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This large genus provides the world with tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes. It has representatives in the Australian flora. The so called “Bush Tomato or Desert Raisin” is Solanum centrale (also called Kutjera) which inhabits the dry inland areas of Australia. It is the tomato found in native food cuisine. Locally, there is S. laciniatum and S. aviculare (Kangaroo Apple). The fruits of these plants were eaten by Indigenous Australians, but only when ripe. This is an important point, as the fruits are poisonous when green and were used as an abortive by Indigenous Australian women. The toxic alkaloid solasodine is responsible for this side effect, and is in fact extracted and used as a base material for the production of steroid contraceptives in some countries today.
S. laciniatum and S. aviculare will grow readily in Melbourne. In fact, they often pop up in gardens as birds eat the ripe fruit and spread the seed. They will both grow from full sun to full shade. They are tall shrubs with glossy green leaves shaped a little like a kangaroo paw.
The central Australian Solanum centrale is another thing altogether. A small suckering shrub, it is difficult to grow in Melbourne. It has been suggested that you should plant S. centrale in an old children’s clam shell sand pit, filled with washed sand with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. It requires very little water. The above ground part of the plant will die back with the first frost, but if the root stock has had time to grow, it should re-shoot once the warm weather returns. You should ideally plant in spring to give the root time to grow, or try and protect the plant from frost. Over-wintered in a glass house (with little to no water) might be a necessity Melbourne.
The berries on Solanum centrale are ready for harvesting when they have dried out and resemble raisins. In central Australia, this happens in Autumn/Winter. I’ve never seen a S. centrale grown in Melbourne to tell you when you might expect fruit!
The fruits of S. laciniatum and S. aviculare must ONLY be eaten when they are absolutely ripe – deep orange/red in colour. It is probably best not to eat any Solanum species if you find yourself in the bush, especially in central Australia, as there are many species of Solanum, some resembling S. centrale which are definitely inedible. Approach all with caution!
Uses in the Kitchen
Only S. centrale will be discussed in this section. The Australian native flavour wheel says that the flavour of the Desert raisin (Kutjera) is like “The savoury caramelised aroma of carob; some cereal notes”. It has a spicy aftertaste which lends itself for flavouring meats, casseroles, stews, and used to make sauces and relish. It can easily be sprinkled on baked vegies or added to bread mixes.
Kangaroo and Kutjera Stroganoff
The meat I use for this recipe is Macro Meats’ herb and garlic kangaroo steaks (I slice or dice them), but I imagine you could use beef or veal or whatever if you like. Just keep in mind that the marinade affects the flavour, so I have no idea what it would taste like with an alternative meat!
Only taking about 20 minutes to whip up, this is a great weeknight meal.
2 tbsp butter / dairy spread
2 small onions (or 1 large), diced
3 teaspoons ground Kutjera
1 teaspoon paprika (mild, I used Hungarian this time, but whatever you have handy)
1/3 cup plain flour
Approx 400gm kangaroo steak in herb & garlic, diced or cut into strips
220gm tin of mushrooms in butter sauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon Mountain Pepper Flakes or Ground Mountain Pepper
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sour cream
Using a large saucepan or medium frypan, saute onion in half the butter until soft and slightly translucent. Scoop the onions out with a slotted spoon, leaving any remaining butter behind. Set aside.
Combine the plain flour with the paprika and ground kutjera. Thoroughly coat the pieces of meat with the flour mixture. Melt the remaining butter in the saucepan before adding the floured meat, and brown all over.
Add the tin of Mushroom in Butter Sauce and the cup of water. Return the onion to the saucepan, and stir in the tomato paste. Add the Mountain Pepper Flakes, and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
Stir the sour cream through the sauce, and remove from heat. Season to taste with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Serve alongside basmati rice and steamed greens, such as broccoli or green beans. Optional extra: sprinkle a bit of Sea Parsley over the stroganoff.