Friday, October 21, 2016

breaking bread with Sujit Sumitran :Goa on my plate

The world over , there is a conscious move towards eating more mindfully, cooking food with age old and time tested techniques, and getting more a-tune with Nature.

This week ‘Goa on my plate’ continues its profile on Home chefs, but this time around it is with a difference. Sujit Sumitran, bakes artisanal sourdough bread in a woodfired oven he built with his wife Sudha Sumitran, in his own backyard, behind a sprawling Portuguese style House in Brittona, overlooking the Mandovi. The couple have made Goa their adoptive home just two years ago, but they have imbibed the very essence of the Goan living. The sussegad lifestyle has been misinterpreted by most as the ‘easy life’ when in actuality it is the ‘slow life’, and baking sourdough bread is essentially a slow cooked food, where time is an essential ingredient.

Sujit Sumitran, also known as the bread whisperer brings to life the symbiosis of yeast and lactobacilli in an alchemic baking of the sourdough bread.
The bread whisperer at work

The use of wild yeast makes the sourdough intrinsically different from other breads made with commercial yeast. Not just in the characteristic flavour, but also because wild yeast generally has a diverse bio composition, which is better for breaking down the proteins within the bread. Teemed along with the bacteria, lacttobacili, also known as the ‘good bacteria’ it is a probiotic, fermented bread dough. Thus, the sour taste, which lends itself interestingly to our Indian curries, and especially Goan cuisine with it’s natural use of souring agents such as kokum, tamarind or vinegar in our curries.

wild yeast all the way from california. truly international cuisine.

hard at work , baking bread

As I said, this time we have a home chef and an artisanal baker with a difference, because Sujit does not sell his bread, he teaches people how to make them. Baking sourdough is how food was made centuries ago, it is not just food but a part of world history, with wild yeast all the way from the time of the California gold rush. The slow life is not, exactly the ‘easy life’ and the sourdough, or what I have decided to rename the sussegad bread demands patience. It demands that you get up early on a Sunday morning to head over by 8 to Sujit and Sudha’s home, it demands precise measurements of flour and water and salt, it demands you learn the basics of bakers mathematics and gluten physics. The ‘sussegad sourdgbread’ demands you coax and pull and fold and tuck it every 30 minutes, until it is pliable and pillowy soft. The whole process takes over 8 hours to make and bake.

Sujit bakes the bread in his wood fired oven using coconut shells, in a sustainable manner, reusing the shells and broken teigs and dry leaves. This sustainable, organic approach also weaves into their own kitchen garden with fresh basil, chillies and veggies for the picking.

The real test of the bread is in the tasting though, and it begins with the warm, earthy looks;The  bread is gorgeous to look at with it’s brown baked crust and dusting of white flour, along with elaborate etchings known as scorings, but it is also a much healthier form of bread. Tap the base for the hollow sound, which means the crumb within is aerated and fluffy, the gluten strands which we have lovingly stretched noe truly come into their own when we cut into the bread. The crusty outside and the soft spongy inside is exactly what a breadophile dreams of. We tasted the green chilly and sun dried tomato sourdough as well as the 8 grain sourdough bread. The piquant chilly, the earthy tartness of the sundried tomatoes were the perfect foil for the sourdough, which unlike my prejudice was not sour at all. A mild acidity of the bread lends flavour and body, much like the fermentation of grapes does to wine. The 8 grain sourdough was nutty and more crunchy, but was wonderfully aerated thanks to Sujit’s signature style of baking his bread in a double dutch cast iron oven.
whole wheat crackers made with the levain

the beautiful home 

meet an eclectic mix of people from around the country; added bonus of the class

The day long cooking class, meant that we were served lunch as we waited for breads to proof.

Sudha’s cooking is very much like the home she keeps; at first glance simple and Spartan, but a closer look shows the personalised details, the various layered nuances. So while her home has a neat stacks of terracotta pots and pans, and shiny brass and copper teapots , there is also a string of dried herbs and spices bringing a touch of whimsy, her kerala inspired vegetable stew, has the staples of coconut milk, but layered flavours of chillies, peppers, ginger , bay leaf and cinnamon. Sudha takes cooking classes as well, and her repertoire of Appam and coconut milk based curries like the ishtew and chemeen curry, are perfectly suited for the Goan palate.

the beautiful home in Brittona

Lunch is served

vegetable stew, a recipe worth beg, borrowing or stealing. luckily they have a class for learning it too

firing up the oven

baking bread the old fashioned style

i am cooking my eye. 

my eye is cooked. I decided to score an eye on my loaf, as an amalgamation of my two professions of ophthalmology and food writing. 

Goa is also one of the few places in India, which is a historically bread eating state. We boast of many versions of the Goan bread, pride ourselves in our baking skills with every family having the inhouse home baker, and we are lucky to get our bread freshly baked every day from the ubiquitous Podder. Sourdough bread compliments Goan eating habits, while enhancing the nutritive value of the bread itself, by allowing the bacteria and wild yeast to help digest the nutrients and increasing their bio-availability.

Both Sujit and Sudha’s baking and cooking classes are attended by food and cooking enthusiasts from all over the country. You can book a class, on their website 

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