More than just modaks

More than just modaks

More than  just modaks
To appease the god of beginnings at the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Goa, you are going to need to get the math right. Five leaves go in a curry. Not one less. Not one more. In another, you add 7-12 leaves. Not six. Not 13, please. Steer clear of onion and garlic. Meat, fish and poultry are a no-no. Set your menu according to which day of the three-day festival you are in. Stash away the porcelain as you slice up banana leaves to make plates. 

In Goa, tradition rules the kitchen during Ganesh Chaturthi. There are no short cuts. No ordering food. Everything is freshly cooked in the home hearth. After double-checking the numbers, try reciting a tongue twister or two. You will need the practice to be able to name some of the must-try dishes at the festival. Ukadiche Modak. Khathkatem. Moogachi Gatti. Choneacho Ros. 

Prepare to taste some unusual food, while you’re at it. Here, raita is not what you are used to. It has coconut milk and not an ounce of curd, and comes with unusual ingredient combinations like cashew and karela (bitter gourd). Ever heard of that? Shimla mirch (capsicum) raita is another kind. When idli is served, do not wait for sambhar or coconut chutney. Dunk the soft rice dumplings in a cardamom-flavoured coconut milk-jaggery sauce.

Festive must-havesTraditionally, Ganesh Chaturthi is a one-and-a-half or three-day affair in Goa. Known as Chavath in Konkani, the festival has been celebrated in Goa since before the Kadamba dynasty (345 AD). However, unlike in Maharashtra, the festivities are not sarvajanik (public). The devout bring Ganesha idols home and celebrate quietly within four walls. 

Days ahead of the festival, I was picking up these dos and don’ts at Kokni Kanteen, the newest restaurant in Panaji. I was drawn there by the establishment’s attempt to bring back traditional Goan dishes that are falling off modern menus. 

As I waited for pos (a dessert made of colostrum) while sipping on kokum, chef and restaurateur Girish Desai spoke about the traditional Ganesh Chaturthi fare. Ganesh Chaturthi being a monsoon festival, the main ingredients of the festival food are seasonal vegetables and greens like lady’s finger, ridge gourd, suran, ambade (hog plum), pumpkin and drumstick. 

Khatkatem is a coconut-based curry with vegetables, while hog plums are cooked in coconut milk to make ambade ros, which is sweet, sour and spicy all at once. Moogachi ghatti (sprouted moong beans cooked with spices and coconut) is a staple this festive season, as is patoli (rice flour, grated coconut and jaggery steamed in a turmeric leaf). 

The traditional Ganesh Chaturthi lunch includes varan bhath, khathkatem, ambadecho ros, choneacho ros, moogachi gatti, sakar bhath, patoli, manganem, a special dish made of five different greens (dudhi, tambdi, green bhaji, drumstick leaves and palak), and wheat sevai kheer. Another sweet dish, nevri is made with a filling of puran (a mixture of crushed chana dal, coconut and jaggery). 

However, Girish points out that lunch is not the same on all three days of the festival. On the first day, women eat kanna, a dish made of vegetables, and abstain from wheat and rice; while on the second day, men do not eat rice after sunset. On the third day, there’s sago pais (pudding) and cashew-karela raita. 

On Day 1, the five-greens curry is cooked, while lunch on Day 2 includes a curry made of 7-12 vegetables flavoured with triphala (a herbal mix). If there’s ridge gourd on Day 2, people eat yardlong beans on Day 3. The leftovers are served at dinner with chapati.

Sweet endingsWhat about desserts other than modak, Ganesha’s favourite food? Girish talks of manganem, a kheer-like dessert made of sago, chana dal and milk, kagna (sweet potato kheer), and sewanchi kheer (vermicelli cooked in cow’s milk). Add to the list, the very special pos. Goan pos is different  from the Maharashtrian pos, in which sugar and pepper are added to the colostrum. 

In Goa, the pos has jeera (cumin seed) and jaggery.  Rita Shinde, who teaches the making of traditional Goan dishes at Rita’s Gourmet Goa (near Dabolim airport), lists modak as the top must-have at the festival. “Traditionally, Goan modaks are  wheat flour dumplings filled with freshly grated coconut and sugarcane jaggery and are deep fried. 

Another kind is the ukadiche modak, which has coconut, sugarcane jaggery, nutmeg, roasted ground poppy seeds and dry fruits, and is steamed. Ask Rita about the top five delicacies and she lists khatkhatem, choneacho ros, five-green curry and moogachi gatti. When it comes to desserts, however, she can’t choose one. The most essential ingredients, she says, are coconut, jaggery, seasonal vegetables and fruits, rice and wheat, with coconut being the kitchen monarch during the festivitie­s.

This Ganesh Chaturthi, chant the 108 names of Lord Ganesh and count the dishes on the banana leaf. Count life’s blessings, thereafter!



RECIPE

Wheat flour fried modak

Ingredients: 

n 200 gm wheat flourn 200 gm  coconut (freshly grated)n 1 tbsp poppy seeds (roasted and powdered)n 1 tsp ghee n ¼ tsp nutmeg (grated) n 2 cardamomn 100 gm jaggery (grated) n A pinch of saltn 2 tsp dry fruits (cashew nut, almonds, raisins) n Vegetable oil for deep frying

Method: Knead the wheat flour with a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of hot oil and water to a smooth and pliable dough. Set it aside. Dry roast the poppy seeds in a pan till they turn golden brown. Cool them and grind to powder.
 
In the pan, add freshly grated coconut, jaggery and ghee and cook over a low flame for five minutes. Add the dry fruits, grated nutmeg, cardamom and poppy seed powder. Keep it aside to cool. Divide the dough into 21 equal balls. Roll each one into a circular disc, put a tablespoon of filling in the centre and close it with frills in the shape of a garlic. Heat oil in a wok till it smokes slightly and deep fry the modaks in batches till they turn golden brown.

Recipe courtesy: Rita Shinde, Rita’s Gourmet Goa, Dabolim, Goa
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