Soon after I’d made the rash decision to move to Hawaii, I was looking through the Oahu job classifieds online. Sandwiched somewhere between the ads for fire knife dancers and coconut tree climbers was an ad for field worker at a pineapple plantation. Clearly the job market in Honolulu was going to be a little bit different than on the mainland.
Since my fire knife dancing and tree climbing skills were rusty at best, I figured if I couldn’t get a job that utilized my college education, I could always work on a farm picking pineapples for the summer. Never mind the fact that at that point I thought pineapples were grown underground, with only their spiky tops reaching above the surface. It seriously blew my mind when I first visited Dole Plantation and saw pineapples growing on top of the plant, almost like somebody had just walked by and rested them on the foliage.
Thankfully I found a more suitable job within a couple weeks of arrival, because I’m pretty sure I would have only lasted a day or two doing manual labor. It’s a toss-up as to whether it would have been heatstroke or lower back pain that would have done me in.
In any case, I’m lucky to have access to local pineapples that are grown just a few miles away. But for too long I’ve been guilty of using pineapples exclusively for smoothies or mixed drinks- it never occurred to me to include them in a savory meal (no, Hawaiian pizza and Hawaiian chicken aren’t popular out here). So I have India to thank for making me finally recognize pineapple’s versatility.
Fresh chunks of pineapple are combined with mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric and hot chiles in this sweet and slightly spicy side dish. A bit of coconut milk simmers down to create a sweet, thick sauce that coats each and every piece.
And before you pooh pooh the idea of a pineapple Indian side dish, just think about how great a couple dollops of mango chutney are on the side of some hearty curries. I rest my case.
South Indian Pineapple with Chile and Mustard Seeds
Although curry leaves add a subtle flavor to the pineapple as well as a pop of color, feel free to omit them if you have trouble finding them in your area.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
* 1 medium to large pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into medium chunks
* 1/4 cup water
* 2/3 cup coconut milk
* 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
* 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1 Tablespoon oil
* 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
* 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 2 dried red chiles, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
* 6-8 fresh curry leaves
Place the pineapple chunks, water, coconut milk, turmeric and crushed red pepper in a wok or large skillet over medium heat-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately ten minutes. Add the salt and sugar, stir to mix, and simmer uncovered until the sauce has thickened.
While the pineapple is simmering, place the oil in a small saucepan or skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and immediately cover with a lid or splatter screen. When the seeds stop popping, add the onion and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has begun to turn golden. Add the dried red chiles and curry leaves, stir, and cook for another minute or two.
Pour the onion mixture into the pineapple mixture. Mix everything together and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.