Monday, December 25, 2006

Konkan Karnival

A food and culture related fiesta, bringing with it a whiff of the palm-fringed beaches, the balmy sea air and the mouth-watering food of Konkan.
Gourmands, the world over, are an adventurous lot but their palates are not easy to satisfy. They are so well seasoned that only extraordinary food can draw their appreciation. And one cuisine that is sure to do that is the one that we can taste along the West coast of India – the Konkan, which runs from Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka down to Malabar. The Konkan cuisine has become one of the most popular cuisines of the recent times. Though Konkan food is mostly synonymous with fish, the variety of vegetarian and sweet dishes are equally impressive. It can be safely said that this region gives us some of the best and tastiest recipes of fish and other seafood.

Nestling along the Western Ghats . . . .

The Konkan region, also called Aparanta, is a 700 kilometer long narrow coastal strip across the majestic mountain ranges of the Western Ghats extending eastwards from its creeks and estuaries. Carefully tended paddy fields dot the coastline along with coconut and areca plantations.
Journeying down the Konkan coast leading to Goa is a pleasant experience when one comes across tiny villages and some of the state’s most dramatic fortresses heading south towards Ratnagiri. Further south, the beaches are like a silver ribbon running down the Malabar Coast of India.
The narrow coastal belt running along the sea gets heavy rainfall during the monsoons which lasts from June to September when one can find even small rivulets turning into angry, swollen streams.
Konkan coastal cuisine is primarily the food of Konkani speaking people. The Konkani cuisine is as diverse as spoken Konkani. Different dialects with varied accents make the Konkani belt unique. Incredible beach-side hideaways, where the only sounds are palm leaves and waves on the silver sands, add value to the delectable cuisine of this area. Serene and clear watered, the area boasts of the spiciest and most delicious Konkani food.
Exposure of this kind has not only made the food popular but has also resulted in a considerable rise in the tourist population visiting places like
Sindhudurgh (wisely chosen by Shivaji to build his most formidable fort)
Ganapatiphule (famous for its 4000 year old ‘swayambhu’ Ganapati temple)
Murud-Janjira (temple atop the hill)
Shriwardhan (an architectural marvel, perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea, considered impregnable and from where Shivaji fought many of his famous battles)
Kihim (an exclusive beach, laced with lush coconut trees and famous for its historic forts, churches, synagogues and the fascinating tower of St. Barbara)
Chiplun and Ratnagiri (famous not only for the Alphonso mangoes but it was here that the great Indian freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born).
Yet the most popular attraction of this area is of course the city of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, where one can experience a beautiful fusion of Indian and Western cultures. It is not only India’s largest cosmopolitan city, it is the country’s commercial and financial hub. The people of this city seem to be in a perpetual state of activity perhaps that is the reason why Mumbai is known as the city that never sleeps. Though Bollywood has earned the dubious reputation of following Hollywood’s every move very faithfully, breathlessly, accurately and quickly it is also known as the producer of the maximum number of films per year. The ancestors of Kolis (the fisherfolk) were the original inhabitants of Mumbai and it was Mumba Devi, their patron Goddess, who gave Mumbai its name.

A land of coconut palms and paddy fields

The major crop of this region are the coconuts which have given rise to various industries producing copra oil, choir and other related products. Along the sloping lands, the heavy monsoons bring life to the mango, guava and betelnut plantations. A variety of pulses are also grown here. On sandy dunes, clumps of chew trees blossom every summer. The region also grows kokum in plentiful. Kokum is a sweet-sour fruit whose dried skin is used for adding a gentle sourness to the Konkani curries. Kokum seeds are used for making a delicious sherbet, which is called the “local nectar” which brings relief to many a parched throat during the hot summer months. Besides coconuts, mangoes, rice, cashew nuts and a variety of pulses are also grown.
The ports of the Konkan were known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and Arab traders. The spice trade brought prosperity to the ancient Hindu kingdoms of the area. Lasting examples are the cave temples of Elephanta Island and Kanheri. With the advent of the Portuguese and British, the port cities were further developed and fortified. However the glory of that era is now confined to the History books.

