Christmas might be long over but the many diverse Christmas traditions of the world continue to make us merry all year round. A celebration of the religious but as integrally incorporating the no less religiously ritualistic domain of food, Christmas never fails to delight with its array of goodies. One such assortment of goodies that is an essential component of every Christmas among the Goan and Mangalorean people of India presents itself as a delectable platter of indulgence.
With as many as 22 elements of food making up the Kuswar fare, making space for commonalities and uniquities as regards both communities, this is a diversified Christmas tradition that goes beyond the more feastly spread of the meats and the wine. Simple but rich goodies decorate every Kuswar platter making for a Christmas celebration equally rooted in the snacking allure as in the banquet grandeur. Taking a look at the diverse items of deliciousness that define the traditional and unique Kuswar experience-
A fruity sweet that which uses up Goa’s rather bountiful of guava harvest every Christmas is what is popular as perada or guava cheese. Ripe guavas cooked with sugar until they are firm and pureed to form jelly squares, this is a really delightful sweet. Apart from its rather unique taste, perada also appears on the Kuswar platter in an enticing bright red, elevating therefore the festive Christmas vibes in a wholesome way. Firm in its texture yet somewhat wiggly, almost jelly like, this chewy treat with surprising hint of some tartness is a rather standout taste every Christmas in Goa.
Basically the gujiya of Christmas that traverses from the north of India to its south after Diwali celebrations, neuries are a classic component of Kuswar. Fried puffs that are stuffed with a mixture of nuts, plums and fried sesame and sweetened with sugar, this close cousin of the popular north Indian snack however is the Mangalorean take on it. The Goan version generally sees grated coconut, sugar, poppy seeds, green cardamom, almonds or cashew nuts filled inside a pastry made of refined flour and semolina, that is finally deep fried.
Despite its rather ‘basic’ name, milk cream is one of the most sumptuous of Indian sweets that finds place of importance on the Kuswar platter. A cashew nut and milk fudge that tastes every bit as delicious as it sounds, this has to be among the most indulgent of sweet treats ever. Once again coming into prominence is a fruit, err nut, Goa is so famous for. Made by grounding cashew nuts, an ingredient that also defines Goa’s much famed feni drink, milk cream is a rich and sweet piece of delight you need to partake of during Christmas in Goa. A stirring up of all things delicious and indulgent- read condensed milk and cashew nuts and sugar and butter, this soft, melt in the mouth fudge represents all things delightful that Christmas stands for!
One of the celebratory Goan sweets that which dominates not just the Christmas platter but is also as integral to local weddings is another remarkable treat, Doce. Made by stirring boiled split Bengal gram, ground coconut paste, and sugar over a low flame and adding ghee while cooking, this is another of the Kuswar essentials that comes through in just a handful of ingredients but with a really intense demand of stirring. Once again fudgy and soft and irresistible, with a brilliant yellow color, Doce is one of the most popular of Goan sweets and therefore a hot favorite also every festive season.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of sweet stemmings from Goa, there isn’t any way the much loved bebik or bebinca would not have found its way into the Kuswar range of sugary deliciousness. A traditional layer cake, this Queen of Goan Desserts is actually a pudding of sorts. Made with flour and infused with egg yolk and butter, and rendered its moistness with coconut milk, any celebration in Goa is incomplete without this very prominent presence amongst the spread.
The Goan platter of Kuswar brings to the table a rather unique mix of sweet offerings that you are unlikely to encounter anywhere else on earth. In contention this time as a diversified delicacy is coconut ice, of course a derivation from Goa’s numerous coconut tree lined beaches! A coming together of such ingredients as simple as semolina and scraped coconut and ghee and cashews and butter and some sugar of course makes for this exotic slice of tasty prettiness. With a texture that is somewhat chewy and soft and grainy and smooth all at once, this is a dessert that is very close to a barfi and one that will have you appreciating the advent of Christmas like never before.
Marzipan might not be the most Indian of sweets but in the Christmas offering of kuswar it definitely is a must have. The Goan taste of marzipan is also different though, as it makes use of not almonds but rather of cashew nuts. Also used to make Easter Eggs here in Goa, the marzipans you come across during the Christmas celebrations encompass a range of colorful sweets, molded into different shapes that are a reminder of all things Christmassy. Be it in the form of wreathes, bells, holly leaves, Santa’s face, reindeers or a variety of berries, Goan marzipan are not just delicious, they sit pretty on the platter as well!
A Mangalorean component of the Kuswar tradition, Guliyos are what they refer to as rice marbles. Deep fried sweets that are delicious to chew but hard to bite, these are crunchy balls made from a batter of white rice and parboiled red rice powder mixed with jaggery and coconut milk and cardamom. The batter is cooked and made into a dough out of which small balls are made that are deep fried till golden and crispy to arrive at these guliyos that are a mildly sweet but fun goodie to bite into.
