Breadfruit… the Vegetable with a Past!
In the 18th century, the British were looking for cheap, but high energy food sources to sustain the empire’s slaves in the Caribbean. As early as 1769, they had recognized the qualities of breadfruit as a suitable crop for this purpose. Accordingly, in 1787, a British Naval expedition was sent to Tahiti on the ship HMS Bounty, to procure breadfruit saplings for planting in the Caribbean. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Bounty sailed from Tahiti after a stay of five months, with a thousand and fifteen breadfruit trees. Meanwhile, some of the crew members had got accustomed to the life in Tahiti and also had formed relationships with local women. They did not want to leave and mutinied. They imprisoned the captain and set him afloat in the ship’s launch, along with 18 of the crew members who were loyal to him. The mutineers sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti and further to Pitcairn Island where they remained, till many died and some were captured by the British Navy and prosecuted. The captain managed to navigate to Dutch East Indies, a trip that took 47 days, with only a quadrant and a pocket watch!
The incidents related to the Bounty’s expedition to procure breadfruit trees captured the world’s imagination in a big way. Several authors, including Lord Byron, Sir John Barrow, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Orson Wells, have written about them. A number of movies have also been made based on these incidents. One of them, Mutiny on the Bounty made in 1935, won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Even an episode of The Simpsons was based on the mutiny!
Interestingly, though the trees were planted successfully in the Caribbean, the slaves refused to eat the breadfruits!
I have always loved the breadfruit’s starchy potatoey consistency. And the smooth creaminess it attains when it is fully grown, but not ripened. So when I saw a plump specimen in the vegetable shop, it was an instant decision to grab it.
Then the question was what to do with it, especially as the breadfruit fares well in a number of preparations. I zeroed in on ‘thoran’, a coconut stir fry. This is a traditional dish of Kerala, the south western state of India.
The breadfruit is cut into thin pieces, and then julienned into matchstick thickness. And stir fried with a basic spice mix of red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.
This dish gets its awesome flavour from the coconut coarsely crushed with garlic, cumin and curry leaves. And it should just be heated through after being added to the vegetable. If you cook the coconut thoroughly, the taste of the dish changes.
This dish can be served with a rice dish on the side. Goes especially well with yogurt rice or lemon rice.
Also, you can make this dish with any vegetable that has a firm texture.
- 1 breadfruit
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup scraped coconut
- 6 small cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp cumin
- 2 stalks curry leaves
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- Salt to taste
- Cut the breadfruit into four quarters and peel the outer green skin.
- Cut each quarter into thin slices and cut the slices into matchstick sized juliennes.
- Crush together the garlic, cumin, curry leaves and coconut using the pulse function of the blender.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- When the oil is hot, drop the mustard seeds into the pan and cover with a splatter screen.
- After the mustard seeds have finished spluttering, add the breadfruit pieces, chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.
- Turn the heat down and cover and cook, adding a quarter cup of water if required.
- When done, add the crushed coconut mixture and quickly stir to combine.
- Immediately, remove from heat. Delicious breadfruit thoran is ready to server.