Lies the secret of Konkani cuisine

The relatively undiscovered palm fringed beaches are home to many a fishing village. The ribbon-like coastal Konkan belt is full of coconut plantations and a variety of seafood. Quite predictably, this area has some of the best seafood recipes of India. Tourists who have explored these coastal havens confirm their affinity towards coconut laced curries with a punch. Fish is considered as the ‘Fruit of the sea’ and fishing trawlers can be seen all along the coastline to collect the bounty of the Arabian Sea. The most common fish that are found include mackerels, sardines, sharkfish, kingfish, squids, sting rays and many other small fish. Pomfret, though available, is not found in abundance, hence the high price at times. Variety of shellfish includes prawns or shrimps of all sizes, crabs, mussels, oysters, lobsters and crayfish.
As you go southward along the coast, you notice that certain ingredients of cooking are typical of this area, examples are Kokum, used in abundance in curries and vegetable gravies to add a touch of sourness; curry leaves, asafoetida, red chillies and coriander seeds. One of the favourite and famous vegetarian dishes, which will leave you with a taste that will haunt you for days to follow is the Kokum Kadhi. Though coconut is abundant in the Konkan, it is groundnut oil that is used as a cooking medium.
The highlight of the cuisine of this region is the two basic masala pastes that form the base for most of the dishes. One is the Rasgoli mixture made from fresh coconut gratings with a variety of spices whereas the second is the Bhajana mixture made of stronger spices with roasted coconut and onion. The former is used for fish curries and the latter for meat or chicken curries. Both the masala mixes can be used equally effectively for vegetable curries. The Konkanis are particular about the spices and herbs that are chosen after long hours of discussion. A vast variety of red chillies is available in the area with varying degrees of spiciness and colour. Since the colour and texture of the curry is as important to them as the flavour, each ingredient is chosen with care and used with patience.
An everyday meal consists of several accompaniments that are set out in a particular manner in the taat (plate). The taat vadhany (method of setting food on the platter) is an art that young girls are trained in as soon as they are 7-8 years old.
It starts with a bit of salt at the top centre of the taat. On its left is set a small piece of lemon. Then follow the chatni (spicy accompaniment made of ground coconut and green chillies), koshimbir (salad), bharit (lightly cooked or raw vegetable in yogurt) in that order. The vegetable with gravy never precedes the dry vegetable because the gravy will run into it. The meal is served by the woman of the house. Once everyone is seated, rice is served with a little toop (ghee) poured on it. The meal only starts after the eldest male in the house dedicates the meal to the Gods and everyone says a short prayer in thanksgiving.

