Jen’s Cozinha with Jennifer Viegas

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If you’ve ever been to India and had the chance to stay in a friends home, where their mother or grandmother was in the kitchen, then you’ll know something about how years – even centuries – of tradition, skill and love go into the array of dishes being served. Even the smallest dish on the table, a chutney, would have layers of storied ingredients and techniques producing a deeply flavoured kiss to whatever it’s combined with. Back in NZ, you might pick up a jar of chutney from the supermarket hoping to find that same compliment to your rice dish or cheese toastie. What you’d typical be met with however is an overly sweet, gooey approximation of just one level of what you experienced in India, say with mango flavours or chili. Super disappointing. What’s needed is someone’s mother, grandmother, and their aunt to have placed all that skill and love into a jar full of the same complexity and beauty you tasted in Goa.

Oh wait!

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Jennifer Viegas grew up between homes in Goa and Mombai enjoying the food her mother, aunt and grandmother prepared. The Portuguese history of the South (1500’s to 1960) paired with the Mughal influences from the North gave Jennifer a diverse and tasty palate to enjoy. Access to fresh shellfish, Portuguese spices like smoked paprika, piri piri (from the African coast), cinnamon and bay leaves, and, the fruit of the south were all part of a larger pantry to work with. A combination of Indian and Portuguese pickling techniques also allowed the family to store abundant crops of mango or aubergine which would later become family favourites as Jen then raised her own kids on this unique cuisine. After travelling to Doha and living there for a long while, Jen and her family moved to Christchurch for the boys education.

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Back then, one would struggle to find ingredients in a New Zealand store that enabled you to make a proper mango chutney, let alone a delicious carfreal (a pungent herbed chicken dish). Today however, you can get coriander, haldi, jeera and tamarind but what’s still missing are those mothers, grandmothers and aunts putting it together because if their last name is Wattie, it ain’t gonna taste like Goan cuisine. So, after the boys had moved out Jen finally got to build the kitchen of her dreams to run cooking classes passing on the techniques of her family traditions.

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As people enjoyed the rich complexity Jen was creating in the class, they asked if they could buy even more. This encouraged Jen to take some of her favourite Prawn Balchão and Mixed Veg chutney’s to the local Mount Pleasant Farmers Market where the developing Kiwi palate was ready to understand and enjoy what Jen grew up with. From there to Jen started selling to stores like Raeward Fresh and now we can get the benefit of her storied, rich history and that of Goa in a jar. Well, kinda, because of course there’s so much more to those places… you know what I mean.

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Anyway, I got the chance to try Jen’s range and I must say, it’s like being back in the south of India where I lived for a short while. Those same complex notes, hints of a thousand things going on, combinations of pungent, sweet, spicy, meaty, fresh…, it’s all there. I absolutely loved the prawn foundation of her Balchão while the red chilis and vinegar (also a gift from the Portuguese, well, I mean they brought it with, having conquered and all so not a gift, but now that they’re gone, it’s kinda a gift… Anyway) create this spark of acidity to round out the flavours. Great on sourdough toast ruined with raw garlic. My other favourite was Jen’s Lemon Chutney which was brilliant on cheese toasties. Took them to a whole nother level. The mango or aubergine or mixed veg chutney’s were solid examples of condiments that would go so well with white fish, a sandwich wrap or of course, a delicious Lamb Sarapatel and roti.
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Jen is now moving on to create spice blends, also passed down through the ages to give us a taste of a Goan Masala or a killer curry powder. All of which allow newbies like me to add a small touch of Jen;s familial history and depth to my own cooking. From all of Raeward Fresh, we say thanks to Jen’s and her entire family’s Cozinha (Kitchen)!

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