GLIMPSES OF AN EXCITING FOOD TASTING EVENT…an evening to celebrate Goa’s wonderful range of masala including the launch of Usha Sardesai’s Homework masala and more! Present for the celebration were actor Valuscha De Souza as chief guest and guests of honor were Chef Ranjeet Pandey, Chef Sarita Chavan, Preeti Marquis and other familiar faces of Goan crème de la crème society. Hostess Usha Sardesai welcomed everyone, the Fatorda women of her NGO Prayatna took a bow and the dinner menu afterwards left many considerably enlightened…

By Tara Narayan

On December 9, 2023 Usha Sardesai’s Self-Help Group NGO Prayatna launched its marvellous range of `Home Work’ branded masala. It was an evening of glamor followed by an amazing dinner to give guests and media people a taste of the Fatorda-based Prayatna’s range of produce of niz Goenkar masala with a difference and useful things for kitchen and home use!

WELCOME “Home Work” masala! It was a glamorous and exciting evening to launch a masala brand – the “Home Work” brand of masala wet and dry or dehydrated leafy and veggie powders and pickles, along with a range of handicrafts quintessentially niz Goenkar. They reflect the culture and social moorings of Goans from a strata of society living in Goa’s rural and tribal villages.
Usha may be the wife of south Goa’s most outspoken rebel MLA Vijai Sardesai but this is her baby and not of a political nature! Prayatna was born in 2013 with an idea to help empower women who desperately needed to be empowered financially. Goa has a wonderful range of masala and most of us, even Goans, don’t know much about them.
You can say the evening of December 9, 2023 at the Fidalgo Hotel in capital city Panaji was very special for a lot of people. Usha Sardesai hosted if of course for the women of her 100 plus self-help group women, to give that extra push to give them a larger platform to sell their home-made or garghuti range of masala and dehydrated or dry greens and other veggie powders which are ideal for using in making quick nutritious delicious soups to satisfy hunger pangs at any time of the day.
Needless to say Usha (nee Bhandari, a girl from Kumburjua) is a one of Goa’s most successful entrepreneurs engaged in making it a better world for women further down the ladder of the good life. Usha Sardesai comes across as a most warm-hearted woman of substance and style, and she shares a bond with all the women engaged in the NGO’s activities.
She insisted the evening was a non-political occasion despite the presence of her husband MLA from Fatorda constituency Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party (which has seen many controversial ups and downs in recent political history). Political or not the media was there to quiz the politician on the sidelines. Otherwise it definitely an evening to remember. For Usha Sardessai is an impeccable hostess and this time around she was launching her already popular range of quintessentially Goan masala series which quite a few Goan chefs in the hospitality industry and visiting ex-patriot Goans are familiar with.

In fact, many chefs who are members of the Goa Culinary Club were present at the event which the Fatorda SHG women starting off the event with a rendition of the familiar song “Itni shakti hume dena Datta…maan ka vishwas kamzor na hona…” (from the 1986 movie “Ankush.”) Doing the honours on the dais were some more remarkable women from film actor Velusha D’Souza, Preeti Xavier, Sarita Chavan, also renowned chefs Ranjit Pande and Balaji Srinivasan, Vijai Sardessai, and others, the entire program compered by the eloquent Dr Babita Naik (of Patholab Diagnostic Centre in Margao). Usha Sardesai came in for a lot of praise with her “magical touch with anything discarded” and for years being a silent, ever-smiling supporter of the less privileged women of Fatorda…yes, she constantly looks for new ideas for women. Many will say of course that this is how she helps her husband Vijay Sardesai to consolidate his women’s vote bank!
The disarming Usha said little except that it was her daughter Urvi who supported her when she started Prayatna, “Urvi told me `I will study myself!’” Soon it became a passion for her to help the group of women who needed to earn a living to liberate themselves as much as they could form life’s harsh experiences. They needed to know the government schemes which they could avail of to start out on the path of financial independence. Once with Usha Sardesai’s Prayatna there was no looking back for them and they were much happier in life although their business is a painstaking one.
TODAY, Usha confided in a conversation later on, they have “60 types of masala and some of them are rare for she traced them to ingredients the Gaudi women used in their cooking.” They have red and green masala with fascinating spice and herbal mix in them and I should take a look at their range of dehydrated powders too, “We have amaranth green and beetroot powders…it was an idea which just came to me for these are so useful to cut short time in cooking.” Do you know that the long settled in Goa Muslim families too have their own masala mix too?

