I was introduced to this dish in Gokarn, during my first six month trip to India in 2001. Shanker, a great friend who managed the beach side guest house cooked it for me one evening after the sunset.
Gokarn is a tiny holy town, south of Goa and auspicious to Hindus; a dip in the sea is good luck for one’s father and the sea washes away sins. It’s a town i fell in love with. I ended up staying for four months! I have since returned almost twenty times and whenever i do i eat Beetroot Curry.
The food in the photograph was cooked by Nela, Shankers wife, at their home in 2012.
Bunch fresh beetroot
2 fresh green chilies – Chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 inch of ginger
1 green pepper – Sliced
1 half of fresh coconut or dedicated – Grated
Fresh coriander – Chopped
1 tomato – Chopped
1 tsp Salt
1 tbs sunflower oil
1 cup of water
2 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
2 tsp Cumin Seeds
Half tsp Asafoetida or Turmeric
2 tsp Garam Masala
Peel and grate beetroot and leave to one side. Grate ginger and garlic or grind into a paste. Chop onion, pepper, tomato, chilies and prepare coconut. Basically everything needs to be ready to go into the pan fast.
Heat oil on high heat and add black mustard seeds until they crackle. Add cumin , chili and onion and fry until soft. Add ginger/garlic and fry for one minute. Do not burn. Add asafoetida or turmeric and the sliced tomato and green pepper. Fry for three minutes. Ad salt.
Add beetroot, coconut and a little water. Cover and cook until beetroot is cooked. Around 10 minutes. keep stirring. Serve with fresh coriander and home made chapatti.
The veranda looks older than previously, like we all do apart from his beautiful wife, radiating youth and beauty, working away in the kitchen in oranges and yellows. Slight silent tinkles of aluminum suggesting that the meal isn’t far from ready. High on the wall an image of grandpa amongst the gods, remembered and revered daily by the powdery red dot in the lower center of his forehead. The first-born now walking and talking, shy but allured by my gift of a multitude of sweets and a small percussion instrument – polished coconut filled with rice on a stick. She looks like and adores her father, quite rightly so. The newest born being bathed then made up with talcum powder, holy ash and charcoal , screaming in discomfort of a white face so close to hers – our first meeting.
Then there on the right hand side of the porch, on a concrete slab my host, my brothers mother lies. “Namaste”, i say, ” A ram” but she is far from OK. She just looks deep into my eyes to the heart of my soul and beyond. Her face swollen like a cat and her body thin as old dead sticks, draped in green. No longer sitting, no longer eating, lying there dying of tuberculosis, no older than fifty-five. A women once so beautiful, so open and so feisty; a lady so elegant, so charming so kind and my friend of eleven years. Face cat-like, arms twig like on a concrete slab, covered in green, dying.
Yet the children with their new lives fill the air with smiles, with new-born fresh energy, so unaware of the concept of death. From shy to talking, to playing with mobile phones and cameras, bemused at seeing themselves on-screen, surrounded by love and fruit trees.
The most amazing meal arrives, the perfect same as always. Beetroot curry, dahl, rice, roti, papad and pickle. Waiting and tasting the glorious feast in silence, my vista being a dying lady, a friend, a happy memory in pain, being turned into the last days of her life. Smiling children as i try to taste the beets without breaking down in tears; i think the first time i have cried and eaten simultaneously. It breaks my heart. A death-bed and a dining room all in the same six feet by twelve feet space. Reality at its most real, taste at its best but sadness at its deepest. Privileged to be there but devastated to think that that is the last time she will be. Namaste i say gently as she sleeps. Goodbye to the children, goodbye to his beautiful wife and goodbye to a lady i will always remember with so much elegance, so much charm and so much love.
She died early the next morning and was burnt soon after.