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Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Last updated on: October 17, 2013 21:26 IST

Image: Tara Deshpande Tennebaum
Photographs: Deepa Netto Tara Deshpande Tennebaum

Actress-turned-chef-turned-author Tara Deshpande Tennebaum's book on Konkani cuisine, A Sense for Spice, is a fascinating account of a family's love for food. We excerpt some recipes from the book.

Recounting stories and recipes from her grandmother's kitchen, Tara Deshpande Tennebaum's book A Sense for Spice harks back to a simpler world and hands down traditional Konkani recipes.

Earlier, in this interview to, Deshpande spoke about her how she came about to fall in love with India and its cuisine from her grandmother's kitchen and how she hopes to keep some traditions alive while starting some new ones of her own.

We bring you excerpts from her mammoth, almost memoir-style, introduction as well as recipes from her book.

When I was old enough to toddle into Grandma's kitchen, I was given my own polpat, a miniature version of a rolling pin and board made from wood. Grandma gave me leftover bits of dough to play with.

I rolled many chapattis but it was not until I was eleven, that I was able to create a flawlessly round and even piece of bread. Until then, the dough took the shape of several countries. 'Sweden?' Nani teased. 'Or is it America? Your mother was six when she rolled a perfect chapatti.'

My mother is a cook of diabolical skill and I can't compete.

I think I first fell in love with India and its food in Grandma's kitchen. It was a magical place. Fantastical. It opened every day with the first light of dawn. Sounds came in cozy, familiar sequences.

I lay in bed, half-awakened by the whispers of Grandma's Chanderi sari and the sweet fragrance of her jasmine hair oil; by keys clunking and the kitchen door opening with a quiet creak; by the tinkle of cups and saucers, the gurgle of milk, the slurring of drunken tea leaves against a sieve.

Cooking started in earnest only after the sacred ritual of tea. The house resounded with the jangle of bangles on Grandma's arms as she flitted from one pot to another, soothing, coaxing, and nudging nature's bounty into its proper place.


Grandma always said the gift of cooking made and unmade her. The Admiral's wife, as she was later known, was a tall, soft-spoken woman with luminescent skin and silky tresses. She looked so ethereal, it was hard to imagine her bent over a hot, steaming pot. But Grandma was a fabulous cook. She cooked and cooked and we ate and ate.


Throughout their married life, in the dozen homes they lived in, the old grandfather clock, wound and oiled regularly by Grandpa announced the routine and pace of my grandmother's life. When he died she gave the clock to my mother. It now sits in the passageway in my mother's house, unwound and defeated.

My sister and I look at it sometimes and remember the great meals and the great burdens borne by women like my grandmother and generations before hers that allowed their men to make such successes of their lives. We thank God we no longer have to jump to the sound of a gong.


The year Grandpa died, my grandmother decided she would never cook again. I began, at this time, to cook with greater purpose. I think I had a subliminal need to preserve family traditions, so many of which have their roots in our kitchen.

With time many of these traditions have changed, some are gone forever like lamps set afloat in the sea, never to return.

But I am trying to make new ones and also keeping some of the old ones alive, whether I'm in my kitchen in New York or Mumbai, Boston or Belgaum.'


Recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Paan pole (Rice Crepes)

These delicate crepes are folded into a triangle to resemble a betel nut leaf preparation called paan and are very popular fare in Konkan homes.

If you have never made pole or dosas before, opt for a good quality non-stick pan instead of a traditional cast-iron griddle. Can be made ahead and warmed in a covered dish in the microwave.

Makes 6-7 six inch round crepes


  • 1 cup inexpensive medium grain rice, washed and soaked in water overnight
  • 2 tbsp Fresh grated coconut, ground to a paste (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Vegetable oil as required


Wash the soaking rice and drain completely. Pulse and grind to a powder in a food processor for 3-4 minutes.

