Every trip that you make, to distant shores or a village close-by, leaves you enriched with new experiences, culture and abundant knowledge of food – something that’s been inspiring me to travel more. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Konkan region of Maharashtra with the chefs and marketing team of JW Marriott Sahar. The idea was to learn about the Konkanastha Brahmin cooking straight from the people of that community.
We drove to Guhagar and Diveagar where we stayed at homestays and ate at the khanaval – local eateries. The locals opened their hearts and kitchens and taught us their family recipes. We watched young girls shaping perfect modaks, learnt to make hand-made rice sewai from an old grandmother and snacked on the most fabulous awla candy with cardamom flavoured raw mango sherbet. We even visited a mango farm and picked raw mangoes, fresh kokum fruit and cashews.
The Konkanastha Brahmins, or Kobras as they’re referred, to are a vegetarian community whose cuisine largely depends on the local and seasonal produce. Rice, jaggery and mango play an important role since these are the major crops of the region. Coconut, kokum and tamarind are used vastly too and in summers you’ll find fanas – jackfruit which is eaten ripe as well as raw in the form of bhaji. Usal is the standard spicy curry made with all sorts of locally available lentils – like wal – and even fresh cashew nut.
The dish that stood out for me was the Panchamrut, a curry like dish made with coconut milk and named such for its mix of five flavours – sweet, savoury, sour, spicy and bitter. The dish was a burst of flavours and was a perfect Indian take on the Burmese Khao Suey. Aptly so, I named it Khao Suey Ka Baap. I recreated the dish in my kitchen recently and it turned out quite well. You can eat it with steamed rice or even plain pohe.
Yields – 4 servings
Coconut milk – 400 ml (better if it’s freshly made at home)
Jaggery – 100 gms
Tamarind pulp – 2 tbsp
Green chillies (slit or chopped) – 4-5
Dry red chillies – 4-5
Dry coconut slices – 4-5
Cashew nut – 25 gms
White sesame seeds – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds or rai – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 6-8
Raw peanut powder – 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Crushed mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Oil – 2 tbsp
1. Mix coconut milk and jaggery and keep it aside.
2. Heat oil in a wok or kadai and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and chillies (all three kinds) and let them splutter.
3. Add dried coconut and let it brown.
4. Throw in sesame seeds, cashewnuts and turmeric powder and fry them for a minute.
5. Add crushed peanuts and cook for another 30 seconds.
6. Mix in coconut milk and tamarind pulp and season with salt and let it boil once.
7. Finish with crushed mustard and serve.
The chefs at JW Marriott Sahar have put together a Konkanastha Brahmin spread as a part of their buffet which is available till the 15th of May. The best part of the buffet is that Mrs Kelkar, who fed us the excellent breakfast of panchamrut and kolache pohe, is at the hotel supervising the cooking and also interacting with the guests.