#CoronaCooking: Dreams of Goa


Coronavirus seems to have generated four thousand million chain letters and memes: every day I get a request for a poem, a recipe, a list of my favorite books and record albums, lists of things I love and things I hate. One of my favorites asks for people to post a picture of a landscape that they dream about in this period of shelter-in-place.

Here’s mine: Goa, December 2019. I’d been more than once before, but it was with this trip that I truly began to understand how special this place was, how it is really a 21st century reminder of its past, when it was a—possibly THE—hub of the world, connecting the Portuguese empire from Brazil to Angola to Macau and beyond. The Catholic Church was hardly a benign force here, but like in Mangalore—the place that my father’s family is from, a place that is like Goa’s distant cousin, full of family resemblances but still a little unfamiliar—people have embraced the religion that was imposed on them via violence and made it their own. Same goes for the food—no surprise there.

And the food! Seafood, coconut, lots of chilies, pork, vinegar, and so many local variations of Portuguese ingredients and dishes. Vindaloo, spiked with garlic and vinegar, was born here. Goan sausage is an impossibly spicy version of linguiça. Feijãoda, best known worldwide as a Brazilian stew, is a Goan dish, too.

We went to one restaurant more than any other on our week-long stay: a place located in one of the old, colorfully stuccoed houses in Panjim’s historical neighborhood, which bills itself as Asia’s only Latin Quarter. The restaurant—Viva Panjim!—serves all the local classics, including shrimp curry and rice. Fragrant with spices and coconut milk, the sauce is equally good with any white fish or squid.

A lot of Indian curries call for grinding whole spices, often along with “wet” ingredients like onion, garlic, and so on. I am always looking for ways around this step, for two reasons: first, western blenders don’t grind nearly as finely as Indian ones, so there’s a texture problem; and second, frying ground onions makes your house smell. So: this is my fragrant but also streamlined version of one of my favorite flavor memories.


Goan Seafood Curry

Serves 4-5

1 lb prawns (peeled and deveined) or fish
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 tbsp vegetable oil
10-12 curry leaves (optional)
2-3 green chillies, minced
1/2 cup onion, minced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped tomato (fresh or canned is fine)
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 cup coconut milk
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional but pretty)
1. Mix together the seafood, salt, turmeric, and lemon/lime juice in a bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes. Combine spice powders in a bowl and set aside.


2. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the marinated prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the prawns on a plate and keep aside. (If you’re using fish, skip this step.)
3. In the remaining oil, add curry leaves, and green chilli and fry for a few seconds. Add onion and fry until they turn translucent, then add garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Add tomato and 1/2 tsp salt and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes break down and the oil starts to separate.
4. Add the spice mixture and sauté for a minute or so until the spices are well combined. Then add 1/2 cup water and tamarind paste and cook for 5-6 minutes over medium heat.
5. Add coconut milk, 2 cups water and the seared prawns or fish and simmer  until the seafood is cooked. Taste the gravy for salt and adjust as needed.
6. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot with rice. 

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