  • Add water 2 tbsp at a time to create a thick, smooth, grain-free batter. Add up to 2 cups of water.
  • Cover and ferment overnight in an oversized bowl, in a cool and dry place.
  • Grind coconut to a smooth paste. Stir coconut and salt into fermented, puffy batter with a whisk. Add more water if required to create a batter the consistency of whole milk.
  • Heat a 7"-8" wide non-stick pan on high heat. Add 1/2 tsp cooking oil. Take the pan off the heat with your left hand and pour 1/2 cup of batter into it.
  • Swivel it around quickly to spread it evenly and thinly across the pan. The batter will sizzle and bubble.
  • Cook till the top is dry and the bottom is crisp and very lightly browned. If your crepe is too thick you will need to flip it and cook it on both sides, otherwise fold it over into a triangle twice and serve warm.
  • Repeat with remaining batter.

Purchase a copy of A Sense for Spice here!

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Image: Bangda Fried Black Mackeral
Photographs: Deepa Netto

Bangda Fried Black Mackerel

Mackerel has a unique flavor, mildly bitter and salty. Go Indian and serve this fried fish with curd rice. For a continental meal, a creamy sweet potato puree and a tangy salad creates good contrasting flavors.

Serves 4


  • 4 whole fresh black mackerel, 7"- 8" long
  • 1 cup vegetable or corn oil for frying
  • 1 cup fine semolina or rava/sooji; or rice flour


  • 1 tsp kitchen salt or to taste juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder or red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

To serve

  • 2 limes, cut into wedges


  • Clean the fish, wash well and pat dry.
  • Combine the marinade Ingredients in a bowl and mix, till well blended.
  • Rub the insides and outsides of the fish with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
  • Remove the fish from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  • Put the oil in a pan on medium heat.
  • Dredge the fish on both sides with semolina or rice flour.
  • Fry the fish in hot oil, till the crust is golden brown and the fish is cooked through.
  • Drain on paper towels and serve warm with lime wedges.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Red masala chicken

These bite-sized appetizers are not originally Konkani but are nevertheless very popular in the Konkan. Delicious with a cold beer. You can substitute the kacharia, a wild sour berry found in Rajasthan, with raw papaya and dried mango powder or amachoor. Kacharia acts as a tenderizer.

Makes: 6-8 servings


  • 600 gms boneless, skinned chicken
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Marinade
  • 50-70 gms white or red onion, finely chopped
  • 2" fresh ginger root, peeled
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp Malvani garam masala (spice mix) or kumta masala or good quality garam masala
  • 4 dried kacharias or a tsp of kacharia powder
  • 3 tbsp full-cream milk, plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp salt or to taste

For the batter

  • 2 cups gram flour or besan
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • 1/2 tsp red food coloring or Tandoori color
  • A pinch of baking soda or sodium bicarbonate

To serve

  • 6-8 lime wedges


  • Wash the chicken, pat dry and cut into 1" cubes.
  • Grind the ginger, garlic spice powder of choice and kacharia to a smooth paste.
  • Combine the paste with the remaining marinade Ingredients and rub into the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about 6 hours or overnight.
  • Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  • Combine the batter Ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  • Pour oil into a small kadhari or skillet and put it on medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, press 1 piece of chicken into the dry batter to coat thickly on all sides. Test-try it in hot oil, till golden brown and fully cooked.
  • Repeat with the remaining pieces.
  • Drain on paper towels and serve warm with lime wedges on the side.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Tisrya Sukke (Dry curried clams)

Serves 6


  • 135 lb black clams
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
  • 75 gms white or red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 green chillies, 11/2 "-2" long, slit lengthwise
  • 1" fresh ginger root, peeled, julienned
  • 8 soft, dried kokum fruit, soaked in 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp sliced fresh coconut
  • 2 kokum soaked in 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1-2 tsp salt or to taste
  • Spice paste
  • 1 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2" cinnamon stick
  • 6 cloves
  • 8 dried red Kashmiri chilies, stalks and seeds removed
  • 1 cup grated fresh; or frozen, defrosted, unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste


  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves


  • Soak the clams in cold water and wash clean. Drain. Then soak in a large bath of warm water for ten minutes until the shells begin to open. Wash them in cold water again to remove any mud or residue on the insides of the shells. Any clams that don't open should be discarded. Drain opened clams again and reserve.
  • Put the oil for the spice paste in a skillet on medium heat.
  • When hot, roast the whole spices, red chillies and coconut for about 3 minutes, till fragrant.
  • Switch off the heat and stir in the turmeric powder. Cool and grind with the tamarind paste to a fine consistency. Reserve.
  • Put 2 tbsp coconut oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, sauté the onions, green chillies and ginger for about 2 minutes.
  • Squeeze the kokum and strain the water into the pan.
  • Add the ground spice paste and coconut slices and 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the open clams to the pan. Toss well and cook till they are tender. Add more water if required.
  • Stir in the salt and taste.
  • Garnish with coriander leaves and serve warm with flatbreads.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Karwari Fish Curry

Servings: 6


  • 2 lb rawas or surmai (King Mackerel), cut into 6-8 steaks
  • 1sp +11/2 salt or to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 21/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 " fresh ginger root, peeled, julienned
  • 2 green chilies, slit lengthwise
  • 1-2 tsp tamarind paste
  • 400 ml thick coconut milk

For the spice paste

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 8-9 black peppercorns
  • 8 dried red Kashmiri chillies, stalks and seeds removed
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 green chillies, 1 1/2" - 2" long, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 fresh ginger root, peeled, grated
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped white onion
  • 1 tsp flour


  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves


  • Wash the fish and drain thoroughly. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt and refrigerate.
  • Toast the whole spices for the spice paste in a skillet on medium heat for about 2 minutes, till fragrant.
  • Switch off the heat and stir the turmeric powder into the hot spices. Cool and grind to a fine powder.
  • Add the green chilies, ginger, onion and rice flour and grind again to a fine consistency.
  • Remove the fish from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  • Put the oil in a small wok on medium heat. When hot, sauté the onion ginger and green chilies for about 1-2 minutes, only till the onion is translucent, not brown.
  • Add the fish, ground spice paste, tamarind paste and coconut milk. Simmer for 5-8 minutes or till the fish is tender.
  • Add 1 1/2 tsp salt and taste.
  • Garnish with limejuice and coriander leaves and serve hot with plain, boiled, white rice.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Chow Chow Chicken Chamuncha (Chicken Pastries)

This triangular snack known worldwide as samosa is called chamuca or chamuncha in Goa and is generally non-vegetarian.

Unlike Punjabi samosas, made with a thick crusty refined wheat flour pastry, these are made with samosa patti, a thick phyllo-type dough sold in stores as strips.

They are much easier to work with because they are thicker than Greek phyllo. My paternal grandmother made two delicious versions with spiced chicken and seafood filling.

Chow chow, which is the minced chicken filling, was also made as an entree for a quick Sunday dinner with phulkas.

If you get a samosa patti that's a different length, don't worry, just cut them to size with a pair of scissors.

These can be rolled, filled and frozen in an airtight container for several days. Line each layer of chamunchas with plastic or butter paper. They can be fried frozen as well.

Makes 12-14 pieces


  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil + more for frying
  • 1/4 cup white onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 3-4 green chilies, 11/2"-2"long, chopped
  • 11/2 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
  • 11/2 tbsp garam masala (Indian spice mix) powder
  • 1 cup chicken mince
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves or parsley juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 12-13 samosa patti, 6"- 8" long and 1 1/2"- 21/2" wide thick sealing paste made with refined flour or maida and water


  • Put 2 tbsp of oil in a small pan on medium heat. When hot, saute the onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies for about 2 minutes, till soft and fragrant.
  • Add the tomato paste or ketchup, garam masala powder and chicken and saute, till the chicken is completely cooked and dry.
  • Add coriander leaves, lime juice and salt to taste.
  • Cool completely.