Tandlache laddu or rice laddus
Another rice based sweet of the Kuswar platter of Mangalore is a certain laddu, the Tandlache laddu. Tasty and healthy as well in being made from brown boiled rice, jaggery, fresh coconut, cardamom & sesame seeds, this is also one of the winter special foods that perhaps makes it all the more necessary an inclusion in the wintertime celebrations of Christmas.
Goan cookies made with semolina and coconut, these healthy roundels of deliciousness make for a more global Kuswar experience. Catering to the range of the ever popular traditional Christmas cookies are bolinhas that are crisp on the outside but delightfully soft within. Traditionally baked in clay ovens, these rich assortment of crumbly tea time accompaniments just about sets the Christmas vibes going in full swing.
Christmas might be incomplete without cookies but it sure is never the same without cakes! In steps therefore on the Goan kuswar platter is the traditional Coconut Cake, Baath. A moist rich coconut tart baked in a large round shape with pastry lattice work on top, Baath makes for an interestingly different cake as well. A kind of fermented food since the batter is typically allowed to rest overnight before it is let to bake, and thereby encompassing a health quotient that goes beyond its semolina based essence, baath or batik comes loaded also with the flavour of cardamom and currants and makes therefore for an incredibly rich and festive cake.
One of the prettiest Christmas treats ever are a certain type of flower cookies so integral to the Goan kuswar. Sweet, crispy and flaky, kormolas or carambolas are deep fry cookies that bear foody resemblance to the north Indian favorites of shankarpali.
Another must have Christmas sweet of Goa is cutlets like stemmings that we know as pinaca, made from jaggery and crushed rice. A really fuss free preparation in its minimum ingredients and minimal effort at getting it right, this is another distinctive delicacy to make your celebrations worthwhile.
Mango miskut might be a spicy mango pickle in Goa at other times but come Christmas and this versatile goodie evolves into a confection made by sweetening mango pulp.
An authentic and luscious dessert of Goa, dodol is takes shape from a mix of coconut milk, jaggery and rice flour. In fact, a type of jaggery and rice pudding that is also as integral to the Mangalorean kuswar experience, this is a sticky, thick sweet that might come across as a choco based dessert in its rich color. With its melt in the mouth texture achieved once again by continuous stirring of it, dodol indeed can make any Christmas experience all the more merrier.
Another pudding among the ensemble of Kuswar goodies, this time from Mangalore, is an authentic rice based recipe, popular as Mani. Made from a batter of ground rice and milk and jaggery that which demands once again extensive exercise in stirring, Mani establishes firmly the Mangalorean connect between rice based delicacies and Christmas inspired feasting.
When all that sugary dose of the many kuswar sweets tends to become overpowering, it’s time to seek some savouring in the spicy twigs of khara kaddis. Made using chickpea or gram flour spiced with turmeric, red chilli powder and cumin or carom seeds and deep fried, this Mangalorean addition to the Christmas platter sure is a refreshing diversion from the intense sugar rush.
Almost like the khara kaddis in being a deep fried snack, chakkulis are made from a mixture of ground rice, bengal gram (chickpea) and black gram. Spiced also of course with a host of condiments, these savoury spirals provide a detour from the sweet trails that mostly defines the kuswar experience.
Immensely popular Indian cookies relished in their crumbly texture and crunchy sweetness, naan khatais might not be exclusive to Goa but they still are an essential component of the Christmas celebrations in the state. In also their melt in the mouth smoothness and their snowy white premises, naan khatais do sum up all the luxury Christmas does well to afford you.
If Goa has flower bud cookies, Mangalore has rose cookies on its Kuswar platter! Rose cookies made again surprisingly, but expectedly from rice ground with coconut milk, these also are deep fried delicacies that are shaped into roses with traditional moulds.
Christmas anywhere on earth is incomplete without the rich decadence of a plum cake to indulge in. Indeed therefore, some few slices of this absolutely amazing variant of cake finds place of prominence in every Kuswar platter, be it stemming from the state of Goa or as an offering from a Mangalorean. Ideally home baked with generous pourings of rum soaked candied fruit, plums, currents, raisins, nuts into the cake batter, it indeed is the presence of the plum cake on the Christmas spread that makes this religious festival so much a celebration also of all things indulgently worthwhile.
Kidyo or Kulkul
With a name that translates literally as worms, you might be wanting to write off Kidyos there and then from your Christmas menu. But yield into its deep fried sugary sweetness and you will make every case for its inclusion in every Kuswar platter. Made from a dough of maida, salt, sugar and egg binded by coconut milk from which small balls are pinched off and then shaped into their shell like appearance before they are deep fried and glazed with sugar, kidyos or kulkuls are a snack that can get as addictive as any.
One of Mangalore’s most traditional sweet dishes is the ‘Mandas’ which therefore needs to find expression as one among its Kuswar fare. A thick and dense cake made from an interesting combination of rice, cucumber and jaggery, mandas is unique and healthy as well in being a steamed preparation. A delightful incorporation into the sphere of every celebration including Christmas, this for sure is a recipe that lets you explore the many different tastes of the world.