A sweeter spin
It’s almost tough to believe, but the sweetness of lychees pairs well with everything from bacon and prawns to corn and chickpeas, says Rahul Verma
I am not much into poetry but I must say I almost put pen to paper during a recent break in a cottage in a lychee orchard in Mae Taeng in northern Thailand. The sight of a tree bending down with juicy fruit was charming — but the thought of plucking a lychee and popping it into the mouth was lyrical. And when a small hillock of shelled lychees was placed in front of me, I would have written a haiku if my fingers weren’t so sticky.
But the sight and taste of the lychees got me thinking, too. How does one cook with these sweet and juicy fruits? I have often discussed entrees cooked with mangoes with chefs during the mango season, but somehow we never talked about lychees figuring in our main dishes. They are there in ice creams and other desserts, no doubt, but do chefs also cook them with meat and vegetables?
And, I soon discovered, they certainly do. Chef Pradip Rozario of K.K’s Fusion, in fact, has been turning lychees into delicious dishes with bacon, prawns and tuna. And for vegetarians, he takes an unpeeled lychee, rubs olive oil and garlic over the peel, grills it on hot charcoal, peels it (it leaves a mild taste of garlic on the fruit, he says) and then serves it with lychee salsa, prepared with chopped lychees, green chillies, onions, coriander leaves and lime juice. He calls it a lychee kabab.
I have friends who baulk at the thought of mixing sweet with salt, but I enjoy the combination of the two conflicting tastes. Chef Rozario, too, likes to pair the sweetness of lychees with the salty taste of bacon. He prepares an interesting appetiser by wrapping a rasher around a deseeded lychee marinated with fresh rosemary, and sautéing it in olive oil with garlic and red chilli flakes. Likewise, to complement the salty taste of tuna fish, he serves stuffed lychees on a bed of tuna pilaf.
Duck meat, like pork, pairs well with sweet flavours. So chef Neeraj Tyagi of Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel in Delhi likes to stuff a duck with lychees and then roast or grill it.
In many Orien In many Oriental dishes you will find lychees rubbing shoulder with meats and veggies. Chef Subhash Basu, co-owner of Tangerine in Calcutta, prepares a nice Thai sauce with chopped lychees, lemon grass, chillies and a dash of lemon juice — which he pours over grilled meat.
A similar sauce — with chopped lychees, red wine, butter, salt, pepper and lime juice — works well with Continental dishes, he says. He slathers this over a piece of fish or chicken. “If you marinate the chicken with something like Cajun spices, the sweetness of lychees balances the taste,” chef Basu says.
Actually, you can go to town with lychees. Take for instance chef Rozario’s crumb-fried lychee lollypop. It’s an interesting dish of prawns marinated with chopped green chillies, coriander leaves and white onions, stuffed with lychees, coated with egg batter and then crumbed and deep-fried.
The chef suggests that while lychees are still around, you could serve — or eat — different kinds of lychee canapés. Cut a peeled lychee into two, remove the seed, lightly mix the fruit halves with Cajun spices and then fill the cavity with anything — from chopped boiled eggs and boiled prawns (with chopped green chillies and spring onions) and coriander chutney to finely chopped chicken in Thai curry sauce, Szechuan whole American corn, Mexican
tomato salsa and harissa sauce with chopped chickpeas.
I suppose, among other things, what makes the fruit so special is that it is there for such a short while. So let’s make the most of it while we can. Until next year, that is.
Photographs by Subhendu Chaki;
Courtesy: K.K’s Fusion, Calcutta.