Monthly Archives: March 2016

Kokum, Konkan’s wonder fruit

Come summer and I crave a glass of refreshing tangy kokum sherbet. And of course, no Malwani or Goan meal is complete without a glass of sol kadi for me, made from kokum, coconut milk, ginger, et al.

Kokum cooler

Kokum is an amazing purplish red sweet and salty fruit, also called garcinia. It is a popular souring agent in the Konkan region and I cannot do without it in my kitchen.  I love the fact that it is multi-faceted and lends itself to so many dishes. But yes, it should be fresh. The flavours are completely different when it is not fresh and appears dehydrated.

Whole dried kokum can be used in curries. I cannot imagine my fish or prawns curry without the tangy kokum or even my dry bhindi or ladies fingers, for that matter.

But I must confess, I learnt about kokum fairly late in life, when I got married to a Goan. In Kolkata, where I grew up, we had never heard of kokum, let alone use it. For us, tamarind was always the souring agent.

Halwa-Fish-Curry

In all curries where coconut milk is added, I tend to use kokum. I once sampled the most unusual kokum coconut chutney at Park Hyatt Goa. The taste still lingers in my mouth. It was exceedingly well-made.

It is called Bhinda in the Konkan region. I am somehow fascinated by the colour of kokum apart from its flavour. People in Kerala use it as well. In Maharashtra, moong dal amti with kokum and goda masala is legendary. It is a must try.

Kokum is used for its unique flavour and peculiar sourness that it gives to the dishes and hence used in Konkan Cuisine. A chef once told me an interesting way that kokum is used. Yes, Kokum butter, prepared from seeds is used in confectionery preparations. Some chefs have created unique European dishes using Kokum too.

Karavalli-Food-festival-image

Apart from its utility in the kitchen, kokum, owing to its anti oxidant and anti fungal properties, teats sores, prevents infection, improves digestion, treats constipation, and application of direct Kokum on skin removes all kinds of rashes and allergies.

Although it is available freely in Mumbai too, I still prefer getting my stock of kokum from Goa. It is fresh and flavoursome and I can be sure of the quality. Madgaon market is my favourite place to pick the best kokum.

So try using kokum in your culinary experiments, if you have not already. It is bound to tease your taste buds.

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A Perfect Lakeside Retreat

Getting away from Mumbai is something we all look forward to, given the stressful lives we lead. And I am no exception. Saj by the Lake, a new resort at Malshej Ghat, seemed like the perfect place. Just three hours away or a bit more, from Mumbai, this cute little resort is tucked away amidst sylvan surroundings by a vast expanse of lake.
Driving through the Sahyadris with a short tea break at Murbad, I was all set to relax at Saj by the Lake on the weekend.
A quaint little resort with a beautiful, well-maintained garden, an aquamarine swimming pool, play area and cosy rooms welcomed us.
With an unobstructed and breathtaking view of the lake from the balcony,  the spacious and well-furnished room beckoned me, after the drive.
Of course the gourmand in me was eagerly awaiting the lunch experience at Maati Baani, the Vegetarian restaurant. Local delicacies, is what that place offers in abundance and nothing could be more inviting than that. The simple but rustic decor offered elegance and was replete with local elements, including the tableware.
Restaurant - Day
Mini Besan chillas or pancakes with doodhi were like flattened fritters. Absolutely melt in the mouth and spicy too. Those definitely got our taste buds tingling. The paneer, mawa and spinach tikkis came next. Delightful again. The textures were so well enmeshed.
Dudhi Hara Masala
Methi Pithle and Baingan Bharta slow-cooked in earthen pits, was what we began our main course with. The bharta had the quintessential smoked flavour and was replete with onions and tomatoes, just the way I love it. The  Kala Vatana Ussal was fiery and added zest to my palate. The array of rice, nachni and jowar bhakris paired perfectly well with this. The creamy mushrooms in a piquant gravy were well made too. Equally palate pleasing was the spicy but rustic methi matar and the simple varan(dal) bhat (rice)
The food struck me as unique, both in methods of preparation, as well as flavours. The ingredients were fresh and the flavours, rustic. No oil or artificial colours could be seen as is commonly the case with restaurant food. One never felt uneasy after such a lavish meal.
The moong dal halwa was a good way to round off the meal, but the texture was a bit sticky. Perhaps owing to the addition of atta or whole wheat flour?
After a siesta, I was raring to go in the evening. Local sightseeing done, where we visited an ancient Shiva temple and the mouth of the lake, we sat by the serene blue pool and enjoyed the India Pakistan match on a big screen. Life couldn’t be better.
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The chef made some delicious kebabs in the khad or pit, right before our eyes. Creamy paneer with a spicy marinade, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes. There was a lot to choose from.  If that was not enough, we gorged on crisp pani puris, with the most tangy and spicy water. Moong dal pakodis were fried to perfection and a bit of indulgence was in order as it was a Saturday. A day of guiltless pleasure.
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The kothimbir wadis were quite different from the ones I am used to in Mumbai. These were crisp and light and not chewy at all. The Bharele Ande, fried on the outside with a spicy masala, was an absolute treat and paired well with our mocktails.
Kothimbir Pakoda
Dinner had to be skipped after this gourmet trail. But not before I sampled the decadent, spongy gulab jamuns and seviyan kheer.
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The body and mind never felt more rested, than after a night’s sleep in the tranquil and comfortable room.As the birds chirped around the lake and in the resort garden, I woke up rejuvenated next morning.
The breakfast again was unusual fare. Thalipeeth, a boiled egg preparation with fried onions at the base, Missal pav et al. Each item was well prepared and boasted of unique local flavours.
Satiated by the sights and delectable local flavours, I was ready to bid adieu to Saj by the Lake. Overwhelmed with the warm hospitality, comfortable rooms, lip-smacking food, pristine surroundings, I drove away with a promise to return.

Cold Soups This Summer

A hot soup maybe what we typically associate with a soup  or a broth, but there can be cold soups too. No better way, to beat the summer heat actually. And yes, it’s getting warm already. Yes, cold soups too can be healthy and delicious. There can be yoghurt based soups, soups which are merely a blend of ingredients and these can be pure refreshment, trust me.

Butternut Pumpkin Soup

Gazpacho, the refreshing combination of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olive oil, vinegar and garlic, is without a doubt my weakness. A quick lunch to cool and nourish field labourers in Spain, it is widely consumed today.

Cold soups can be creamy and rich, such as a Creamy Cucumber Soup, or chunky and chock-full of vegetables and even fruit, as in our delicious Watermelon Gazpacho. Take full advantage of summer produce, herbs and flavors and try some healthy cold soup recipes. And because these contains no dairy, these are extremely light and flavourful.

All the summer vegetables and fruits work wonders for cold soups. Carrots, Potatoes, Beetroot, Asparagus, Avocados, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Melons, Sweet potatoes, Strawberries, garden peas, Squash, pumpkins are few but not limited ingredients used for cold soups.

A useful tip a chef once gave me. The ingredients used while making these cold soups should either contrast or should complement the flavor.

I enjoy a potato and leek cold soup. No, am not talking about a Vichysoisse. That has cream in addition to the other ingredients. Even cucumber-based cold soups make a great meal and are quick to prepare. Beetroot soup is refreshing too, more so when the beetroot is roasted. The flavour is absolutely unique.

For cold soups, one must use good quality veggies, as the taste and flavour of the soup is marred. It is also important to season these soups well. So go ahead and cool yourself with some tasty soups.