KHAMANG KAKDI AND SOM TAM SUMMER BLUES!

Summer coolers desi and exotic! Thai papaya salad or som tam which is tangy crunchy; while Maharashtrian home favorite khamang kakdi is thirst-quenching, cooling, crunchy with protein-rich roasted peanut crumble.

By Tara Narayan

IT’S turning out to be a killer summer and the worst is yet to come, the worst is always yet to come although one may pray otherwise. If life weren’t such an arsehole! Everything begins with the mouth which never stops aspiring for old favorites as the weather gets hotter and steamier!
Funny or not funny. I constantly teeter between wanting to eat and not wanting to eat but just living off fresh air and love of life in the glorious trees blooming all over town…go and see the glorious gulmohur blooming just now at the Dona Paula or take in all the yellow amalta of Taleigao and just where the gauti veggie women set up shop under the trees there’s a stretch lined up with some interesting trees. Here’s the bakul, godpapri, aonla, sonpatra and further up the handsome generously reproductive breadfruit tree just outside Dr Siddharth’s Yoga Clinic.
This stretch overlooking farmland fields and orchards is my favorite stretch in between Panaji and Taleigao. See the summer trees of summer before the rains arrives. But for trees life would not be worth living at all these days of lockdown and dire straits blues which somehow put me in the mood to eat or not to eat alternately!
Then my friend nandita mentioned that she was yearning to eat khamang kakdi and it set me off dreaming of such recipes as khamang kakdi and all things cucumber and also Thai green papaya salad called som tam and pining to eat them as memories of yesteryear eating out in my years in Mumbai that was Bombay assailed me here in Panaji, Goa. Summer is really for mangoes green and ripe, pineapples, ladies finger, cluster beans…cucumbers, lots of cucumbers to cool down the soul of summer. With so many cucumbers khamang kakdi is easy to do.
The pale white green cucumbers of Goa are dreamy with their pale creamy white and faint greens, very watery and crunchy. I remember cooling off feasting on them and especially in various khamang kakdi recipes at friends places along with jowari bhakri which came along with it. What is khamang kakdi? It is this cucumber raita or relish intensely redolent of cucumber and crushed roasted peanuts. A delicious quintessential side dish in native Maharashtrian homes and especially for uphaas days of Monday,Tuesday or Friday.
Basically, khamang kakdi is a way to feast on summer cucumbers of which there are many kinds now in our markets local or upmarket. Think dark tight-fleshed lake water green cucumbers, zucchini which go with Italian pasta meals, the Goan native watery ivory babies which the vendors call “taushem, taushem, taushem”, and up around Agra/Brindaban and Delhi I remember discovering the long winding tubular balkakdi which are so utterly refreshing with thirst-quenching and flavorful notes.
In Delhi of course folk feast at impromptu cucumber vendor baskets or makeshift stalls doing brisk business with cucumbers soaking in a pail of water….take out, peel, slice crossways and serve up with salt and red chili lining the long cucumber slits which also break up so beautifully, summer finger food to cool down at street corners and beneath shady trees! A joy like no other for momentary bliss anyway. Who’s not enjoyed a cucumber on a hot Delhi summer day?
ACROSS South East Asia cucumbers are a number one salad veggie featuring in all manner of street food. In the food courts of Singapore no satay dish would be complete without a plate of chunky cucumber and onion and ever heard of popiah – a steaming hot salad offering of stir-fried julienned cucumber and soybean sprouts laced with crushed roasted peanuts, wrapped in a wafer thin rice skins to rolls and topped with fresh red chili sauce, soy sauce? I guess our Maharashterian-styled khamang kakdi would come quite close to this popiah if rolled up in a fine filigree-styled rice skin…
To stay with khamang kakdi all you have to do is skin and fine cut cucumber, mix it fresh dahi a wee bit sour, chopped green chili (seeds removed, I like to use green capsicum), chopped green coriander leaves, roasted peanut crumble, salt and lemon juice to taste. By all means give it a phodni in mustard seeds, curry leaf sprig, pinch hing. I skip phodni wherever I can because of the oil although in some cases it’s the phodni which highlights flavors and makes all the difference, depends on how you think of course.
Eat a bowlful of khamang kakdi (also called kakdi chi koshimbir in Marathi) every day, very nutritious and ideal summer food! Lots of kakdi in the market though these lockdown summer days prices are shooting up, these days I’m paying 10 for a cucumber and most everything by way of fresh salad fare….bunch of mint,25; bunch of green coriander 20-25; one carrot10, one cucumber 10, one tomato5; bunch of spring onions `20, etc. Yes, prices have doubled. It makes perfect sense to grow your own veggie garden on balcony, terrace or any space you can find close by and you have control over!
AND now on to som tam, the Thai favorite salad of green papaya. Lots of green papaya available in Goa too, make some som tam! Some folk even cube green papaya and steam cook and season it with herbs or masala to turn out a light sabzi or cooked salad. A bit like fine shredding cabbage and doing a mustard seed phodni with salt, turmeric powder, bit grated jaggery, chopped green coriander, a quick stir-fry. To get a katcha-pakka side dish which makes for great food. Grate in carrot if you like for a picturesque side dish to stuff into your roti or poie. Don’t forget lemon juice, never forget lemon juice as a final delectable touch.


