet not ready to leave it, anticipating the mouth watering treat, that we treasured in our scalding hands!
Once we managed to open the banana leaves that stuck to the sweet treat inside, it was all quiet except for just an occasional chomping and slurping of fingers.
One of the main characteristics of these "ada",  was the aroma of banana leaves embedded deep into it, that gave off such an inimitable flavor to the last bite, combined with thecrisp aroma of cardamoms, fruitiness of the jackfruit, the earthy sweetness of jaggery and the crunch of the fresh coconut.
Now the strong flashback of this exact taste is what prompted me to try making this nostalgic treat at home, when stuck with 2 cans of jackfruit, I purchased at an Asian Market just to see how canned fruit compared to the fresh ones back home. As I opened the can and discovered how fresh it tasted and how one bite of the fruit brought back a flood of memories, I got to working.
The cure of Homesickness do come in Cans. 
Now, I mashed the drained fruit in my food-processor and had every other ingredient ready except for one vital part: Banana leaves. I usually substitute aluminum foil for anything that needs banana leaf, still I was a little sad.


My hubby, a great supporter of the cause, remarked comfortingly, that it would just not smell the same, but we have the flavor right here! That clicked something in my brain and I just snatched the last banana that lay lonely in the fruit basket and mashed it into the mix. Hubby wasnt very convinced, but as he eagerly peeled open a foil pouch, that was still steaming, I think I caught him smiling and nodding.
And it was Deja-Vu!!!
Us, peeling away the foil excitedly, sniffing and shrieking as the hot foil made our prying fingers pink, with its steaming contents.

If all this narrative got you interested, here is the recipe for these yummy Adas.
This recipe makes 6 Adas.

2 cups Rice flour, dry roasted
2 cans ripe Jack fruit, drained and mashed in a food processor
( If you are lucky enough to get hold of fresh ones, about 12-14 seedless pieces of fruit)
1 ripe green banana, mashed
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut (you can also use frozen)
1/2 cup grated jaggery
2 pinches cumin powder
2 tsp ground cardamom seeds
1 pinch salt

About 6 squares of aluminum foil, each enough to wrap and seal a twin deck of cards.

Flattening the Dough.
Sealing it. Then into the Steamer.
After it comes out of the steamer. 
From the Foil, onto the Plate!!!

In a mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients and knead gently into a sticky dough.
Divide into 6 portions.
Place each portion inside a foil square, gently press and flatten the dough within the foil to get uniform thickness all over. Be careful not to get overambitious and squeeze the dough out of the foil. Seal it by folding over the edges.
Repeat with all the dough portions.
 In a steamer, steam the foil packets for 10-15 minutes. Let cool down for 3 minutes, in a plate/rack before opening the foil.
Open, slice and enjoy!

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