By Anju Maskeri, Mid-Day
Mumbai, Dec 25, 2016: Despite South Indian roots, this writer has been a stranger (unfortunately) to the delights of traditional cuisine served in a Mangalorean Catholic home. So, when we received an invite to ring in Christmas celebrations a week early with Mumbai-based homechef Jennifer Sapna Salins, we didn’t hesitate to take the train to Andheri (West) from Grant Road, even though it was a Sunday.
The Salins’ door, decorated with silver bells and fragrant wreaths, was opened by Jennifer Sapna Salins, our host for the evening who was born and brought up in the small town of Udupi. Today, there are 12 diners at her home. The menu already has our taste buds doing a happy dance — whole roast stuffed chicken along with panji gassi, sanna, christmas pudding served with ’secret’ sauce and more. The highlight of the evening, however, is a traditional Christmas cake mixing where we all have to join her in mixing all ingredients for the Christmas cake. "Most of the dishes that I’ve prepared today are family recipes passed onto me by my mother-in-law," she tells us.
First up is a welcome drink - a dark-red beetroot wine. "Since this wine needs a minimum of two weeks to ferment, I thought it was perfect to be made just in time for Christmas. But I was still unsure if people would like it," she says. The wine apart from beetroot, also has bits of ginger, cloves, orange rind and lemon juice. Worried about how it tasted? Well, we finished three bottles in an hour. To go with the drink, is a platter of kheema karjikai (crispy pastries stuffed with smoked minced mutton served). "We always prepare it during Christmas, but I wanted to give it a twist by making it savoury and adding mutton. I’ve used a garam masala and a traditional family recipe (which is a secret) along with maida and butter." The mildly spiced mutton kheema complements the crust of the karjikai and makes for a delicious appetiser. What has us drooling, though, is the Christmas specialty, the whole chicken oven-roasted, stuffed with bread, minced chicken, baby potatoes and peas. "I marinated it a day in advance and slow cooked it in the oven for over two hours. After adding fresh herbs like oregano and thyme, I stitched the chicken together," explains Salins. The roast chicken is tender and juicy and has absorbed the flavours of the herbs to the teen.
There’s also the Kori Rassa, a traditional chicken curry made with freshly ground masalas and coconut milk along with the sanna, spongy steamed savoury rice cakes that are popular in Goa and Mangalore in Karnataka. The curry also goes perfectly with Panji Gassi, boneless pork cooked with the traditional family recipe. "This I had to cook, again, a day before so that the meat absorbs all the flavours of the masala," she says.
Post a session of singing carols, and peppy Konkani numbers, there’s the traditional cake mixing. This is a family affair where all the ingredients - raisins, prunes, black currants, almonds, dates soaked in brandy, rum and port wine - are put in a bowl where a mixing table was set up. We’re handed gloves to get our hands sticky with all the mixtures of the alcohol. Some slyly steal bits of fruits. "The history of the cake-mixing ceremony dates back to the 17th century, when it marked the arrival of the harvest season. During this time lots of fruits and nuts were harvested and prepared to go into the making of the traditional plum cake. The ceremony quickly metamorphosed to an intimate family congregation," she explains.
The rum and raisin cake that Salins will be preparing includes mixed peels along with the eggs, butter, sugar, caramel syrup, baking powder, spice powder comprising cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The cake is baked in a preheated oven for two hours. "We then pour the alcohol mixture on hot cake and allow it to cool."
The evening is concluded with traditional Christmas pudding topped with rum sauce. Prepared with dried fruits, spices and rum flavoured sauce, it’s a good combination to end the meal.
An evening that started with a bunch of strangers coming together for a meal soon transformed into a space where new bonds were forged and old ones strengthened - in line with the spirit of Christmas.