We decided the heat was too much last weekend and headed to the predictable, but familiar, destination of Goa. Now, I know Goa can hardly be categorized as a ‘cool’ destination, but just being by the sea with access to great food and inexpensive wine and chilled beer, is just about as close to cool as I need.
This time, the parameters were clear. We had three days to spare. Our agenda was strictly R&R. However, what I didn’t want was heavy, spicy, Goan non-vegetarian food all the time. Don’t get me wrong. I love my balchao and sorpotel, but in this heat, I felt like vegetarian food—interesting vegetables, but with a kick. The heat makes you want to eat something tangy, sour and spicy, but not oily. A tall order, I know.
We stayed at the Cidade de Goa resort and, on the first evening tried their restaurant, Alfama, which specializes in dishes from Portuguese colonies, but, more importantly, they also serve a well-kept secret and an absolute ‘must try’ for vegetarians and those who would like to explore Goan food—a Goan Hindu thali—both veg and non-veg. The owners of the Cidade, the Timblo family, are personally involved with their property and mother Anju and son Akash are passionate about the food served here. I have on occasion travelled to Goa with vegetarians and know what a pain it can be to find decent vegetarian food anywhere, strange given the fact that well over half the population is Hindu. At Alfama, we had both the non-veg and veg Saraswat thali.
The major difference between Goan Catholic and Hindu non-vegetarian food is that the latter includes neither beef nor pork, but does have all manner of seafood and poultry. There is a conspicuous absence of vinegar in Hindu dishes. The souring agent used is tamarind, kokum, raw mango or bimli. They also use a strange black, peppery spice known as teffal. The dishes are individual, delicately spiced, lack the fire and brimstone heat of the red masala dishes you usually associate with Goan food and contain a whole heap of unusual and unfashionable vegetables, which I love. They often also add fresh prawns to vegetables such as radish, tender jackfruit and tendli, and dried ones to pumpkin and tender papaya. This was totally virgin territory for me and very exotic.
This is their chef’s recipe for a fabulous dish for this season, using all the almost forgotten vegetables and made tangy with the familiar mixture of jaggery and tamarind.
½ cup red pumpkin, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup raw/green banana, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup underripe jackfruit, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup yam (suran), peeled and cut into 1” cubes
1 drumstick, cut into 1½” pieces
½ cup white radish, cut into 1” cubes
¾ cup channa dal
1½ cups grated coconut
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp tamarind pulp
3 tbsp jaggery
A few pods of teffal soaked in half a cup of water for about 2 hours (optional)
Salt to taste
Boil 1 litre of water add the channa dal. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the jackfruit , radish, yam, raw banana and red pumpkin. Cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Grind coconut, chilli powder, turmeric and tamarind to a fine paste. Add this to the vegetables. Add about 2 cups more of water. At this point, add the teffal water (only if using) and jaggery. Stir and sprinkle the rice flour over the thick curry, heat through and serve with rice or roti.
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