CUCUMBER MOMENTS! Cucumber season is on and there re many cucumber varieties in Goa and the rest of the world…in Goa cucumbers are offered to St Anna at the Santana Church with prayers for offspring!

By Tara Narayan

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

IT IS not the first time I’ve got mesmerized by cucumbers in Goa! A friend of mine who faithfully shops at the Goa State Horticulture Corporation’s shop or fancifully referred to as “kullagor” in Tonca for economic reasons (never mind that I should also be shopping there) told me that this monsoon season is seeing such a bumper season for cucumbers or “touxeachem” in Konkani in the plural, and yes, there’s a flood of Goa’s pale ivory green cucumbers in the local markets currently.
Except that the GSHC kullagor price was something like Rs20 kg while at the early morning Panaji pavement market I pay Rs20 for three cucumbers and that’s final! Of course if one buys by the kilo it’s more economical but what to do with so many cucumbers in a family of two only. One day I will make cucumber dahibhat, next day I will make grated cucumber raita, and another day chopped fine cucumber mixed with feta cheese…feta and cucumber marry well I assure you. Season with a Mediterranean dry herb mix or a fresh herb mix of your choice which I prefer (chopped fine green coriander leaves, mint leaves, spring onion leaves, parsley, celery, dill, even baby radish leaves, etc, monsoon time one should do nothing but eat greens quite simply because Goa has such a treasury of greens).
But to stay with the fruit of the vine, also cucumbers, I cannot help thinking that traditionally cucumbers of the Cucurbitaceae gourd family which originate in South Asia, are a summer crop and not a monsoon crop. Since I pay a little heed to Ayurveda’s guidelines, it seems one should eat seasonally as far as green crops are concerned and cucumbers are perceived as vayu and pith veggies. Cucumbers are great summer heat coolers because of their water content, cooling, quenching… won’t impact constitution adversely.
Cucumbers, harmful? I wanted to check this out for I’m a cucumber fan all around the year and keep buying them just to oftentimes serve austerely scrubbed, sliced longitudinally, lined with salt and lemon juice…put on a plate on the table and they’ll disappear quickly, for they also make for great mouth refreshers. Be sure to chew them properly for the secret of good digestion is in the chewing and further digestion in the stomach, finally absorption in the small intestines before uptake in the blood stream… something like that.
If you’re asking me the stomach is a very interesting place to study for it’s the key organ which we perhaps abuse mostly, stuffing the mouth with too much food and then stressing out stomach processes where there be enough or not enough production of hydrochloric acid to aid digestion. When age and sedentary living catches up and there’s not enough movement all kinds of things happen on the health front and then some doctor will go tch, tch and say “not enough stomach acid!”
One may end up with any of the medicines in the market beginning with Digene but sometimes the friendly advice will come your way, “Drink a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water before your main meal and you’ll digest better!” Actually, the advice is given so often that there must be some merit in it, reportedly apple cider vinegar inspires better production of the required acid in the stomach digestion and does other good things too.
Well, a bottle of apple cider vinegar is rusticating in my fridge and I’m thinking I may as well use it up for other things recommended like gargling with it, add it to salad dressings, as face cleanser, drop some in water for swabbing the floor and so on and so forth. One may of course pickle baby onions and other veggies in vinegars including apple cider vinegar with good effect, it makes for prebiotic or probiotic temptations to sanitise the tummy (second brains of body beautiful are here in the gut, hence the important gut-brains connect which everybody keeps talking about nowadays, so learned in healthy living we’re becoming….just about everybody is scared of the multi-headed corona virus Ravan or so to speak and want to get back to basics like taking care of their immune system).

BACK to cucumbers in Goa where with the bountiful crops of cucumbers, they have also acquired a religious connotation and perceived by many Goans as the “fruit of fertility” – baskets of cucumbers are offered by those seeking children at the Santana Church in Talaulim. Annually, childless couples come to this church to pray to St Anna and offer her cucumbers in exchange for children….as many children as seeds in a cucumber or so to speak! Both Christian and Hindu couples come seeking St Anna’s blessings and many have been blessed or so goes the narrative. Don’t knock it, faith can move mountains as we are constantly told!
I have also enjoyed some of the Touxeachem fests which take place come monsoon time where local groups show-case cucumbers and cucumber dishes to encourage people to eat more cucumbers or to speak. In fact, in my early years in Goa, I recall a Goan Hindu friend sending me this cucumber cake called variously tavsali or tausali or even toushache mandos – a tea-time delight in Goan homes of old. Housewives also make cucumber choon pancakes. Go check the recipes out if you’re new to Goa and want to play at being niz Goenkar!

HEY, eat cucumbers but it’s said one may not eat them at night for like some other veggies, if you eat too much cucumber you may end up with a gassy stomach. So at least at night the advice is to stay away from cucumbers. Same advice for hi fi veggies like asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, onions, radishes, celery, carrots and of course cucumbers.
Otherwise cucumbers are said to have a high content of vitamin K and this may affect blood clotting (people using warfarin or blood thinning drugs check with your doctor if you may feast on cucumbers and their like. Also there are relatives of the Cucubitaceae family like pumpkins, squashes, melons and cucumbers which are said to produce a group of chemicals called cucurbitacins and these can taste bitter and have a toxic effect. There is also this interesting tidbit about cucumber and guava plants having epigynous flowers which translates to them having inferior ovaries if you please!
Don’t know what that means but generally speaking, be educated. Don’t overdo it feasting on cucumbers of the wild kind about which little is known…but don’t be put off either and I reckon it’s perfectly harmless to make the most of the usual variety of monsoon time cucumbers we see in the Goan marketplace. The pale ivory green ones we see mostly are watery and crunchy and I try not to skin them but use them as they are sliced or grated or diced. They have a fresh cucumber aroma but are not very flavorful like say the zucchini or some harder varieties of cucumber, I saw some fat squat bottle-styled cucumbers in the market last week (see pics here elsewhere) and couldn’t resist buying a small one of this breed for all of Rs20. Which reminds me to tell you all here that you may combine cucumber juice in many of today’s glamorous green cocktails to rev up your energy levels when you’re down…I add cucumber juice to my daily buttermilk, squeeze in juice of a lemon, stir up with pinch of rock salt and you have a yummy post-meal drink. Very alkalinizing!
SO this is to say make the most of cucumbers this tail end of the monsoon season in Goa.

Goan Cucumber Cake Tavsali

Tavsali is an eggless steamed cucumber cake from Goa. Tavsali is made with a handful of ingredients in a steamer. It has the delicate taste of cucumbers and is mildly sweet from the jaggery. Tavsali is refined sugar free. Tavsali suits a Jain diet and can be adapted to a vegan or plant based diet by just replacing the ghee with oil.

Ingredients 1 cup cucumber grated, 1 cup semolina/sooji, 1 cup jaggery, 1 cup fresh coconut grated, 1 tbsp desi ghee, 1/2 tsp cardamon powder, 1/2 tsp nutmeg powder (optional), as needed water, 1 pinch salt METHOD: 1. Squeeze the cucumber and keep the water in a separate bowl. 2. Heat desi ghee in a wok and roast sooji till it is golden brown in colour. Keep the flame on low. 3. Add squeezed cucumber, coconut, jaggery and mix. Now take the cucumber water and add normal water to it till it is total 1 cup and add this to the wok. Keep stirring. 4. Add cardamon and nutmeg powder, salt and cook till the mixture starts leaving sides. 5. At this point, switch off the flame and spread the mixture in a greased container. Steam for about 15 minutes and check with a toothpick if it’s done. It tastes best warm!

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