The cashew fruit gets its due: Restaurants in Goa innovate with the tangy apple

The cashew nut has long outshone the fruit in popularity. Finally, the tangy apple is being discovered by restaurants and enjoying its moment in the Goan sun

The cashew nut has long outshone the fruit in popularity. Finally, the tangy apple is being discovered by restaurants and enjoying its moment in the Goan sun

In Kakoda, South Goa, cashew farmer Agnelo Baretto is frenetically supervising his collection team. The plantation, strewn with cashew apples, is a melee of color – red, orange and yellow.

The air is redolent with the astringent aroma and the workers move, following their nose. Indeed, Come summer and cashew plantations in Goa are abuzz with activity as it is harvest time. Almost 90% of the cashew apples in Goan plantations are crushed to extract a juice which is then fermented and distilled to make the State’s iconic urrak and fan.

But there is more to the cashew apple. Recently, chefs have been unleashing their creativity on the fruity portion, creating dishes like cashew sorpotel, where cubed cashew apple pieces replace pork in the traditional dish, making use of the distinctly astringent flavors of this fruit. Cashew apple chutneys, jams and even a pickle on the lines of a balchaoare other new offerings from Goa.

Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) has been creating interesting local events around it to popularize cashew among tourists. Goa’s first cashew festival held at Socorro, Bardez, in 2015, had ladies from the ‘waddo’ cooking and bringing along cashew apple dishes, including cashew sorpotel. And now hotels, too, are doing their bit as are home kitchens.

The erstwhile Park Hyatt Goa, Cansaulim, used to conduct an annual Cashew Trail showcasing its varied uses. Now, Novotel Hotels in Goa have taken on the baton. Through a curated experience, which includes a visit to a cashew plantation, the ‘cashew retreat’ highlights the use of the apple in a myriad ways, including in food menus.

Chef Alex Dias, Novotel Goa Candolim and Novotel Goa Resort and Spa, says, “The cashew’s fruit and varied delicacies have been limited only to the locals. But I strongly believe that the story of the tree and it’s connection with Goan culture is gaining popularity amongst everyone due to these cultural trails. ”

However, although trails by hotels popularize the fruit, the apple does not find favor with too many guest palates, hence it takes creativity to put it on restaurant menus. Chef Abhijit Naik, executive sous chef, The Leela Goa, explains, “It is difficult to digest and most people tend to chew it and throw it away. They don’t really eat it. Also, probably the strong and distinct aroma has a lot to do with this. ”

Cashew sorpotel | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Enter the sorpotel

Crescy and Oliver Fernandes are two friends who run The Goan Kitchen, in South Goa, specializing in Goan cuisine. They offer cashew apple sorpotel during the season. Says Oliver, “This dish is rare to many and made only by a few families. Usually cashew farmers ensure that the fruit they provide is ripe, to be used for making neero/ urrack or fan. We both grew up on this seasonal delicacy and since we have comparatively smaller cashew cultivation (and do not make fan), we have the liberty of plucking half-ripe cashews for the sorpotel. We include it in our daily menu whenever we can get a decent harvest from the day’s plucking session. ”

Sorpotel apart, legendary Goan cuisine Chef Urbano Rego makes a cashew fruit xacuti, substituting chicken with cashew apple.

At home, sprinkled with salt, a slice of cashew apple is enjoyed to refresh ones’s palate. Vinaya Kalangutkar, a home chef from Corlim, avers, “In Saraswat homes, seasonal food abounds and so, kajuchesasav is made during summers using the pulpy cashew fruit, which imparts the right texture and the sweet-tangy flavors of a sasav. It is eaten with steamed rice. ”

Gayathri Pai, another home chef, incorporates cashew apple in her sumali (Konkan spongy dosa) batter, for a hint of tanginess. Manjita Bhobe, a homemaker, eagerly awaits cashew harvest season to make kajuachi shaak (cashew spinach).

Dr AR Desai, Scientist, ICAR-CCARI, Goa, has recommendations beyond curries: “A rich source of Vitamin C, minerals and fiber – a lot of food items can be made from the cashew apple. We have been conducting research and have developed several products. A cashew apple crunch, which is a dehydrated and easy-to-make flavored candy, is palate-pleasing for children. All it needs is a drying machine with negligible investment, cooking gas and some utensils. The cashew apple slices are dehydrated and then natural flavors like rock salt, vanilla can be added, to get sweet-savory flavors of one’s choice. The complete process takes only five days and locals in villages can become entrepreneurs and easily sell it as a Goan treat to tourists. Jams, made by pressure steaming the cashew apple, for a while, boast of a unique flavor and cashew syrup too, can come handy to make refreshing sherbets in summer. For regular cooking, a cashew vinegar can be made. ”

He adds, at the end of his list of potential: “But sadly, owing to the demand for fans, all other food products take a backseat and locals do not display much enthusiasm for these.”

Tree to table

It takes months for the cashew apple to be ready for cooking. The fruit and nut duo embark upon their journey towards late November or early December, when flowers appear on cashew trees. Five months later, cashew apples, which are actually the thickened receptacle or stalk, are ripe and plump. Simultaneously, the kidney-shaped greenish nut matures and can now be extracted, as it has grown fully and developed a tough covering to protect the edible kernel inside.

“The cashew apple does not get the attention it deserves. It is like the umbilical cord for the nut and nurtures it nutritionally. When it ripens and matures, the apple, let’s go off the nut by falling off the tree, ”Dr. Desai informs us. He further adds, “The cashew apple, is actually a false fruit or pseudo fruit, as it grows outside the seed and contains fiber and juice, which are replete with nutrients.”

Back in the plantation, Agnelo rues the labor-intensive collection process and expensive manpower, that deter most farmers from diversifying into food products made of cashew apple rather than the obvious, fan and urrak. “The cashew apple is too delicate to handle, perishable and requires a lot of work. Feni, which is sought-after, helps us to earn, making this tedious process worthwhile, so we concentrate on that, ”he admits.

But the crop is rich in bounty, Agnelo reiterates: “Goa offers several varieties of cashew. It is wise to have a mix of grafts, as the yield and the quality differ, and to irrigate thrice a year. I have faithfully been following these practices since 1992. ”

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