Festivals, the year through

The people if this region celebrate a host of national as well as local festivals. Added to this are the numerous family occasions like birth, child naming ceremony, thread ceremony, engagement ceremony, marriage etc. which express the locals’ love for festivities and celebrations throughout the year.
Being a predominantly agricultural region, most of the festivals occur during the monsoon, when a rich harvest is promised by nature and when plentiful of fruits and vegetables grow.
On festive days, Konkani people make sweets from rice flour and liquid jaggery. Some of these are eliappe , shevais served with sweet cardamom flavoured coconut milk or patolis, which are packets of steamed rice flour with a sweet coconut filling. There is a large variety of ghavans, which are like dosas, eaten with dry or fresh chutneys. The Konkan coast is short of milk, therefore sweetmeats are made of rice, wheat, besan or coconut.
Gudi Padwa orUgadi is the first day of the springtime month of Chaitra heralding the New Year. This festival coming around March-April is typical of this area, as it commemorates the triumphant expeditions of the Maratha armies of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Even in the present day every household in this region raises the ‘gudi’ or standard of victory comprising a pole with an upturned metal pot surrounded by folds of silk fabric, marigold and mango leaves. Gudi Padwa is considered as auspicious day for marriages, house warming and any new beginning. Homes and the entrances are decorated with torans (garlands) of marigold, flowers and mango leaves. Sweets are distributed among the neighbours and relatives.
Shravan, at the peak of monsoon in August, is a month of festivals starting with Nag Panchami when people worship the snake God. Various milk sweets are made and offered to the deity. People avoid cutting, frying, etc. hence vegetables are cut a day before by many followers. The celebratory meal cooked on this day includes Puran Poli, Kheer, jaggery flavoured Moong dal khichdi, a dessert called Dhondus and several vegetables and pulse preparations.
While rest of India celebrates Raksha Bandhan on the full moon day of this month, the people of Konkan celebrate Narli purnima or coconut day. The day is thus called as coconuts are offered to the sea. This is done mainly by the fisher folk to appease the sea God and pray for their safety before resuming fishing season after the peak of monsoon when they do not venture into the choppy seas.
Soon follows Janmashtmi or the birthday of Lord Krishna. Most devotees fast till midnight when the birth of the Lord is announced, thus calling for a festive meal comprising of dishes, which, according to mythology, was liked by Krishna and his playmates in Gokul. This meal includes rice, butter, yogurt, Puris, Dahi pohe and a special vegetable made of potatoes. Amboli, a pancake similar to that of Uttapa but a little thinner, is consumed with a bhaji made from leaves of drumstick tree since they are considered auspicious. On this festival night, children have a special place in every household. They are given plenty of butter and puffed rice mixed with sweet milk.
Ganesh Chaturthi, perhaps the most important festival of this region, is celebrated around end August-September. This is the feast of elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, the God of wisdom and the benevolent deity. Ganesha’s blessings are invoked at the commencement of every occasion. Lord Ganesha is the presiding deity of this region. A clay replica is brought home and worshipped from 1½ days to 5, 7 or 11 days, that is till Anant Chathurdarshi. On the last day, the deity is taken out in a joyous procession and immersed in flowing waters. This is called visarjan (immersion). Along with Lord Ganesh, the people of Konkan also worship Gauri – the Goddess Parvati – Lord Ganesha’s mother.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a day of great feasting. Special sweets called Modaks are steamed or fried for offering to Ganesha. Modaks are small rice or wheat flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery. Besides this, a large variety of savoury and sweet snacks such as Shevian, Karanjis, Ladoos, Chaklis, Kodbolis and Anrasas are distributed to devotees and guests during the puja.
On Rishipanchami, or the day following Ganesh Chaturthi, food grains that are produced on fields which are ploughed by the bullocks are not cooked. Hence only vegetables are used . The special bhaji is made with colocassia, green and red leafy vegetables, potatoes, yam, colocassia leaves, padval, etc. Slit green chillies are used for flavouring and garnished with grated coconut, coconut oil and triphal. Puja of Sapta ( seven) Rishis is also performed on this day.
Dassera, which generally comes in October, is considered a very auspicious day for any new beginnings. Many children begin their education, their dance or music or art or sport lessons on this day. New journeys are planned and elders are respected in a ritual, which is touching, as it is interesting. On Dassera , a special dish called Kesari Bhaath and Puran Poli are made.
Soon after Dassera, comes the wonderful festival of lights – Diwali. The commercial city of Mumbai becomes a magical fairyland with scores of twinkling lights and Akashkandils hung in front of every home. The colourful electric lights decorate the buildings and fireworks assert the festive mood. During these five days, elsewhere in Konkan too, Diwali is a festival of twinkling lights and bursting crackers. Mouth-watering snacks, with a variety of sweetmeats, are made by every family. A special feature of Diwali in Mumbai is the identical paper lanterns which children make to light up homes in a building. This practice shows the community spirit of the festival. Many communities hold sports, arts, drama and cultural events to celebrate Diwali. Among the various savoury and sweet preparations made, some are Besan laddoo, Chaklis, Shankarpale, Chivda, Papdi, Anarasa etc.
Tulsi Vivah, marriage of Tulsi and Krishna follows Diwali, towards mid December. The celebrations go on for three days after which comes the Dev Diwali i.e. Diwali of the Gods which goes on for a month which is considered auspicious.
Makar Sankranti is a festival that usually comes on the 14th day of January denoting the movement of the Sun from the tropic of Cancer to the tropic of Capricorn and is celebrated by the women with joy. They make a variety of sweets from jaggery and sesame seeds like Til Laddoo, and hold women’s gathering called Haldi Kumkum.
In March, comes the colourful spring festival of Holi. The jingle ‘holi re holi puranachi poli’ signifies that Puran poli is the special sweet of this spring festival. Holi is celebrated in the month of Falgun to mark the coming of Spring. It is the celebration of Lord Krishna playing Raasleela with the Gopis and drenching them in colours. Burning of the previous winter’s deadwood in a huge bonfire, throwing of coloured water on each other, community dancing are the integral parts of this festival.

