Now the advantage of being a new bride is that everybody wants to feed you. The advantage of being a new bride who has left her city home to join her husband in a somewhat village-like setting is that everybody wants to show off their hometown to you and this they do by bringing you unique gifts such as rare fruits and vegetables that grow in the wild. Yes you are constantly bothered by well-meaning strangers and most of the time the concept of privacy is lost to them, but this sense of hospitality is rather endearing.
The good thing about living in the semi-wilderness is that you are exposed to a lot of local aspects that you would have otherwise not known about. The great variety of fruits and vegetables that one stumbles across/somebody brings across/that grows in your garden is simply astonishing. My post on soursop is a recent example of this.
Sri Lanka is blessed with many fruits and vegetables with myriad benefits for the human kind. While we have been raving about the antioxidant in blueberries, raspberries and kiwis, what we don’t realize is that we have our very own blueberries, raspberries and kiwis growing wild unbeknownst to us elite supermarket-frequenting force.
A beaming neighbor and a siri-siri bag full of curious dark matter that looked suspiciously like veins of peppercorn appeared at our doorstep one evening, claiming that his Embilla tree was full of fruits. Now I had no idea what embilla was but politely accepted and my father-in-law was ordered (by this well-meaning neighbor) to make a drink out of the fruits. However, as I was eagerly preparing myself to spend the week at my place (oh home sweet home), there was no time for juice making and therefore packed it in amongst the paraphernalia that we were taking home.
Embilla is a tiny purple berry that grows in clumps in short shrubs that are rather slow to grow. In the olden times when the Sri Lankan villages were thick with shrubs and bushes, these grew wild and bore fruits which were enjoyed by children who liked to sneak into the jungle and get into all kinds of mischief (mischief those days was rather innocent when compared to the mischief of nowadays). Green and red when raw and dark purple when ripe with a tiny pit in the middle, the berry stained the mouths of those who consumed them and this is how parents got to know whether their children were up to no good after school. My father has great stories about how they used to get punished whenever they sneaked off to be the little brats that they were in the thicket, jumping into ponds and rivers, eating fruits off the trees like monkeys and etc.
Belonging to the family of Phyllanthaceae, embilla, also known as Wild Cherry, Ceylon Bignay is native to the more moist parts of India and to Sri Lanka. The fruits when ripe are eaten on its own, made into drinks or even made into jams and wine, although I have not tasted any of that. A Sri Lankan blueberry of sorts, the fruit is full of antioxidants and are known to have many medicinal properties. The leaves and the bark of the tree are used for ayurvedic purposes and it is sometimes said that the leaves are used for flavouring curries, but I have not really seen this in practice – so big question mark on that.
So this siri siri bag sat in the fridge for about 2 days until it got our attention. Once it did, I plucked the berries off the vein, cleaned it and made a drink out of it. The result was mind blowing.
- Embilla fruit - 2 cups, cleaned, plucked
- Water - 4 cups + 1, cold
- Sugar - To taste
- Salt - A pinch
- Pluck the fruits from the veins. Wash them in water. Drain so that no water remains.
- Place everything in a blender with 2 cups of water and pulse until the fruits are mashed.
- Strain with a strainer so that the seeds are strained out of the purple drink. Add the 1 cup of water gradually to extract more flavor and pulp from the embilla as you are straining it.
- Adjust the sugar and the salt as per taste.
- Place some ice cubes in the glasses. Pour the drink over it and serve.
Grape juice! No really, it tastes exactly like that. And look at that beautiful colour! Just looking at it is satisfying enough. The acidity combines beautifully with an underlying sweetness and the salt cancels out the inherent acridity and brings out that sweetness perfectly. The distinct flavor of ambilla is a cross between ambarella and grapes with that sweet, pungent nature adding several layers to the drink. So very refreshing, this is the perfect drink for a hot and humid tropical afternoon in this island paradise!
Amazing isn’t it, what delights a tiny berry such as this can provide! I am so in love!
Next time I get my hands on some of these lovely berries, I’m going to try my hand at making jam. God knows how I’m going to get rid of the pips but at least it’s worth a try!
- The embilla fruit is known to be very good for diabetes prevention. It apparently lowers the sugar levels in blood.
- Full of antioxidants, this fruit with its lovely mix of sweet and sour is also an amazing snack.