‘Neureos’ or ‘Karanji’ are traditional pastries made in Goa and Maharashtra. They comprise a sweet, coconut-based filling within crisp golden-brown pastry. The Neureos are most often deep-fried but here, we’ve baked the pastries instead. We’ve also tweaked the recipe to use desiccated coconut instead of the more traditional fresh coconut scrapings.
Neureos are made during festivals like Diwali and Christmas, to be shared among families, friends and neighbours. These shared, festive sweets were referred to as ‘Consuada’ or ‘Kuswar’, of which the Neureos have always been a popular part. When made for Christmas, the first Neuri is usually shaped into a Cross to invoke blessings while the rest resemble a half-moon.
“Where did you keep your new doll Isabel? ” asked Ayah (Nanny). A pair of large, dark brown eyes set in a fair heart-shaped face met her questioning gaze. But the little girl gently shrugged her shoulders and turned back to look out the window. Bright, golden sunlight shone over the rose bushes for which their garden was well-known. Isabel’s father- Salvador Filip Carvalho, an illustrious Portuguese doctor, had invested much time over the years in planning the villa garden, which boasted of the most beautiful roses and lilies in all of Altinho. The roses reminded him of his wife, they’d always been her favourite flowers. Now and then, butterflies with wings painted in saffron shades, fluttered amongst the blooms. It was a warm, summer day but the translucent oyster shells woven along the window panes kept most of the heat out.
“Aren’t you going to tell me where you’ve hidden her?” asked Ayah, wiping her hands on her apron as she joined the little girl on the plush window seat. But she received no answer. The doll would probably be strewn carelessly on a chair in the library. Isabel had been enchanted with it yesterday when it had arrived by special post, in a large box, decorated with pretty wrapping paper. But since last evening, she hadn’t wanted to play at all. Her father had sent a letter saying he’d be delayed in Siolim another two days and she missed him dearly. Isabel’s elder brother- Filip, always the more pragmatic one, took such news in good spirit. He ran around the neighbour’s lawn, with two other boys his age, their noisy squabbling drifting across the garden wall with the breeze. But the little girl, just four years of age, had to be coaxed back into good humour. “Tell me my favourite story,” she demanded, in a soft, clear voice. Ayah let out a long sigh, she’d been asked to recount the same story a hundred times, but fond as she was of the little girl, she always complied with her wishes.
“Well,” she said, as she folded her fingers, “The Carvalho villa has stood on the crest of Altinho for half a century, having been carefully designed and commissioned by your maternal great-grandfather. Over the years, the villa has been filled with the most beautiful paintings and artefacts from around the world, making it a symbol of culture and beauty. But in the olden days, the land behind the villa was a part of the forest, making it seem that the house sat at the edge of a dark jungle, neglected and growing wild. Your mother, uncles and aunt had always been wary of the dark woods, having been repeatedly warned as children, not to wander too deep into the foliage towards dusk.”
“Your mother and her siblings often walked to the river bank to try to catch small fish,” narrated Ayah. ” The boys would be in charge of threading worms onto the hooks, while their sisters would take care of the ‘loot’ they’d collected. One day, as the children played along the river bank, they were startled by a loud thrashing of the river water. A fisherman’s old, tattered net seemed to be entangled with the mangrove roots by the shore. Some sort of large fish struggled to free itself of the net. The more the creature struggled and strained, the further it seemed to fall into the net’s grasp. The children carefully made their way to the edge of the water. A large tail, covered with shimmering scales in turquoise and lilac shades, gleamed above the surface of the water and suddenly a woman’s head lifted over the froth and foam, a magical river mermaid!” Isabel’s eyes twinkled, trying to imagine what the mermaid would have looked like, as she broke into a beaming smile. “What happened to her?!” she exclaimed, sitting on her knees and listening intently as Ayah continued her story.
“Help me! Please help me break free before the crocodiles come!” cried the desperate mermaid. The boys carefully waded knee-high into the murky river water, their boots squelching in the mud. They took out small pocket knives, cherished birthday gifts from your Grandfather that they carried with them everywhere they went. They used the small knives to cut through the old net and set the mermaid free. She hurriedly splashed into deeper water, relishing her freedom and relieved that the crocodiles weren’t near. “As a gift for having saved my life, I give you a garden to match your beautiful villa atop the hill. It will forever after, bloom with the most beautiful roses, lilies, marigolds, jasmine blooms and sunflowers. Seasons may change and people will come and go but the roses will continue to bloom as long as the villa graces the Altinho crest.” said the mermaid and with another splash, she disappeared beneath the dark waves of the river.
