Casa Susegad’s reputation for good food is, in very large part, due to the use of the freshest and tastiest of local ingredients. Some of these you will be aware of whilst others will be totally and tastefully new to you.
Onions, tomatoes, cabbage etc are well known to you, of course, but here in Goa they are just so much more tasty. It is the other local vegetables that are of more interest here…
Brinjal (egg plant, but not as you know it) is very popular here and Joanita’s spectacular ‘Brinjal and Tomato Stack’ showcases this well. The Casa also has three bimbli trees in the grounds and these are most importantly used in creating Goa’s favourite prawn curry. Combined with coconut and other spices, bimbli supplies that contrasting sourness that is so characteristic of this dish.
In the winter season (Jan/Feb), ‘red’ carrots are much sought after and are so firm and sweet as to bear little resemblance to those used in Europe. Chitki-mitki is another vegetable rarely in the West and is similar to a green bean, but it is sourer and has a more complex flavour so that it is usually blended with coconut for cooking.
Fish, prawns and other shellfish
Goa is renowned for its seafood of all types, big and small, and are eaten daily by the majority of the local population. With names like lepo, tarle, bangra, mordso and mori (baby shark), the range of fish dishes is large and varied.
Prawns, blue crab and lobster are also widely enjoyed whilst Tisreu (baby clams) are a local and very favoured delicacy.
Meat and eggs
With its large Christian population, especially in the local taluka of Salcette, the population consumes a lot of meat, including those not normally associated with India such as pork and beef – as supplied by the local Muslim butchers. Many of our neighbours raise their own piglings – though Casa Susegad purchases only ‘farm’ pork to ensure its cleanliness and safety. Famous dishes such as pork vindhalo, Goan sausage pilao, beef roulade and chicken xacuti feature heavily in Goan catholic diets, especially at festival time and in the Casa’s kitchen.
The Casa does purchase village free range eggs, though. Lately the Casa staff have been pressing for their own chickens (so watch this space!).
Rice, pasta and grains
As with the mangos, the Goan red stripe rice is little known but unsurpassed – it has a full body and a nutty taste that has no equal. In fact Goa has twenty eight traditional varieties of rice (ten which are highly saline tolerant) specific to this area, and over 50 native varieties under cultivation!
Casa Susegad also uses the local maida flour to make its own ravioli and other types of pasta which has been devoured by travelling Italians with much relish. Another specialty of Goa is fish and prawns ‘rawa-fried’. These ‘breadcrumbs’ are actually semolina grains. The local bread, due to its Portuguese connections is known as ‘pau’, but a local form of unleavened bread, ‘bhakri’, is also widely eaten.
The ‘icing on the cake’ though, is that Jila Bakers are based in Loutolim! In 2011 they were adjudged by Times Now’s foodie editor to be the best bakery in India no less. And now drive and fly from many miles around to taste their eclairs (actually profiteroles), melting moments biscuits and ‘angel wing’ biscuits. Casa Susegad is a regular customer of theirs, so you needn’t miss out!
The range of chillis and spices available in the markets is quite staggering and Joanita is particular in choosing the right one for the right recipe. All are ground and blended for each dish daily in the Casa’s kitchen. It is perhaps worth noting here that the chilli is not native to India and is used more sparingly, and combined more subtly, than is often the case in the West.
The coconut features heavily in all forms of Goan cooking from the toddy (the sap), drunk neat and also used to make palm vinegar and puris (a local fluffy wheat-flour cake), the nutricious ‘water’ from the nut itself which is often drunk in the morning, through the scooped young flesh and that grated from the older nuts. The surrounds of the nut are also dried and used as a starter fuel in the fire kitchen. Excess coconuts from the Casa’s sixty eight trees are dried and pressed for oil in the Communida mill or refined into jaggery, a natural sweetener.
Goa’s mancurad mangos are little known outside of the region, mainly as the locals like to keep the best to themselves! The Casa’s 200 year old tree supplies between 1,500 and 2,000 fruit every second year. These appear in jam at breakfast, pickle at other meals and, most memorably, in Casa Susegad’s famous mango crumble served with home made vanilla (also local produce) custard.
The Casa also has three jackfruit trees, the produce of which ripens in April. Not only is the fruit succulent and sweet but the stones (they look like enormous butter beans) are also used to make a delightfully light vegetarian curry.
Star fruit, dragon fruit, chikoo, limes, kokum (of the mangosteen family), papayas, figs, bananas and love apples are also widely used, though it’s rare that the Casa staff manage to beat the langurs to the dragon fruit or indeed the African Figs – that tree seems to be perpetually inhabited by birds and monkeys, affording great photographic opportunities but little good fruit! Cashew nuts (or cajus as they are known as here) are roasted and used widely in salads and other dishes.
With its two months (April and May) of near-drought, followed by two or more of the violent winds and torrential rains of monsoon, it is necessary to preserve, rather than forgo, many foodstuffs. Kokum, chillis and tomatoes are sun-dried, vegetables are smoked, limes and mangoes are pickled and made into jams, cajus are roasted and other vegetables are sliced and dried in the oven.
Fish (mol de peixe etc) and prawns (galmbo balchao etc) are also pickled and the village piglings end up as Goan sausages (chouricos, like chorizo, but spicier).
Click/tap on any image to enlarge!