The oil was hot, the breadfruit sliced and ready. All I had to do was grab the rechead masala from the fridge, slather the slices of breadfruit, dust some rice flour and get frying. I cannot begin to describe the panic I felt as I turned the fridge inside out and discovered to my great horror that I had run out! No rechead masala. What was I to do? I had dinner guest out on the patio just finishing their drinks and I swear I could hear their stomachs growl all the way to the kitchen.
Luckily, my Goan village life has taught me that saviours in a domestic tight spot are just a compound wall away and so I ran. I ran all the way across to Aunty Annie’s house with an empty bowl and hoped she would rescue me tonight. She waddled into her kitchen and emerged with my bowl full of the reddest, freshest rechead masala I had ever seen. “This is all I have left right now…have to make some more next week…”
Feeling horrible about raiding her now depleted stock of the fiery goan staple but ecstatic that my dinner was saved, I rushed back to continue my cooking. The dinner was an absolute success but what stood out above the prawn curry, the squid chilly fry and the beef roast was the ‘neer fanas (breadfruit) masala fry’.
It was just a simple fried starter but it rose to a crescendo on the palate because of one basic ingredient. Aunty Annies home-made rechead masala. It was the perfect balance of spicy, tart, sweet with the unmistakable fragrance of fresh palm vinegar doing full justice to the sweet, chewy texture of the breadfruit. Never, never again store bought rechead masala for me. Mssrs. Costa’s , Karma’s, Philpos, take a hike!
I had to learn how to make it myself. next morning, armed with all the ingredients Aunty Annie listed out for me, i made my way to her rustic kitchen to learn her secrets. Each Goan matron has her own secret recipe with which she binds together her family. The memory of ‘mama’s rechead masala makes many an immigrant child tear up so chances are you’ll come across many variations of it on your culinary adventures.
That is the simple truth about honest home cooking the world over, isn’t it?. Mothers tweak and perfect their recipes over the years. And when you exclaim “This is soooo good Ma, what do you put in it?!” you just know that 99 out of a 100 mothers will turn around and with a completely straight face reply “why, love of course!” And my God, Aunty Annie has a lot of that to share…
¼ kg dried Kashmiri chillies. (loads of colour, low on heat)
1tbsp whole black pepper
1 tsp jeera
2x2inch pcs of cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
4 pods green cardamom
1tsp poppy seeds
1tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 large red onion, roasted
1tbsp sugar, adjust to taste
1/3 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste.
¼ cup palm vinegar (approx.) see Method.
- Soak the dry red chillies in warm water for a few hours till they soften. Squeeze the water out well and keep aside.
- In a pan, dry roast the black pepper, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and poppy seeds till fragrant.
- Combine all the ingredients including the roasted onion, ginger garlic paste, salt and sugar with the roasted masalas and soaked chillies. Do not add the palm vinegar to this mix yet.
- Using a food processor or mixer/ grinder, start grinding the mix to a paste. Little by little, add only as much palm vinegar as required to facilitate grinding. Grind to a smooth or rough paste, as preferred.
- Ensure the paste is not too runny. The consistency should be that like pesto.
- Store in a clean, airtight glass jar as over time, the red chilies and turmeric will stain plastic.
- Refrigerate and use when required.