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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amla Supari (Awla Supari) - Sundried Indian Gooseberry

The "Indian" Gooseberry is one of my favorite fruits. I shall soon explain why I am highlighting the "Indian" part. This fruit is called "awla" in Marathi and "amla" in Hindi, and those are the names that I have known it by for most of my life. Now, of course sometime in my life I learnt that it is known as gooseberry in English and I filed it away in remote recesses of my memory. Also, before I go further with my story, I must explain that this fruit is found in two sizes in India, one is a larger version, about an inch in diameter, quite tart and used to make "amla supari" (sundried spiced amla) and a much smaller version, about 1-2 centimeter in diameter which are also tart but have a slightly sweeter taste and a much smaller seed. 

I had never seen the fruit in the US before and when I came across gooseberries in the store last year I got super excited. The gooseberry looked remarkably like the smaller one I had eaten in India, and I felt almost like I had hit the jackpot, my years of wait were over and I would soon be able to relish this delicious fruit again. So naturally, I picked up a couple of boxes and as soon as I came home, I dug in. And boy was I disappointed. The fruit was nowhere close to either variety that I had eaten before. The only likeliness was in the shape and color, but the taste was more like a blueberry except there wasn't a hint of sweetness. Overall it was rather flavorless. So, of course I spent the next couple of hours moping and then picked myself up and started my research. I figured with the world becoming so small, I would definitely be able to find this exotic fruit somewhere. I finally came across some trails online which finally led me to the frozen section of the Indian store and I was in luck. I found one packet of the frozen fruit with the words "Indian Gooseberry" blazened on it.  Hence, I highlight the "Indian" part of this fruit, so that when you go looking for it in the grocery aisle you pick up the correct fruit.

Now, I have found amla only in the frozen form here, which I haven't really relished eating raw. The defrosted version just doesn't satiate. So, I made the next best thing, which is amla supari. Basically it is partially cooked amla mixed with some spices, salt and then sundried for about a week or ten days. Of course, it is so delicious that none of the batches have made it all the way to the end of the week. They get devoured by family (mainly me) and friends within the first three to four days after preparation. However, if your batch does make it to the end of the drying process, expect very hard and dark supari which will taste salty, tart and delicious and will store in a dry container for a few months to a couple of years.

10 raw or frozen amla
1/8 tsp hing/asafoetida powder
1/4 tsp black salt (kala namak in Hindi)
1/4 tsp rock salt (sendhva namak in Hindi)
salt to taste (about 1/4-1/2 tsp)

It doesn't matter if you start out with fresh or frozen amlas, the process remains the same. Take the amlas, wash them, and then put them in a vessel that can be covered with a lid (pressure cooker safe). Do not pour any water in or around the fruit. Then place the vessel in your pressure cooker and following the instructions of your pressure cooker manual, pressure cook the amlas.  Pressure cook it for 2-3 whistles or in the Instant Pot for 5 minutes on manual mode, high pressure. Let pressure fall naturally (see tips). In the absence of a pressure cooker, you can also use a steamer to cook the amlas. Again the amlas should not be directly exposed to the water or steam.  At the end of the cooking process the amlas should be cooked through, but not so soft that they will become mushy. At this stage, the amla can easily be separated into its individual slices/flakes by just applying a little pressure. Each individual slice will easily peel off the seed but retain its shape and form. So, once the cooked amla cools down, using your fingers, separate out the slices of the amla.

Once you have separated the slices out, sprinkle the hing powder and gently coat the slices. Then add the black rock salt and the white rock salt (sendhva namak) and mix. Now taste the slice and then add regular salt as needed till it is slightly salty. Now, spread these slices out in a plate and leave it in an area exposed to air and if possible sunlight. If dried indoors, it takes about a week to ten days for the amla supari to start becoming hard, brown and dry. At the end of the process, the slices will be hard and will contain no moisture. The supari is ready. It is only at this stage that it will have a long shelf life and you can store the supari in a container for several months to a couple of years.

Generally it takes a couple of whistles in my pressure cooker when I start out with frozen amlas without defrosting them. The fruit has a very high water content and if you submerge or surround the amlas with water when you pressure cook them, them they will get overcooked and disintegrate easily. It is not easy to separate the slices of the amla and take it off the seed without cooking the fruit. But the best part is that after the cooking step, the slices can be separated in a jiffy. If the supari is not thoroughly dried before storing, it will spoil easily. The fastest way to dry the amla slices, is to cover it with a light muslin or cheesecloth and keep it outdoors in the sunlight. Now, the winter sun is quite mild, so it will definitely take longer than it would in the summer, but it will be much faster than doing it inside. However, if it is not convenient, try to keep the plate by a window where there are chances of it being exposed to the sunlight and warmth during part of the day.

The amla supari in the photos above was dried for about 5 days in the house and was still not completely hard when the photos were taken.