“The children ran back up the hill, racing to the other side of the villa to see if the mermaid’s magic was real. They rushed past me, barely took notice of their father sitting in his favourite chair and ran to the veranda that looked out onto the dark woods. To their surprise and delight, a large part of the dark woods surrounding the villa had been transformed into a beautiful garden, complete with a high, carved wall, covered with flowering creepers. A variety of flowers graced every corner of the garden but it was the roses that enchanted the children the most. The Roses in their myriad colours, from crimson to bright yellow, petal pink to peach, bloomed all over the garden, filling the air with their heady fragrance. And ever since, the Carvalho villa has boasted the most beautiful garden in Panjim, perhaps even in all of Goa!” said Ayah, as she triumphantly patted her knees. This story always fascinated little Isabel making her dark eyes gleam with happiness, just as her mother’s eyes would light up.
“Now, let’s put your new doll back in her toy basket and then have some supper!” said Ayah, as she gathered the little girl in her arms and walked towards the library. “But I don’t want to eat, I’m not hungry yet,” wailed Isabel. “If you promise to have your supper now, I promise to let you help me make Neureos tomorrow,” cajoled Ayah, watching as the girl broke into a wide grin. Neureos, with their cardamom-scented coconut filling within a sweet fried pastry, had been a favourite tea-time snack for the family. Isabel loved to watch Ayah roll out the discs of sweet pastry, deftly shaping their beautiful, crimped edges once they’d been filled. The pastries would sizzle in hot oil, turning a golden brown and Ayah would carefully break one into half, letting her relish the sweet while still warm and crisp.
For the pastry:
- 4 heaped tablespoons Ghee or Butter
- 3/4 cup All-purpose Flour (Maida)
- 1/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour (Atta)
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
- 3-4 tablespoons of Water
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup Desiccated Coconut
- 1/2 cup Almond Flour
- 3 teaspoons Cardamom powder (Elaichi)
- 1/3 cup Caster Sugar
To make the pastry:
Melt the ghee or butter in a large bowl. Add in the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and the vanilla essence. With your fingertips, gently rub the ghee or butter into the flour until the entire mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Using a few tablespoons of water, bind the dough and knead it till it feels smooth. The dough will be fairly stiff. Cover the dough with a moist tissue so that it does not dry out and allow it to rest for half an hour.
To make the filling:
Prepare the filling for the Neureos by dry roasting the desiccated coconut and almond flour in a pan. Keep stirring the mixture and roast on medium-low flame so that the flour does not burn. Once the flour mixture is reddish-brown and gives off a nice, toasted aroma, add the cardamom powder (elaichi) and take the pan off the heat. Allow the mixture to cool and then stir in the caster sugar. Use a tablespoon to fill each Neureos as you shape the pastry dough.
To assemble the Neureos:
Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F/Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil and lightly coat with butter or ghee. Divide the pastry dough into small balls with a diameter of about 1 inch. Using extra all-purpose flour for dusting your work surface, flatten each ball of dough and roll it out into a thin disc (with a thickness of about 1/8 inch). Apply a drop of water to the edges of the disc. Use a small spoon to arrange about a tablespoon and a half of the sweet filling on one half of the pastry disc, avoiding the edges. Now fold over the other half of the disc, pressing the edges of the disc together to seal in the filling. Your pastry will look like a semi-circle or half-moon. In Goa, a special wheel with perforated edges is used to trim off any excess dough and to seal the Neureo. Alternatively, you can crimp the edges of the dough between your thumb and forefinger to seal the Neureo in a nice pattern. Fill all the Neureos in this way and arrange them on the prepared baking tray. Cover the shaped Neureos with a moist tissue to prevent them from drying out while you shape the rest. Gently coat the Neureos with a little ghee or milk so that they colour well as they bake. Bake the Neureos in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are golden-brown and fragrant. Cool the Neureos completely on a wire rack and store them in an airtight box (lined with tissue paper), at room temperature, for up to 3 days.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.