When families get together

Weddings spell hope, joy and permanence of relationships. Agarbattis and silver lamps are all around the dining area and with devotional chants the meal begins. The meal is usually vegetarian and is served after the wedding ceremony is over. It is a common custom to draw a colourful pattern – rangoli - with white flowers around the taat (plate). The wedding feast is generally served in a taat or on a banana leaf in a specific order. There are chutneys, salads, dry vegetables, gravies, plain rice, puris, and a sweet dish like jalebi, creamy basundi or saffron flavoured shrikhand. ‘Mattha’ or coriander leaves–flavoured, salted buttermilk complements the meal which ends with a sweet ‘paan’ called ‘vida..
The arrival of a baby is awaited with bated breath and lot of expectations. The Gods’ blessings are invoked for the health and safety of both the mother and child through almost the entire period of pregnancy. In the seventh month of the first pregnancy, a function called Oti bharane is held when several married ladies gather together to bless the mother-to-be with coconut, whose auspiciousness is well known.
Child birth
On the 6th day after the birth of a child, khichdi is made of mung dal and rice along with jaggery and cashew nuts. It is believed that on this day God comes to bless the newborn. Small children are invited and served with kheer and khichdi.
On the 12th day, the naming ceremony of the newborn – the barsa - is celebrated with a lot of joy and festivities. Some people have a havan followed with a festive meal followed by the cradle ceremony, when the newborn is put into a decorated cradle and given a name. The cradle ceremony is held in every family.
OOn the 12th day after death, a meal is served to the Brahmins when relatives are also invited to partake in it. It is believed that on this day the departed soul moves away from the material world into the heavenly folds. There are some specific dishes, which are made only on this occasion, and otherwise considered a taboo.

Aaji chi Potli – Grandmother’s recipes

Culled from Konkani family treasures, we bring you authentic, traditional recipes from the region.
A Kokum flavoured, coconut based tangy drink.
Spiced and flavoured buttermilk.
Kairiche Panne
A refreshing drink made from raw mangoes.
Kokum Sherbet
A tangy drink made from the skins of Gamboge (Kokum) fruit.

A steamed and fermented rice bread.
Rice pancake from Malvan region.
Rice Wade
Crisp puris made from flavoured rice flour dough

Malwani Chicken Hirwa Masala
A mouth tickling chicken preparation in coriander leaves and coconut gravy, specialty from region of Malvan, Konkan.

Karlyachi Chutney
A bitter gourd and coconut preparation.
Lasun Chi Chutney
A moist, garlic flavoured, coconut based preparation.
Suran Che Koot
Fried yam cubes, spiced and served as an accompaniment.

Dali Sambare
A lentil and aubergine preparation.
Kulith Cha Saar
A tangy horse gram preparation.
Matki Chi Ussal
A smaller lentil quite similar to green gram but brown in colour, cooked in Maharashtrian household
Mod Aleli Moongachi Amti
A sprouted lentil preparation usually accompanied by steamed rice.

A fudge of rice semolina and coconut milk.
It is the turmeric leaves that add a special flavour to these steamed rice sweet pancakes
A Konkan specialty, rice vermicelli dessert served with flavoured coconut milk.
A lentil pancake served with flavoured sweetened coconut milk.
An unusual sweet of cucumber and rice semolina

Malvani Mutton
Spicy preparation of mutton cooked in Malwani style.

Kelyache Koshimbir
A sweet and savoury side dish made with ripe bananas and yogurt.

Vaangi Bhath
An unusual baby aubergines/ brinjal and rice preparation.
A staple meal, nutritious rice and lentil dish.
Konkani Pulao
A vegetable and rice preparation with predominant taste of green chutney.
Prawn Rice
Coconut flavoured prawn and rice preparation.

