Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Goan delicacies Stew for Beans

There is no ‘stalk’ in this narrative, though this is a dish one would stalk Maria Lena Sequeira’s house for. Neither is there a Jack – the giant slayer, but there was Kynan Sequeira. Ross Alvares and Jugal Shirodkar the myth slayers….but the beans hold true throughout this narrative, although they vary from place to place- this is all about feijado, the name comes from Portuguese(feijao means beans).

Summer holidays and the three boys were frolicking at home on their skateboard just before lunch. I was here to tell them a story….not about Jack the giant slayer (on the bean stalk the movie was showing at a theatre just then), but about a different kind of bean used in a stew. And Maria Lena who was first introduced to the preparation in Brazil had made it for lunch. What did the boys generally like to have for lunch? I wondered. Out of the mouth of babes, their tastes were international (unfortunately not from Portugal or Brazil). Chicken with Pasta says Ross, Lasagna states Keenan, Maggi noodles says the ever practical Jugal whose family  runs a food catering chain. I decided to come closer to home…what does Mummy make that you like? I ask. Fish curry Ross and Jugal say in unison. Sausages states Keenan. So have you heard about the Feijado I ask taking this cue. The boys shake their heads. 

‘The feijado is served in Brazil and Portugal,’ I began, ‘and also in Goa.’ They look at me politely. Somehow this story is not as exciting as the Maggi noodles jingle. So we all moved to the dining room where Maria Lena’s Feijado stood simmering in the silver plated dish. ‘The typical Brazilian preparation caught my fancy when I visited my sister Lourdes Moniz in Brazil. I had it at the Holiday Inn there and I liked it. They follow the recipe of Emeril Lagasse.’ I look through the recipe; most of the ingredients are available except the black beans, carne seca (salted cured beef) and the hot Brazilian sauce. ‘I substitute Rajmah for the black beans,’ Maria Lena confesses, and in the past I would get salted pork which would be hanging up for sale in a small shop in Panjim. Today I substitute it with bacon; it gives the preparation a nice flavor.’

So what would be the verdict I wondered as I watched the boys spoon the preparation in their mouths? The story through the ages was that this beans preparation was the staple diet of the poor people of Brazil. When the Portuguese gentry finished with their meal, the left over pork trimmings off their plates was mixed with their black beans…a stew of beans called feijoado was created. So what do you all feel? The boys were asked. ‘I like the flavor of the sausage,’ says Ross, ‘it’s tasty,’ says Keenan. Looking at his friends (he does not eat pork) Jugal announces when asked if it will move in his restaurants, “I will tell my father.’

The Brazilians use black beans, they add some vegetables too, in Portugal (northwest mainly Minho and Douro Litoral) white beans are used, while in the north east (Tras os Montes) kidney beans with vegetables like carrots, cabbage and tomatoes are used. Was it difficult to prepare this dish? Maria Lena was asked. In the past it was cooked in a clay pot over a slow fire. She shakes her head. ‘Except for remembering to soak the rajmah overnight,’ she smiles. Tasting our feijado I agree with the boys- this is one preparation one will ‘stew’ for.                                

Monday, June 16, 2014

Goan delicacies Sweet and sour memories…Grandmother knew best

There was something that our grandmothers knew…which slowly will die a natural death. Natural because nature has bestowed on our small state a bountiful harvest which the Gen Next today are not even aware of. So here is a secret shared about something sweet, originally sour at times bitter - the Karmaleanche Goadtik lonche (Kormola (starfruit) chutney/pickle) a Saraswat preparation which was relished as a breakfast accompaniment with polle and perhaps chapattis; today it has vanished from our culinary repertoire.

 Meet Amita Salatry author/TV personality who is determined to keep those recipes alive. But would the Gen Next appreciate those preparations? We were soon to find out with the arrival of Nischita Pednekar a MCA student from Don Bosco and Sai Dhekne a young Asst Professor.

Have you heard of the Karmaleanche lonche? Yes, they did… but they do not eat it at home. Why? First of all It is not easily available (the fruit or the final product), secondly there is not much knowledge about the preparation. So seated in our hosts dining hall with the preparation in front of us the history of the past unfolds. Says Amita as she spreads the ‘lonche’ on the chapatti for her guests ‘a hundred years back nature gave us a variety of seasonal preserves which our grandmothers would pickle for day to day use.’ We hear how throughout the year the trees in the garden would give bimbli, ambade(hog plum), raajaavalla (amla), karmola (starfruit)…a variety of fruit which was pickled and stored. They would have this ‘lonche’ with polle (made of ukhdeache tandull) for breakfast. 

