The Foodhunter has been enjoying the sand between his toes recently, with research trips covering Vietnam’s long coastline, the Mekong Delta and the desert in Rajasthan. While in India I found locals devouring a curious mix of dried stems leaves, and seeds. I decided to find out more and now have samples of several versions of Kair and Sangri undergoing tasting and testing.


Kair Sangri or Kair and Sangri
Rajasthan is extreme. India’s largest state endures blistering heat with temperatures rising well above 40° in the arid desert and scrubland that dominates much of the landscape. In the winter freezing conditions are endured. The aridity reminds me of the Californian desert, on the outskirts of which I grew, up but the comparison stops there.

In drier areas enterprising use of unusual ingredients harvested from the sparse desert ecosystem have produced one of the highlights of the state’s cuisine: Kair and Sangri.

Kair (Capparis decidna) or as I like to call it The Desert Caper are the fruit of a desert tree with seeds that look like giant brown caper berries and are highly attractive to camels, birds, and the Mawari people and is a rich source of calcium, iron, high protein and carbohydrates. Sangri refers to a legume, and is a fruit of the (Prosipis cinaria) tree which has very deep roots, enabling it to store water for up to 7 months.

Kachri (Cucurmis melo)
This is a fantastic desert melon or cucumber like vegetable which is cut in pieces and sun dried.

The dehydrated result started life as instant desert food, a sort of sandy pot noodle… just add water, but is now popular throughout the state, but almost unknown outside. Originally reserved for times of famine it has proved so popular that it is eaten year round.

In terms of taste it has earthy, grassy, and concentrated dried vegetal flavours from the bush, a soft green vegetable savoury quality and some mushroom tones. It is eaten as a staple with roasted meat or flatbreads and can be prepared as a curry with fresh vegetables like tomatoes, onions, chilis, and garnished with sprigs of fresh coriander and accompanied by pickles or chutneys.

My favourite version in the desert was kair sangria with kachri, a few dried button chilis, onions, tomatoes, a bit of dried masala, a few cumin seeds, a bit of water.

In Shanghai as R&D Chef David Laris of Laris Restaurant worked up his own versions of Kair Sangri, one as a beautiful pasta dish, another as a spicy vegetable dish to go with his lamb entrée, I stood back to reflect on the experience: the fun of working with David to come up with new dishes using this great dried vegetable melange. It hit me. This is what I really love about what I get to do.

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