Malwani Prawn Curry
A coconut based prawn curry flavoured with Kokum, Malvan style.
Malwani Prawn Fry
Crispy, golden fried Malvan style prawns.
Fish Ambotik
A spicy, tangy lightly flavoursome fish preparation.
Sunkattom Kodhi
Prawns in a delicately, spiced and flavoured coconut gravy.
Kolambi Kaju Curry
A dry spicy prawn preparation from Maharashtra.
Tisryache Kalvan
An unusual preparation of clams in gravy.

Talela Bangda
A spicy, crisply fried mackerel - Malvan style
Colocassia leaves spread with a spicy dal and rice paste, rolled and steamed.
Sungatache Bhaje
Deep fried dumplings of shrimps

Batata Song
A simple potato preparation from Konkan region.
Kale Vatanyachi Ussal
A Malvani preparation of dried black peas cooked in browned onion-coconut gravy with a touch Kokum.
Tender Raw Jackfruit Sukke
An exotic dry preparation of raw jackfruit.
Vala Che Bhirde
A mildly sweetened , coconut flavoured preparation of sprouts.
Matar Naralachi Ussal
A simple and tasty green pea and mushroom preparation.
Kelphoolachi Bhaji
A simple preparation of banana flowers with moong dal.
A preparation of vegetables and toor dal in a spicy coconut gravy.

Veg | Tangy | Goan

Soak kokum in hot water for one to two hours. Crush them to get thick puree and strain. Place scraped coconut in a blender and add a quarter cup of warm water and blend. Pass through a muslin cloth and squeeze to get thick coconut milk. Keep it aside. Take a few pods of peeled garlic and crush them with green chillies. Add a little salt to help crush it faster and easier. Put this in a big bowl and add coconut milk and stir. Add a little salt and finally the kokum syrup. Mix well and strain. Check the seasoning. Add chopped coriander leaves. It can be served both hot or cold.

Serves 4
12-15 Gamboge (kokum)
1 Coconut (scraped)
6-7 cloves Garlic (peeled)
3 Green chillies (slit)
Salt to taste
1 small bunch Fresh coriander leaves (chopped)

Veg | Non Spicy | Maharashtra
Remove stems, wash and chop green chillies. Clean, wash and chop coriander leaves. Roast cumin seeds on a hot tawa until slightly brown. Then grind into a coarse powder. Whisk yogurt thoroughly and add about one litre water to it gradually. Mix well. Add chopped green chillies, coriander leaves, salt to taste and roasted cumin powder. Mix thoroughly. Serve chilled.

Serves 4
1 cup Yogurt
2 Green chillies
Fresh coriander leaves a few sprigs
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
Salt to taste

Kairiche Panne
Veg | Sweet | Maharashtra
Peel and remove pulp from mangoes. Discard seeds. Boil the pulp in three cups of water and continue till water is reduced to half and the pulp is homogenous. Add sugar, green cardamom powder and salt. Stir well to dissolve the sugar completely. Strain. Cool and store in an airtight bottle or container. Dilute with water before serving and serve chilled.

Serves 4
1 kg Raw mangoes
1½ cups Sugar
1/2 tsp Green Cardamom Powder
Salt to taste

Kokum Sherbet
Veg | Tangy | Indian
Wash and soak kokum in three cups of hot water for ten to fifteen minutes. Mash kokum and strain its pulp. Boil sugar, kokum syrup, salt and roasted cumin powder for two to three minutes. Add a little water while boiling. Take off heat, cool the syrup and store in refrigerator. While serving, pour a little kokum extract into a tall glass, add cold water to your taste, mix well and serve.

Serves 4
200 gms Kokum
1/2 cup Sugar
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Roasted cumin powder

Veg | Non Spicy | Goan
Soak the rice overnight or for four hours at least. Drain and grind to a fine paste using toddy. Grind the scraped coconut too using toddy. Mix the two mixtures. Add more toddy to get the consistency of idli batter. Keep it covered to ferment for at least four hours. Heat water in a steamer. Grease a idli mould. Pour the batter in each mould leaving enough space for the sannas to rise. Cook on medium heat till done. Serve with mutton curry.