The karmaleanche lonche was cooked over ‘slow’ heat in a special thick bottom metal degchi’s with the help of a halvyache daaul (long handled wooden spoon) as the liquid splattered during the cooking process. ‘Our grandmothers would often use the green fruit (slightly bitter overtones) and cut them into dices,’ Amita says. ‘They would also use green chilies cut into pieces and half the quantity of red chili powder that we use today’. Today with refrigeration the lonche can be preserved for over two years we are informed. Which brings us to an important point ‘what do you have for breakfast today?’ I ask the Gen Next, “mango jam with polle…the polle is still prepared at home; we even make shepuche (dill) polle’’ was the response.

So what could be the reason that this preparation is slowly dying out? ‘It takes about an hour and a half for preparation’ says Amita. What about the tree? With small gardens today would it be possible to grow it? ‘The tree is a low maintenance one,’ she explains, ‘needs little space, no manure and very little water. And moreover the yield is twice a year. The 3/4th ripened fruit are used for the preparation, and we will always use Shankar brand rock type hing.’ ‘It would nice if this ‘lonche’ is served at wedding meals, it would create awareness amongst everyone,’ murmured the Gen Next, ‘better than using ordinary jam as jaggery is much healthier than the sugar used.’

Wise words indeed….our culinary legacy was variety, taste as well as health. As we listen to Amita regarding the way this ‘lonche’ is made we also learn that she uses it for uddamethi too. Rather than mother knows best…our grandmothers knew better too.

Goan delicacies Sodanch na……a story to tell

Guisado, Apa de Camrao…how many of these preparations do we find in restaurants today? Sodanch na…literally translated means ‘not every day’. And therein lays the story. But before that let’s hark back on a preparation – Empadao de ostras. It is not a preparation available every day, but the pronunciation does have a romantic twist and so was the tryst with the ladies of the Almeida clan – Cidalia nee Almeida Bodade and her aunt Aplonia Almeida now settled down in Lisbon (Portugal). And what was special about this occasion was daughter in law Dipshika’s visit with son Karan Jaime…. This was going to be a tasting to remember.

Besides restaurants, how many homes prepare this dish? Granted it takes over an hour to prepare and a lot of effort right from cleaning the oysters to creating the potato mash. Did Karan ever taste this preparation? He nods, ‘in my grandmother’s home in Margao,’ says he. Cidalia adds ‘this recipe is from my grandmothers kitchens.’ Now while we had 3 generations seated in the hall, this dish would have been made perhaps a hundred years back. And the dish had to be baked. How? There was no electricity during that time. So with a ‘then and now’ the subject of the Empadao de ostras was discussed in detail. ‘The oysters were much bigger then,’ Cidalia says, ‘and would be cut in half. Moreover the onions used were the ones which would be hanging from the rafters on a bamboo stick…the empadao’s were baked in a double kundli. The dish was kept in the one over the fire while another kundli was put on top with burning coconut husk (sonnas) to provide the heat from above.’  ‘Baking was only done to brown the dish,’ adds Aplonia, ‘as most of the cooking is done before.’ 

So would this dish be different from the original preparation brought in by the Portuguese? ‘A few ingredients added can change it a bit,’ she says, ‘but the preparation is nearly the same.’ Looking at the list of ingredients one can marvel how turmeric and tomato ketchup were introduced in the recipe. ‘In the past tomatoes were used, but tomatoes would tend to get rancid over a period of time as there was no refrigeration so ketchup was found to be a great substitute. One must also take care to cut the onions fine,’ she cautions.

 As the tasting of the empadao de ostras commenced…the creamy tomato mash encasing the spiced oyster filling below, we are informed that a similar preparation Bacalhau Comnatas made of Bacalhau(salted cod fish) and fresh cream also graced the tables. Aplonia confesses that there was a time when she did not have Bacalhau with her and she had promised to prepare the dish for some friend. ‘I found dried Pilo (shark) in Karwar,’ she chuckles, ‘and I made the dish. The tastes are quite similar and unless you taste the actual bacalhau it is hard to tell the difference.’ Yes today’s Gen next will find it difficult to tell the difference when it comes to these preparations…sadly not being prepared everyday in many homes. The Arroz Doce(sweetened rice)  made for weddings, the Caldeirada (a sort of fish stew), Fofos de Peixe (crumb fried parcels with fish filling), Apa de Camarao (a spiced prawn filling rice cake)…those were the days of a romantic culinary interlude of the West and the East. Sodanch na….but there is another story to tell. Aplonia states that in the days gone by, the Sannas were always a festive preparation. Ever wonder how it got its name? Apparently the locals would say ‘Sodanch na’ (not available everyday) about the dish which got abbreviated overtime to Sanna.