Where is Asha, or at least her book? I could utilize her culinary inputs related to southern Indian vegetables and flavors right about now.
I am in the coastal region of southern Maharashtra now, just north of the Goa border. The cuisine is different from that of Kerala, but with many of the same vegetable inputs. For ten days my mission is primarily to food-focused. For a new project we are working on, our current task is to determine what food items will be grown on property and which will we sourced from local farmers. This is always a curious task.
We have increasingly over the years wanted more and more control over food supply in our projects, because our guests appreciate our commitment to sustainable agricultural practices, specifically organic whenever possible. But more recently we have also realized the benefits of sharing our experience and knowhow with the small scale farmers that tend to surround us. The task is curious in the sense of wanting to find the best balance of control and diffusion.
Monday an agronomist will join me to help me make sense of today’s journey through farmlands seeing and tasting vegetables I have not encountered before. The one above, I must say, is a mystery to me. You can see a stone hung from the bottom of the vegetable as if to stretch it while it grows. Really?
This one above looks vaguely familiar, but I could not name it. What struck me was the productivity of the land where all this was growing, walking distance from the sea. Below is another stretch of land on the same farm, in this case growing what appear to be French-style green beans.
In the background of those bean stalks the trees are actually quite important to understanding this place. I am in mango headquarters. Some of the best mangos of the world are grown right here. I was told just now that in three months this farmer earns the majority of his annual income from those trees, and that the other produce I am seeing today is merely for supplemental income. He would be willing to tailor his produce to the needs of our project, and adhere to strict organic methods if the commitments are mutual.
But I have to keep in mind, it occurs to me, that the mango will remain the star product of this place. I can already picture the mango tarte tatin.
The farmer grabbed a cucumber off a vine. Its skin was so light I did not really want to taste it. I assumed it was not ripe, or would be a weak flavor. Instead, after snapping it in two I took a bite out of what may have been the tastiest cucumber of a life full of cucumber-worship (in particular, worshiping cucumber combined with garlic and thick Greek yogurt to make tzatziki).
My notebook, visible to the left of the cucumber, has a note to self: What?!?
Followed by: OMG
Followed by: flavor explosion
Why was this cucumber so tasty, considering its pale skin? I do not know, but I aim to find out. This afternoon we will be at the agricultural university that supplies these farmers with seeds. But I think I already know the answer has alot to do with the farmers I met. I did not photograph them out of respect for our having only just met. But you can expect to meet them before too long in these pages.