Ask Evan: What Do I Do with Sour Plums?

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askevan_header_2Every Tuesday I answer a question from a Good Food listener. You can email me a question, leave one on Facebook or add one in the comments section here. This week’s question comes from Jessica:

I was inspired by your blog entry to roast green almonds (used olive oil, smoked paprika and smoked black & grey sea salt — terrific), which I bought at the amazing Super King Market. While there, I found something new — sour plums that look like large green cherries. What’s the best way to use them?

220448_2079538990614_1309211501_2497772_7622688_oThe lemon didn’t make its appearance widely in the middle east until 1000 AD and in Europe until the 15th century. But eaters still craved acidity in their food to balance flavors. So what did they do? Unripe or especially tart fruits, like sour grapes or Tart Plums were used for centuries to create that acidic punch in sauces and stews, often with a sweet counterpart like honey. When I think of tart plums I think of the food of Georgia (not the southern USA).

51BXE6BZBTL._SL500_AA300_According to Darra Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast, the plums are made into fruit leather which is used to sour dishes or made into Tkemali, a sauce as ubiquitous as ketchup in Georgian cuisine. Use it to accompany grilled or roasted meats, stir into beans or use as an accompaniment to vegetables. Darra is Professor of Russian Literature at Williams College and is the incredible founding editor of Gastronomica, the Journal of Food and Culture.

Tkemali – Plum Sauce

1 ½ pounds plums (not too sweet or ripe)
¼ cup water
¾ teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablspoon finely minced fresh mint
⅓ cup finely minced cilantro

Cut the plums in half and remove the pits. Place in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until soft.
In a mortar with a pestle, pound together the coriander seed, fennel seed, garlic, cayenne and salt to make a fine paste.
When the plums are soft put them through a food mill and return to a clean pan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat, stirring for 3 minutes. Stir in the ground spices and continue cooking until the mixture thickens slightly, another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the minced mint and cilantro and remove from the heat. Pour into a jar while still hot. Either cool to room temperature and keep in the refrigerator or seal the jar for longer storage.