Mother’s Day has traditionally been an action-packed weekend for my family with fun dance recitals, graduations and parties to attend all over town. But not this year. For the first time I can remember, our weekend was unusually wide open. With this quiet time on my hands, I found myself thinking of my mother and missing her cooking more than ever. Vivid memories of her Goan Caldine (Kahl-deen), a mildly spicy coconut-based seafood stew, kept coming back to me.
Back home in Mumbai, my mother’s kitchen was her happy place. It was the only place she was truly in her element. The entire apartment building knew my mother was cooking up a storm when she hand-crafted her exotic Indian spices on her well-seasoned tava (skillet). I remember coming home from Sunday school starving for a snack. The fridge was tucked in the corner of the kitchen and getting to it was like an obstacle course. I had to squeeze through mom and her gas stove to get to it. I’d find her hunched over sitting on the most uncomfortable wooden seat fitted with a crescent-shaped iron blade grating coconuts like her life depended on it. I have no idea how she ever had the patience to do this by hand. Huffing and puffing she would sway back and forth angling those coconut shells just so, to get every bit of that white flesh out. Then she’d gather up the coconut into cheesecloth and give it a firm squeeze, wrangling out every drop of coconut milk. After adding a bit of warm water to the cheesecloth she would squeeze it again with everything she had left in those tired arms to get the second and third press of milk.
The entire process of making this creamy, coconut seafood stew seemed daunting to me. And yet just thinking about it made me feel closer to my mom now that she has passed on. I decided it was time to try to make mom’s Goan Caldine in my kitchen with my kids, Sophia and Justus.
Before I go on, I need to set the record straight here: I went rogue and did not hand-grate coconuts. I had to keep things as simple and safe with my three-year-old son Justus involved. So I made peace with opening a couple of cans of coconut milk instead. Sorry mom!
I texted Corey Pottle a friend of ours who is a local lobsterman to see if we could buy some fresh lobsters off his boat. We agreed to meet up on the east side of Boothbay Harbor where he docks Brandy’s Girl. I splurged and bought a half dozen, pound-and-a-half lobsters from him and his brother, Brian.
On the way home, my husband Guy suggested we boil the lobsters in briny water right off our community dock. So, we swung by the garage, grabbed a bucket, some yellow rope and headed down to the dock in his red-pick up. Without any hesitation Sophia got out of the truck, grabbed the rope, got down on her knees and tied a firm bowline knot onto the red bucket. Her time at sailing camp sure came in handy! We all watched intently as Guy sent the bucket over the railing.
Now, it’s time to fess up. We’ve lived in Maine for over a decade and never cooked a lobster at home. It’s just always seemed way too easy to order them steamed and ready to go from our local lobster pound. I knew this was going to be quite an interesting evening for us.
Back in my kitchen, I transferred the pristine, Damariscotta river water into a large pot and got a roaring boil going on the stove. Sophia threw in a lobster and based on the horrified look on her face, that may have been her first AND last time ever cooking a lobster. Thankfully Guy came to her rescue and got the job done. While the crustaceans cooked and cooled down, the kids and I toasted some shredded, unsweetened coconut, coriander and cumin seeds along with a handful of Tellicherry black peppercorns and Kashmiri red chilis in a dry cast iron skillet. In that moment, I felt like I was standing next to mom again watching her pan roast her intoxicating Caldine spice blend on a Sunday afternoon.
As soon as the spices cooled down, we ground them up in my spice grinder. I added the aromatic mixture into some coconut milk and blended it into a thick, savory coconut smoothie. Caldine gets its signature bright yellow hue from a heaping spoonful of yellow turmeric powder. I knew Justus would get a kick out of adding it in, so I handed him the miniature silver spoon in my masala dhabba (an Indian spice container), and watched his eyes light up as he did the honors. Meanwhile, like a seasoned sous chef, Sophia turned on the stove and added the coconut milk to the thick coconut paste in her favorite blue Creuset. With her trusty wooden spoon, she gave it a gentle stir while I shucked the lobsters over the kitchen sink.
In Mumbai, we never had access to lobsters. Mom always made her Caldine with either fish or shrimp. She would always buy an extra handful of shrimp from our fishmonger Kamli because she knew it would not be enough with me around. I would eat all the shrimp on my plate and then scour the pot and everyone else’s plates for another helping. I can still hear her say to me, “Cherie, you better marry a fisherman when you grow up!”
I gently added in the tender lobster claws, tails and legs. As the Caldine simmered away, the creamy, coriander-scented coconut gravy made me weak in the knees. I know mom would agree that these Maine lobsters really took her savory Caldine to the next level. The anticipation for our Caldine lobster dinner was building up. I made up a batch of steamed Basmati rice while the kids ran into the garden to pick a bunch of daffodils for the dinner table. That evening as we all savored the lobster Caldine together, I decided that this should be the beginning of a new tradition for the Scott family. We had so much fun from start to finish and the best part was it gave me a chance to reconnect with my Portuguese-Indian (Goan) heritage, cook with my kids and share stories about their grandma, the best home cook. If you decide to give it a go, here’s our family recipe. (Feel free to skip the coconut grating!) But please do toast those whole spices as this secret step releases the essential oils. And if you are in Maine, do indulge in lobsters if you can. The succulent, sweet tender meat definitely elevated this iconic savory Goan dish to dreamy status.
- 6 lobsters – claws, tails and legs
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 cup of dry shredded coconut, unsweetened
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 8 Kashmiri chilis
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon coconut vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 teaspoons garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste
- 1 can (400 ml) of unsweetened (full-fat) coconut milk
- 4 tablespoons of unsweetened coconut cream
- 1⁄4 cup warm water
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt to taste
- For garnish: 1 jalapeno and fresh cilantro
- In a skillet or cast iron pan, on low heat lightly toast the shredded coconut, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns and Kashmiri chilis for 30 seconds.
- Once cooled, grind this spice blend into a fine powder. In a blender, add this powdered spice blend with a can of coconut milk on high speed for 30 seconds. Set aside this wet spiced coconut mixture.
- Note: Traditionally, at this step, this mixture is put into a cheesecloth and given a firm squeeze, extracting just the spice-infused coconut milk. ( I skipped this step because I prefer the actual pureed coconut texture in my gravy.)
- Meanwhile, on the stove, heat the coconut oil in a heavy based sauce pan and add the finely chopped onions and fry for 5-7 minutes on medium heat until light brown. Add the garlic and ginger paste and sauté on low heat for another minute.
- Now add the wet coconut mixture (or spiced coconut milk extract) with the coconut cream and water into the onion mixture and stir together, gently on low heat.
- Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir and taste the gravy before adding the lobsters. Gently add in the lobsters and let it simmer for 7 minutes in the gravy with the lid on.
- Ladle the Caldine stew over steamed white Basmati rice. Garnish with diced jalapenos and chopped cilantro. This seafood stew only tastes better the following day. So feel free to make an extra batch. It’s well worth the extra effort.