As diverse as the menu often is at our home — decided by a love for foods we’ve picked up during our travels, at our favorite restaurants, and from friends — our comfort food is still the one mom made. For Desi, it’s a small mountain of rice with sambar or rasam and a vegetable curry of okra or eggplant. For me, it’s varan-bhat (dal and rice in Marathi) with limbache lonche (lemon pickle).
But there was one more cuisine that left deep roots inside me: the cooking of my Goan stepmother who raised me after my mom passed away. This was delicious food, and needed no getting used to, although I was a rather unfussy child when it came to food (I refused to eat fish, though, a prominent ingredient in Goan food).
Goan cuisine, as I’ve told you before, is an interesting and delicious amalgam of the food of the coastal Konkan region, where Goa is located, and the state’s Portuguese colonizers who left just over 50 years ago. Xacuti, a meaty, satisfying stew characterized by a complex mix of spices, is one of the more popular recipes born of this union, and it is usually made with chicken or with beef.
Xacuti (sha-koo-ti) is a specialty of the large Christian community of Goa, whose cuisine has many common denominators with the Goan Hindu food my stepmom cooked, even as it stands apart in a distinct and delicious class of its own. It truly combines the best ingredients from the two worlds: coconut and tamarind from the Konkan coast, and vinegar from the west. The liberal use of a variety of spices in this recipe — and in many Portuguese Indian recipes — is not surprising when you consider that spices pulled the colonizers to Indian shores in the first place.
What makes this Goan Vegetable Xacuti truly special is that it combines all flavors, creating the perfect balance: the bitterness of fenugreek, the sweetness of coconut milk, the sourness of tamarind and vinegar, the pungency of the onions, and the umami of the mushrooms. And then there are the textures: the creaminess of the potatoes, the slight bite of the red peppers, the satiating meatiness of the mushrooms. Even a meat-eater would not miss the meat here.
This Vegetable Xacuti is a slightly more indulgent recipe than I make on weeknights, because of the longer list of ingredients and also because of the slightly longer cooking times to ensure the spices get done. Still, it is a one-pot meal and comes together in under 45 minutes, so it is by no means time consuming. And it does make a weeknight meal — or a weekend one — rather special.
- 12 cremini or button mushrooms, halved
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 3 medium potatoes like red or yellow, cubed and boiled
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 inch piece of ginger, chopped
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp shahi jeera (caraway seeds)
- 3 green cardamoms
- 3 cloves
- 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp poppy seeds
- 2 dry red chilies
- 1 tsp paprika (optional)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp raw cashews
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup coconut milk (canned or made fresh)
- Coriander leaves for garnish
- 1 1/2 tsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp tamarind pulp
- In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 tsp of coconut oil. Add the red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin, fenugreek, caraway or shahi jeera, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns, and saute until they are fragrant and the coriander is slightly darker, 2-3 minutes. Add the poppy seeds, cashews, onions, ginger, and garlic, and continue to saute until the onions start to caramelize.
- Remove the sauteed ingredients to a blender, add turmeric and paprika if using, vinegar, tamarind, and 1/2 cup of water, and blend into a smooth paste.
- Heat the remaining 1 tsp oil in the same saucepan. Add the blended paste and mix well.
- Cover the saucepan with a tight lid and let the paste cook for 20 minutes or until it turns a couple of shades darker. Stir occasionally to ensure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If it is, add a little water.
- After 20 minutes, add the mushrooms, potatoes and red peppers. Add some salt to taste, sugar, and cover again and let the stew cook another 15 minutes. The vegetables will release some juices, so don't add too much water at this stage. After 15 minutes, if the stew looks too thick, you can thin it out to your liking with vegetable stock or water.
- Add the coconut milk and let it warm through. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with some rice or crusty bread.
More Goan recipes from the archives: