‘khatkhatem’: A CELEBRATION OF LOCAL VEGETABLES!

Monsoon recipe khatkhatem… celebrates the tradional veggies of Konkan coast. It is yummylicious monsoon time fare for Hindu Goans!

By Tara Narayan

RECENTLY, I got fascinated by a Facebook chat between mostly Goankar men about what vegetables should go into the making of the much loved veggie special called “khatkhate” or more correctly perhaps “khatkhatem” over the Chovoth feasting. I got so caught up in the conversation and started taking an interest anew in this khatkhatem because it’s one of the recipes of Hindu Goa and specifically from the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin kitchen.
After all I live in Goa as a happy or unhappy bhaile and I’m always getting intrigued by local recipes be they of Hindu Goa, or Christian Goa which is influenced by Portuguese cuisine…like I know there is for sure Hindu fish curry and Christian fish curry (the souring agents are different and so are the flavors).
I first heard of khatkhatem and even relished it a lot courtesy my friend Anjali Walawalkar and look for it every time the monsoon months arrive with their bounty of seasonal vegetables and greens, as well as the heralding of Ganesh Chaturthi or Chovoth. Some of the Saraswat Brahmin caterers may be doing khatkhatem on order basis but I’ve never ordered for it, although I’m thinking of doing it this year…maybe, if I don’t feel like making it myself to play at being more economical.
Except that I always believe that recipes in cookbooks are sometimes fraudulent vis-à-vis measurements and absolutely the best way to learn a recipe is to really watch and also help some expert gharkaan engaged in cooking a traditional meal, especially for serving to Lord Ganesh ensconced on his throne beneath a sumptuously decorated with fruit, flowers and leaves matoli first.
I MEAN when cooking for the Hindu pantheon of 33 crore gods and goddesses you have to observe some rules of propriety. I remember my own mother would whisper a prayer before she got into the act of making say choorma ladoo or any sweet during deepavali time and of course the first batch of everything would be offered on a platter to the deities in her little temple at home in a brief puja, before the prasad was mixed into the main serving blessed for the rest of the family to tuck in.
Nowadays in my case the older generation has gone with the wind and a younger generation in nuclear families may or may not attach much sanctity to serving any deities if installed at home before giving the green signal for family to eat away. But to return to my current involvement with khatkhatem…I suppose the closest comparison I may make in my Gujarati cuisine repertoire is perhaps to oondhiyu (but oondhiyu has a rustic farm history, and may be simple or exotic depending on who and where it is prepared; some hard-pressed farmer’s wife filling whatever field veggies she can harvest and putting them in terracotta pot, adding green masala and pouring ghani-fresh oil into the pot before tucking it into a coal or wood fire lit in a hole more or less underground, a meal eaten outdoors mostly by field families, while in the urban settings like the Surat eateries one may relish oondhiyu as a seasonal jazzed up society dish which may be agreeable or disagreeable).
I always hate oily, spiced-up oondhiyu, preferring the slow-cooked more natural versions, hard to find of course. In Mumbai that was Bombay a Gujarati friend of mine used to take pains to make a perfectly deliciously baked oondhiyu and we poured fresh ghani pressed till oil over it before enjoying and raving over it….those days are gone.
The Goan Hindu khatkhatem is different although here too one is appreciating the seasonal veggies of the monsoon. Khatkhatem can be more flavorful and I remember eating it oh so long ago at some event, it came with a wee fragrant hint of teflam (fragrant dried or green berry also used in making dal ros of Hindu cuisine). The story of the Chovoth khatkhatem recipe is some traditional aficionado housewives may use as many as 21 traditional monsoon veggies easy or difficult to find come the monsoon rains, and it’s absolutely no, no to the “phoren” veggies of corncob, pineapple, potato, carrots…veggies introduced into Goa and India courtesy Portuguese colonial rule! You’ll be surprised to learn how many veggies we think are native to Goa or India are actually not so, but hail from their native Brazil, Mexico, places in Africa or South-East Asia.
ANYWAY, my Facebook friends were listing away all the veggies which go into the making of khatekhatem. For example, Sucheta Pai named “ghoosali, padval, val, mul, dudhi, bhende, maka, karvando, shenga, aloo, madi, brinjal, French beans, gajar, beet” while Rajesh Dhume said, “mulo, bheno, sang, dudi, mundli, batat, madi, gazar, beet, kamag, flower, dete, kate, kannag, tendli, tavshe, pipri, padval, harve kele, harbare, tefle…” and so on. A real mix of native local and “phoren” veggies!
No, no, said a GSB friend of mine when I quizzed her, don’t use batat, maka, ananas, French beans and such! Only use ghosali (ribbed gourd also called turai), padval (snake gourd), mulo (white radish), and of course one must have shengo or drumsticks, tendli or ivy gourd, can use green or semi-ripe banana, dudhi as in red pumpkin or dudhi as in pale white green bottle gourd, there is also the famously healing ashgourd (arguably the most expensive gourd), also choose root veggies of purple or yellow yam and Goa has a variety of tubers such as nuggets of magenta sweet potato, arbi (colocasia roots)…but all or some of all that should be enough, no need for 21 veggies, that’s only for the religious people! What the symbol of 21 though? She couldn’t tell me. Why is the number 21 special? Can make khatkhatem using a minimum of five vegetables too but then it wouldn’t be such a celebration of vegetables, would it be?
NEEDLESS to say the monsoon season is a very special season in Goa as is the Chovoth season, a far cry from the much politicized, commercialized version in Mumbai! And apart from steamed patoli and modak there is khatekhatem in most Hindu homes to savor and think of all that makes life worth living. The Goan countryside wilderness here and there is alive with farm produce and these days one may also see a dozen odd varieties of greens from the most visible palak, methi and dill to less familiar kudukiche, takilo, akoor and shengo bhaji.
But how is khatkhatem cooked. I can’t find a single recipe in my Goan cookbooks! Say it is a quintessentially Saraswat Brahman kitchen recipe, a gorgeous flavorful curry redolent of the fresh flavors of vegetables, grated coconut, tamarind, jaggery, tirphal (also tirphala/tepphal/Sichuan pepper/flower pepper, a citrusy fragrant spice berry from the Konkan), dry red chili and turmeric (dry bits or powder to add in the ground masala paste).
Khatkatem is prepared for puja days, weddings, occasions and if I were making it I would stay with popular traditional veggies white radish, red pumpkin, drumsticks, yam, chidki midki (cluster beans) or yard beans (val), wax gourd (tendli), also hog plums (ambade, which I have a very soft corner for). The friend says I may also in colocassia stems like she does!
Basically, the idea is to the cut the veggies in chunks and cook them in just enough water to which turmeric and bit salt may be added, adding the softer, more quickly cooked veggies later. When the veggies are half cooked add in your ground masala (of grated coconut, turmeric, dry red chilies, tamarind pulp, grated jaggery). Also add in cooked tur dal. Stir. Let it come to a simmer. Add in crushed tirphal. Stir. Add more salt as per taste. If not using sour hog plums you may add in dry peels of kokum for khatkhatem is very definitely a sour sweet affair. How to serve? On a mound of your favorite hot ghee-laced rice I imagine, be it red Goa rice or basmati or Pune’s ambemor.
THIS is just to say this week make khatkhatem one of these days and call me over! I’ll finish the khatkhatem, you may finish the besan-ki-barfi which I will bring by way of a return present. Oh okay, we shall share and share equally and say Ganpati bappa morya …sporting one’s favorite embroidered face mask (costing Rs150 at stores) and smiling at each other from a good bit of physical distancing. Go corona, go! I think I like the sound of creamy yellow fragrant khatkhatem more than I like the sound of my own native Gujarati oondhiyu. Both celebrate vegetables of the season but khatkhatem …er…comes across as more aristocratic, subtle, seductive to the senses. (Only please don’t add garam masala to your khatkatem and remember it may not feature garlic and onion either.)
Be sure to enjoy the drip dripping monotony of rain or the sweeping grand spectacle of refreshing silvery green grey monsoon rain…before it says goodbye.

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