Vegetarians looking to spice up their diet need to learn how to make Goan vegetarian food. Goa, a small Indian state over 200 miles south of Mumbai, has a wet, tropical climate and a number of diverse forests. As a result of the local flora, influences from northern India, and Portuguese rule until India’s independence, Goan vegetarian food incorporates some flavor and ingredient combinations unique to this small area of the continent. For those who would like to know how to make Goan vegetarian food, it is important to incorporate the following spices and ingredient combinations:
- Coconut. Goan vegetarian cooking uses all parts of the coconut; shredding or flaking the meat, or combining the milk with curry powder in xacuti curry dishes, and coconut oil to simmer and fry in masalas (having a paste or gravy consistency) and vindaloos ( having a thinner sauce consistency).
- Cashews. Brought by the Portuguese hundreds of years ago and now a significant aspect of Goan cooking, cashews are chopped and cooked into curry, fermented into feni, the favorite local alcoholic drink, and ground and incorporated into desserts.
- Rice. Most often steamed and plain, or sometimes slow cooked in coconut milk, rice is a staple included in nearly every meal. Goan vegetarian food utilizes several strong flavors, including sour and spicy, and the rice carefully balances the palate.
- Curry and Spices. Goan vegetarian cuisine is spicy. Curry powder and a variety of spices are simmered in sauces and ground into pastes. These are combined either with coconut milk for a thicker, sweeter heat, or with kokum or vinegar, for a more piquant, sour flavor.
- Kokum and Vinegar. The kokum fruit is used in a variety of ways in Goan vegetarian cooking; the outer parts of the fruit are dried and used to lend a sour flavor. One can use kokum instead of tamarind in many cases in Goan vegetarian cuisine. The use of kokum versus vinegar, however, stems more from a religious differentiation: Goan Christians are more likely to use vinegar in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and Goan Hindus are more likely to use kokum.
Slow cooking is very important in traditional Goan vegetarian food; clay ovens and wood-burning fires lend the dishes a smoky flavor and aroma. In vegetarian dishes, beans and lentils are simmered on low heat in spicy sauces for hours, melding flavors together, and served simply with steamed rice. For many kitchens, the smoky flavor is difficult or impossible to duplicate, but by combining several of the aforementioned elements, a cook can get a true taste of the unique flavors that distinguish Goan vegetarian food from other Indian cuisine styles.