Hey folks, I’m back again for another recipe and, this week, it’s something special from my childhood. Not, this time, anything involving the nesparo from my summer holidays in spain but, instead, something both closer to and further from home.
Today, I’m going to be making gulab jamun – An indian dessert that I grew up sharing with my muslim neighbors and one that is, in fact, named for its similar appearance to another regional fruit.
Yet I’m not making them just to relive my childhood. No, I have indian supermarkets near me if I need a quick fix of those sweet milk dumplings. And they’d be rather more traditional than mine.
What I’m making are, in fact, the “lantern fruit” gulab jamun from one of my favourite cooking games, Battle Chef Brigade. And I’m going to be using some rather more authentic ingredients than the other recreations that I’ve seen. Properly highlighting the flavour of fire that the in-game dish is known for, without sacrificing the fictional fruit’s lighter, more refreshing qualities.
Before I get started, though, I’m sure you’re all wondering what exactly the “lantern fruit” really is.
Within the game of Battle Chef Brigade, there a three different elements – Fire, water and earth – used to broadly represent the flavour elements of each ingredient. Not every ingredient contains just one element but, in the case of the lantern fruit, it’s pure fire flavour, despite also being known for its richness, lightness, delicacy and ability to make a versatile glaze.
Combine that with its pepper-like appearance and I’m starting to think about how the difference between fresh and baked peppers can transform them from juicy, light and almost fruity, at times, to something rather richer and more full on. There’s potential there, certainly, but there’s more to that image than just a bell pepper.
The angular, well-defined sides, coming to a distinct point instantly says “habanero” to me – Perhaps inspired by the “paper lantern” strain – and, while the way it’s lit from within is clearly a fantasy element, it shows us a small, circular core that’s reminiscent of another on-theme fruit. So, when that core proved itself orange in some of the lantern fruit’s other recipes, I couldn’t help but think of this:
A particular species of physalis that’s commonly referred to as a ground cherry, cape gooseberry or paper lantern fruit. That last one being because of its husk’s resemblance to a chinese paper lantern.
It’s a strange fruit – Tangy, tart and almost tomato-like in some ways – but it’s a clear inspiration for what we see in the game and, I suspect, a great pairing with our peppers.
So, what peppers are we using?
Well, we’ve narrowed it down to red habaneros but, as mentioned, there are several strains of those and, honestly, the “paper lantern” variety don’t really match up to the in-game art.
I was stumped for a moment, when analysing it, but quickly remembered a very important naturally occurring compound: Linalool.
Linalool is an alcohol, albeit only in the scientific sense, and that gives it a high volatility. Which is to say, it vaporises easily and, as a result, has a very strong aroma. One that is commonly described as light and floral, yet also spiced and earthy.
It is a common part of many different scents but the ones that we’re interested in right now are rose water – Traditionally used in the syrup for gulab jamun – cardamom – Often used to flavour them – and red chillies. Or at least, ripe chillies.
Studies only show that it develops as they change into their final colour, not whether what that colour is affects its production.
This is super interesting to me, because it shows a scientific basis for Shiv – The character who prepared this dessert in-game – substituting a pepper-inspired fruit for the seemingly unrelated flowers and spice that the dish would normally contain. And it’s frankly mind-blowing to think that such a level of thought might have gone in to such an insignificant meal, at least from a plot standpoint.
But that’s enough of the whys of linalool, let’s talk about the what or, I suppose, the which. The “which chilli exemplifies this specific quality?” question that’s been lurking behind my words for five paragraphs now.
Floral, fresh and pungeant could describe elements of many a chinense-type chilli’s aroma but not strong yet gentle, light and earthy. That sort of florality is much more unique and, while a few habaneros do possess it, the red savina really sets itself apart by making it a main smell and flavour.
The red savina strain of habanero would be absolutely perfect for this dish but, unfortunately, it’s not in season for another month and I have to make today’s treat now, while the physalis are still in supermarkets.
The closest chillies that I could get my hands on were labelled as scotch bonnets but, as some of you may know, supermarket scotch bonnets aren’t always the best in purity terms. They definitely have some floral hints to them that bonnets shouldn’t.
So, here’s what I’m using but just be aware that true red habs, paper lantern ones or especially savinas would be a better choice if you can get them:
1 cup milk powder (full fat)
1¼ cups white sugar
⅓ cup milk
1 large red “scotch bonnet”
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon self-raising flour
3 dehusked physalis fruits
A dash of lime juice
And enough oil to deep fry in.
I began by mixing the flour, butter and milk powder to as fine a crumb as I could manage, then gently combined the results with my fresh milk until a smooth dough had formed. One which would then rest for ten to twenty minutes while I prepared the rest.
For the next step, I brought my sugar and 2 cups of water to a slight bubble, before turning them down to a low medium flame.
I pierced my physalis fruit to allow their juices to escape and deseeded my chilli, leaving it in two visually pleasing halves.
Then both fruit went straight into the syrup that I’d created, along with the dash of lime to prevent recrystallisation when it eventually cooled. For now, though, I let it continue to simmer slightly while heating my oil.
When you’re making this at home, though, do be careful not to let the bubbling pick up as you do not want to vapourise the spice. Trust me.
At this point, it was time to go back to the dough and break little segments off to roll into balls. Too crumbly and they needed more fresh milk, too stretchy and they needed more powder. Got to strike that balance where they hold together but couldn’t make bread or buns.
Once just a few bubbles were starting to form around my wooden spoon, I carefully lowered in the first of my dough balls, to see how it would cook. No immediate browning, no major sizzle, just a slight bubble like the spoon. The oil was at the correct temperature so I turned the flame under it right down and added in the rest.
It wasn’t long before they floated to the surface, so I had to carefully flip them after four or five minutes to ensure an even colour but, after about 8 minutes total, they were all done.
I then added my browned up little dumplings – Now considerably bigger than when I’d started – to my fragrant, peppery syrup and removed both pans from the heat. Thirty minutes later, they were soaked in sweetness and ready to serve:
With a little dragon fruit added purely to replace the fictional dish’s “dragon heart assortment”. It doesn’t do anything for the flavour, good or bad, so it’s purely optional.
With or without it, this is a fragrant, lightly peppery dessert. Delicate yet distinctly red, chinense-type chilli, with a touch of a near-citrus tang.
The physalis and the scotch bonnets go unexpectedly well together and, while I might have liked a little more than the
that I get in the most syrupy of bites, I’m really loving the sophisticated, pepper-forward taste of my melt in the mouth creation.