HERE’S a recipe for Som Tam or Green Papaya Salad:
TAKE half green papaya, 2 cherry tomatoes, cut into thin wedges or strips; quarter cup dry roasted peanuts, ground to a crumble or chopped; 1 or 2 fresh red chilies, chopped; 2 or 4 cloves garlic, minced. For dressing you will need juice of a lime; 3 tbs soy sauce; 2 tbs grated jaggery; 1 or 2 tbs watery ripe tamarind paste.
NOW if your green papaya is lengthwise, half it and scrape away the whitish seeds and discard them. Then turn over each half and peel off the green skin. Use a large-size grater to grate the papaya or better still shred it, simply make many long cuts into the flesh and thinly slice off top layer into a bowl, ribbon-style. At this point you may also bash the shredded papaya with pestle to bring out the juice!
Combine green papaya with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl but keep the peanut crumble for last and as a topping too. Pour over the dressing and toss well. If you want it saltier add more soy sauce. If you want it sweeter drizzle more tamarind paste and toss anew. Portion into bowls and top off with some more peanut crumble and serve with good size lemon wedges. Enjoy. An iced tom sam is too delicious this summer days.
Many five-star chefs make exotic versions of the basic recipe which should be a symphony of flavors sweet, sour, spicy and salty, more sweet than sour (to balance the sharpness of the green papaya flesh itself).

NOTE: A friend of mine makes green papaya salad or relish using a tempering of panch poran (the wonderful Bengali spice mix of mustard, cumin, fenugreek, onion and fennel seeds). Skin green papaya, slice thin ribbon style and temper, stir fry to katch pakka adding whatever seasoning you like. Which reminds me out in urban Gujarati eateries it’s common to serve a savory green papaya relish with such snacks as khaman, fafda, dhokla, ghatia, papdi-sev, etc. Some make it superb, some can be terribly drab if kept too long.

NOTE 2: Green papaya is rich vitamin C, E and A and folate and presence of antioxidants burn caloreis down. Green papaya has more of the enzyme papain (protein digesting enzyme) which makes for naturally cleansing of the digestive system, but there is also latex in green papaya which can trigger off uterine contractions! So if you’re pregnant make a note of this. Otherwise says Maoshing Ni, PhD, who practices traditional Chinese medicine and author of `Secrets of Self-Healing” – eating a slice of ripe papaya by way of dessert after a meal wards off bloating. The papain in ripe papaya is less but it is effective in breaking down dietary fiber causing gas if food is not digested well.
Don’t let this put you off green or ripe papaya though, my favorite memory here is of the debonair filmstar Dev Anand on a visit to Goa, confiding in me that he stays ever young eating a ripe papaya daily, half of it for breakfast and the rest sometime during the day)!

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