Any local som tam lady in Thailand will tell you that there’s no one true recipe for the hand-pounded green papaya pok-pok. While the basics are still the same- unripe papaya, birds-eye chilli and garlic, this textural tour de force takes on a hundred (maybe thousand) combinations, depending on what’s seasonal. I’ve eaten one with long green beans, another with eggplant, but there’s one unusual som tam that happens to have makok in it- a fruit that, oddly enough, looks like an oval green mango, but doesn’t belong to the mango family at all!
In India, it goes by many names- jangli aam, ambada, amra, amte kai and lapsi are just a few. Hog plum or spondias mombin is what you should search for, if you want to read up on it. The fruit belongs to the cashew family and has a hairy pit in the centre. In Bangaladesh, the amra or makok is sold by roadside vendors together with pomelo, star fruit and guava. A splash of diluted kasundi mustard, some salt and chilli powder is all you need to add to the pleasantly sour amra to turn it into a delicious snack.
I used Scootsy to order some Amra from The Farmhouse Company in Marine Lines. When I got my hands on them a few hours later, they looked a lot like a cross between a raw mango and an Indian olive (jalpai). These are firm and will continue to ripen as they sit on your counter. I ordered two batches and watched one turn a kiwi brown in colour.
While these fruit are usually pickled, I decided that i wanted to cook with them instead. Once cooked, the pit separates easily. This recipe for an amra or ambade curry comes from Helene D’Souza’s blog, Masala Herb. It’s a coconut curry that’s reminiscent of a delicious chutney I’ve had with idlis at some point. I’ve upped the heat and the jaggery in this recipe and chosen to dry it out a bit, so I can serve it as an accompaniment to a meal, rather than a main dish. You spoon the chutney and bite into the flesh around the pit. It’s super easy to make, and tastes delicious with hot rotis.
Salt a teaspoon
Jaggery a golf-ball sized chunk, chopped
Black mustard seeds 1/2 tbsp
Curry leaves 5-6
Coconut 1 cup, divided into two, freshly grated
Goan round chillies 1 1/2 tsp, ground
Turmeric Powder 1 tbsp
Water 3 cups
Peel the amra/makok and be careful to not peel away the flesh. Add the salt and chopped jaggery and massage it. Keep it on your kitchen countertop for at least an hour. This maceration will lead to the fruit releasing some liquid, which will mix together with the sweet jaggery and salt and build the base for your curry.
Make the curry paste by mixing together half the grated coconut, chillies and turmeric powder together with some water till it becomes a smooth paste.
Next, heat oil in a kadai and add some mustard seeds. Once it splutters, add in the curry leaves and stir in the amra fruit together with the liquid it was soaking in. Fry this together for a few minutes. Now pour in the paste and continue to cook it. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of grated coconut and continue to cook.
Once everything looks well incorporated, turn the heat down to low, and let it continue to cook for 30 minutes. Stir from time to time. I dried the curry out at this stage. Serve with hot rotis.