I AGREE with Usha Sardessai. Goa does have a most marvellous range of masala and they’re famous beginning perhaps with recheado (after the Portuguese word for “stuffed,” this is my favourite masala and I still remember the late Chef Rui Madre Deus making a most memorable “chonak recheado” (chonak is white snapper) long, long ago at Ronil Beach Resort Caravala at Baga (bless him, gone with the wind now, my favourite chef of Goa, he was also the first much loved general manager of Ronil’s). Incidentally, recheado masala is not meant to be spicy hot to burn tongue or lips, I like my recheado to be flavourful with Kashmiri red chilli spiciness and very wee bit tart. Then Goa has shagoti or xacuti masala, same thing; and cafreal green masala with its leafy overtone and African influence; and sour ambotik…what else? There is the Goan garam masala. And some more!
Prayatna’s “Home Work” range is much larger: They have cutlet, barbeque, biryani, mutton, tisryo/kullyo, pickle masala, recheado, sambhar, prawns, vegetable, xacuti, jerem meeram, Kannadiga masala, Konkan masala, Pedne garam masala. They’re all judiciously mixed masala. Plus there the dry powder masala: Chilli, ginger, cumin, curry, garlic, coriander-cumin, jackfruit, lemon, mango, methi leaves, spring onion, cabbage, cinnamon, mint, moringa, pepper, tomato, haldi, green chilli, beetroot, carrot, amaranth…get them to make you your own masala if you wish! The pickles are of carrot, garlic, lemon, karathe, mango, stuffed mango, tendli, brinjal and mixed. Check them out. In fact, Goa has several masala brands now, both dry and wet — making cooking easy and tasty too.
As Usha says, their “Homework” masala are “eco-friendly and energy efficient and they empower women through economic self-reliance.” She makes an interesting observation: If there’s one thing women excel in it is in the kitchen! That’s what they work on and they have many patrons now having come a long way in presenting themselves in a more professional ways…as compere Babita put it “We need women so strong they can be gentle too!”
On that note, everyone who made it for the event, enjoyed the dinner served in style by the Prayatna SHG women themselves who donned their chef’s cap for the evening, the menu featuring: Squids stuffed with recheado masala, mutton sukka, fish cutlets, mutton xacuti, tisryo masala, chicken cafreal, prawn curry, stuffed brinjal…all to be relished with Goa’s rice of “ukde xitt” (boiled rice).
A LITTLE on the spicy side for me, I thought, but then again people in Goa like the people of Andhra Pradesh like it on the spicy side. Chef Ranjit Pandey in a small chat added, “In Andhra they like it spicy and drink buttermilk afterwards!” Which reminded me that Goan meals traditionally wind up with this delicate pink digestive drink called “solkoddi” in most homes. Kokum “solkoddi” is done with fresh coconut milk, while kokum “tival” is done without coconut milk and looks very pretty translucent red with freshly chopped green coriander leaves swirling in the drink which is tartish sweet or just tartish and very refreshing.
The fruit of the kokum (Garcinia indica) is considered a fat-buster and makes for the perfect digestive fruit drink post-Konkan meals or so I learned long ago. Post-Goan meals one is supposed to slip into an afternoon siesta of bliss for an hour! It was a lovely Prayatna evening and a pleasure to meet up with you Usha Sardesai, thank-you, I wish you more power in empowering more and more women.

NOTE: I couldn’t resist asking Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai, who is raising several pertinent people’s issues nowadays, what’s he’s going to do next by way of political moves, and he replied, “I will watch and see…” Does he talk to former chief minister Digambar Kamat? “You know he only talks to God nowadays!” This politician has a delicious sense of humor.

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