Serves 4
1 cup Rice
1/4 bottle Toddy
1/2 Coconut (scraped)
1½ tsps Sugar
Salt to taste

Veg | Non Spicy | Maharashtra
Mix rice flour and salt and sieve. Add oil and then sufficient water to make a batter of thick pouring consistency. Leave aside for an hour. Heat a tawa. Apply a little ghee on it. Pour one-fourth ladle of batter, spread into thin round shape. Cook on both the sides until light golden brown in colour. Repeat the same with the remaining batter. Serve amboli with milk and jaggery.

Serves 4
1½ cups Rice flour
Salt to taste
2 tbsps Oil
1/2 cup Ghee

Rice Wade
Veg | Non Spicy | Karnataka

Boil one and a quarter cups of water along with fenugreek and fennel seeds for about five minutes to extract their flavor. Strain and reheat the water, add salt. Add rice flour and cook till it forms dough and leaves the edges of the vessel. Transfer into a bowl and add grated onion and mix well. Apply oil to hands and make equal sized balls of the dough. Press with hands and shape like wadas. Heat sufficient oil in a kadai and deep-fry the wadas till done. Drain onto an absorbent paper and serve hot. You can also make the wadas on greaseproof paper. Apply a little oil on the surface of the paper and place a dough ball. Cover with another paper and spread by pressing with hands or a rolling pin. Remove the top paper and gently remove the wada from the bottom paper and deep-fry.

Serves 4
2 cups Rice flour
2 tbsps Fennel seeds (saunf)
1 tbsp Fenugreek seeds (methi)
1 small Onion (grated)
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

Malwani Chicken Hirwa Masala
Non-Veg | Spicy | Maharashtra

Clean chicken, remove skin and then cut into 16 pieces. Apply salt and leave aside. Peel and chop onion finely. Make a fine paste of one cup green coriander, scraped coconut, ginger and green chillies. Heat oil in a pan, add whole spices and cumin seeds. When they crackle, add chopped onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add green masala paste and sauté on low heat for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken pieces and further cook for 2-3 minutes. Add a little water, adjust salt and cook until chicken is done. Add coconut milk and garam masala powder. Mix well. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

Serves 4
1 Chicken
Salt to taste
4 tbsps Oil
3 medium sized Onions
1 inch Cinnamon
2 Black cardamoms
2 Green cardamoms
1 Bay leaf
2-3 Cloves
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/4 tsp Garam masala powder
1/2 cup Thick coconut milk
2 tbsps Coriander leaves chopped
For paste
1 cup Coriander leaves
1/2 cup Scraped coconut
1/2 inch Ginger
4 Green chillies

Karlyachi Chutney
Veg | Non Spicy | Maharashtra
Wash gourd, scrape, de-seed, apply salt and keep aside After a few minutes, squeeze out the excess water. Cut into small pieces. Heat oil, deep fry the gourd pieces till crisp. Grind together coconut, chillies, salt, tamarind and fried gourd into a semi-liquid chutney.

1/4 kg Bittergourd
1/4 Coconut
2-3 Green chillies
Tamarind small lemon sized ball
Groundnut oil to deep fry
Salt to taste

Lasun Chi Chutney
Veg | Spicy | Maharashtra
Grind together all the ingredients to form a semi-solid chutney.
Decrease quantity of coconut if you desire to make the chutney hot and spicy.

6 cloves Garlic
1/2 Coconut (scraped)
4 Red chillies whole
Tamarind small lemon sized ball
Salt to taste

Suran Che Koot
Veg | Spicy | Manglore
Peel and cut yam in small cubes around 1/2 cm each. Keep them in salted water for about half an hour. Drain well. Deep fry till golden and crisp. Drain and keep aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and lightly fry the whole red chillies, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Grind to a fine paste with tamarind. Mix this with salt, fried yam and a little water so that the yam pieces soak properly in the masala paste.
Instead of fried yam, fried brinjal can also be used.

1 kg Yam
20 Whole red chillies
2 large lemon size balls Tamarind
1 tbsp Mustard seeds
1 tsp Fenugreek seeds
Asafoetida a large pinch
Salt to taste
Oil for frying