Fruit curries remain an important part of Indian cuisine, even if they may be harder to find than butter chicken or korma.
Although now closed, The Painted Heron, a modern Indian restaurant in Chelsea in London, has been known to delight diners with its strawberry curry. “It’s a British take on a long tradition of fresh fruit curries that are rarely served in Indian restaurants abroad, and therefore barely known outside family homes,” writes Sejal Sukhadwala in Atlas Obscura.
Usually made with meat, seafood or vegetables, curries made with fruit are mostly unheard of. Regional Indian influences, however, have resulted in curries made with mangoes, bananas and even pineapple. One of the reasons for fruit being used instead of meat or seafood is that they are approved by Ayurveda, and allowed even during fasts. Mangalore’s Brahmins use mangoes, pineapples, fresh coconut, grapes and jaggery in a curry that’s commonplace during religious festivals. The Jains replace potatoes with bananas and guavas.
Bananas are used in curries as a way to use up overripe fruit by Gujaratis. One version is made by cutting unpeeled bananas into pieces,slitting each lengthwise and stuffing them with toasted besan, fresh coconut, coriander leaves and ground cumin.
Cooks in Kerala make a curry with ripe plantains, grapes and pineapple, which is often a part of the Onam Sadya. The gravy is made with yogurt and coconut, and spiced with fresh green chillies, dried red chillies, and curry leaves. An aromatic apple curry made with cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, ginger and cinnamon is common in Kashmiri cuisine.
Differing climatic conditions have also led to the inception of different fruit curries. Since Rajasthan sees few fruits and vegetables except for watermelon, a curry made with chunks of the fruit and cumin seeds, ground coriander, garlic and lemon juice is popular. It is thickened with a puree made of watermelon flesh.
In some cases, fruits like jackfruits and pineapples that grow in people’s gardens need to be used up. On the other hand, some fresh fruits are very expensive and revered, and so even their peels and seeds are used where possible, like in an orange peel curry found in Karnataka. Gujarati households prepare a yogurt-based mango curry by rubbing the flesh attached to the peels and seed into a bowl of water, which results in a kind of mango stock. Unripe bananas and papayas may be used as substitutes for other vegetables, and jackfruits and plantains are valued for their texture and used in place of meat.
Jackfruit is cooked in curries for its meaty texture
Today, fruit curries are a sign of innovation and prized for being healthier than meat versions. They may also be a way of displaying wealth, since most fruits used in curries can be expensive. Either way, they remain an important part of Indian cuisine, even if they may be harder to find than butter chicken or korma.