  • Open the packet of samosa patti. Remove one patti and place it on a dry surface. Cover the others with a clean damp cloth.
  • Place 1/2 -1 tbsp of filling at one end of the rectangular strip. Adjust this to the exact size and width of the patti.
  • Hold the tip of the same corner and fold over to form a triangle. The filling must not spill out. Keep folding in opposite directions going from right to left, each time making sure to keep the folds tight and the filling intact. Use a pastry brush to dab the ends of the patti with the sealing paste and seal the ends of the triangle.
  • Place on a tray and cover.
  • You can also layer the samosas with wax paper and freeze them in an airtight container for a month. Defrost for 20 minutes then deep-fry.

To fry

  • Pour 2" of oil in a small kadhai or wok on medium heat. When hot, fry 4-6 samosas at a time, till golden brown.
  • Drain in a colander lined with paper towels. Serve warm with mint chutney.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Bhendi Tulsi (Okra with Sweet Basil, Garlic and Onions)

Basil is native to India and several varieties are available. This stir-fried okra with sweet basil has a delicious and unusual flavor. Serve with flatbreads and lentils.

Serves 4


  • 500 gms tender, green okra or bhindi
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onions
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 3 red plum tomatoes, steamed, peeled, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder or red chili powder
  • 8 large tulsi or sweet Italian basil leaves with stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated jaggery or sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp salt or to taste


  • Wash the okra lightly in running water. Drain and immediately pat dry with a towel. Layout on a tray to dry.
  • When the okra are completely dry, top and tail them and slice into 1/2" thick rounds. Lay out on a dry tray in a sunny spot.
  • Put the oil in an oversized pan, preferably non-stick on high heat. Add the cumin seeds and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes, till the onions turn translucent and garlic is fragrant.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, turmeric powder and cayenne pepper powder or chilli powder and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, till the tomatoes are pulpy.
  • Add the okra and mix well. Cook on low heat for about 25 minutes, turning and scraping the pan periodically, till the okra is tender, but crisp. Sprinkle in 2 tsp water if required to prevent burning.
  • Stir in the basil, jaggery or sugar, vinegar and salt. Serve warm with bhakri or phulkas.

Tara Deshpande's recipes from a Konkan kitchen

Sitaphal Rabdi (Custard Apple Dessert)

Sitaphal is commonly called custard apple but is in fact a sugar apple. It has a short shelf life so consume this desert quickly -- I promise you, it won't be difficult. Rabdi is easy to make but time consuming. You can also buy it ready-made and stir in the custard apple.


  • 6 ripe custard apples
  • 2 liters full-cream milk, cow or buffalo
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar


  • Pull open the custard apples and peel the flesh off the black seeds. Scrape the flesh off the shells gently with a spoon.
  • Discard the seeds and outer green shells. Cover and refrigerate the white pulp.
  • Put the milk and sugar in a large, heavy pan or non-stick wok on medium heat.
  • Use a wooden, heatproof plastic or silicon stirring spoon with a somewhat sharp edge, so it's easier to scrape off the milk fat as it thickens on the sides and bottom of the pan.
  • Stir constantly to prevent burning. Cook the milk till it is reduced to one-third of its original volume. This will take 40 minutes to an hour.
  • If you feel confident, you can raise the heat and complete the reduction faster. But make sure you don't burn any of it because you will have to discard all the milk and start again.
  • When the milk resembles a thick cake batter, remove it from the heat. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Press the wrap close to the thickened milk to prevent a sikn from forming. Chill.
  • Stir the custard apple fruit into the thickened, chilled milk. Cover again tightly with cling film. Press the wrap on to the milk's surface to remove any air bubbles. Chill again.
  • Before serving check the consistency of the dessert. If it's too thick, add some cold milk to it. Taste for sugar.
  • Spoon it into small bowls or dessert cups and serve chilled.

Excerpted from A Sense for Spice by Tara Deshpande Tennebaum, published by Westland and can be purchased here.