A few years ago I never thought in my wildest dreams that someday I would try my hand at making Alyache Dhoss - a traditional Mangalorean ginger preserve that I had grown up to love. Thanks to blogging and my passion to preserve our culinary heritage, I finally converted this dream into reality. Making this preserve is considered to be one of the hardest (in terms of complexity) among the whole range of Mangalorean foods. However, I believe that it has a lot to do with patience and passion than with complexity. One must be able to pick up this skill at a young age and have the will to complete the task from start to finish.
Our grandmothers had this innate quality to do just that - maybe that stems from the quality of being a nurturer to the usually large brood of kids they took care of and brought up lovingly in those days. It also meant taking care of their nutritional needs without dipping too much the meager earnings of their husbands. This need ensured that almost everything that grew in their yards was put to use in the best possible way. Pickles, preserves, wines, jams & poppadoms with no commercial price tag made their way into the kitchen larder and lasted the whole year through with no added preservatives or the bare minimum that were again natural. Such was their lifestyle and healthy eating habits that kept families hale and hearty - much more than today's generation.
I guess every one of us knows at least one of two women in Mangalore who have this burning passion to make preserves of all types. Home cooks who double up as pickle/preserve makers during the season. While some of them make it out of passion and distribute the fruit of their labour amongst friends and family, the others make it to support their income. During my growing up years, I knew of a lady in my lane - Ms. Elize who would make the best shredded mango pickle (kosrache lonche), grape and ginger wines and of course the good ol' ginger preserve. I freaked out on the taste the first time I tasted it and loved the mild spiciness of the ginger that burnt my throat and the delicately sweet sugar syrup that followed to sooth it. Yum yum yum!
I don't need to elaborate on the health benefits of ginger, but this humble root that is native to India and China is used in a lot of forms - whole root -fresh & dried, powdered, preserved, crystallized and pickled. It is known for its medicinal benefits especially as a digestive aid, treatment for nausea resulting from motion sickness and morning sickness. It has anit-inflammatory properties and may help relieve pain from arthritis, rheumatism and muscle cramps. Ginger tea is used in home remedies for colds, cough and the flu.
I don't really recall if my grandma made the dhoss although she is a big expert at making pickles - I need to get her recipes next. But what a delight it was for me when I got married and met Aunty Jessie who is another expert at making all the above mentioned goodies the whole year through. Since I was so in love with the dhoss that she makes I asked her the recipe to make it and she was kind enough to give me the instructions. This was before the blog was born and I somehow lost the recipe in my archives. However, since I continued to receive my annual quota of a nice bottle of dhoss from her I did not attempt to search for the recipe or to make it myself all these years (I never thought I could make it since I was never the jams and pickles person anyways).
This year Roshan and I decided that we had to give homemade dhoss a shot. The basic requirement for this is very new/tender ginger that is available during the first harvest right after the monsoons. This ginger looks very pale with just a delicate film of skin. Tender ginger is the one which has no fibre in it and hence it is best sourced between the last week of August and the first week of September. If you are keen to make it right away, try sourcing it before the 20th of this month - you may just be lucky.
We sourced it from Mangalore and it came in just last week after which we set to work.
Although the process is lengthy, the result is absolutely amazing. Our whole house was filled with the warm and sweet aroma of the ginger married to the sugar. The tender ginger has stewed so well in the sugar syrup that it gives out amazing taste aroma with a very very mild aftertaste of caramel - well, no, its not the taste of burnt sugar/caramel but of sugar that has cooked well. The addition of lime juice gives it a lovely flavour and helps prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing.
You can make a jam out of this if you chop the ginger really fine - the cooking time will reduce too. Try it, it tastes amazing when spread over chapathis!
I am so happy that this recipe helped me recreate the memories of my childhood. I am even more pleased that it tastes as good as the dhoss that Aunty Jessie makes as lovingly sends for me every time. A big thank you to my sister-in-law Raina Castelino for taking the trouble to source the ginger & parcel it to me right in time and her mum-in-law Aunty Jessie Castelino for her lovely recipe and her patience to clarify all my doubts when I set out to make it. I know this sounds like a speech, but this would not have happened without your help!
Alyache Dhoss / Ale Dos (Mangalorean Ginger Preserve)
Prep time: 30 - 40 mins | Soaking time: 2-3 days | Cooking time: 2-1/2 - 3 hours * see note#4
- 1 kg very tender (new) ginger * see note#1
- 1 kg sugar * see note#2
- approx 1 litre water * see note#3
- 1 egg
- juice of 1 lime
- a clean muslin cloth
- a sterilized glass jar/canister (approx 1.5 litres) or multiple smaller glass jars
1. Wash the ginger thoroughly to remove any traces of mud, wipe with a cloth and gently scrape off the peel/skin. Poke each piece of ginger with a fork or a clean unused hair pin (U pin) - take care not to tear the flesh of very tender ginger. The more you poke the better it will stew in the sugar syrup and taste sweet.
2. Soak the ginger in sufficient water to cover it and keep aside. Change this water twice a day (morning & evening) for two days.
4. Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and smash the whole egg into it (along with the shell), mix well and then add the water and stir well. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, you will notice that the scum (dirt) in the sugar would have floated to the surface. Continue to boil till you are able to see clear liquid below the scum (use a spoon to part the scum). Line a clean bowl with a clean muslin cloth and carefully strain the liquid into it. Discard the scum and transfer the sugar syrup into a large heavy bottomed pan and put it back on the fire and bring it to a boil till it thickens a bit.
1. The scum on the surface of the sugar syrup 2. The clear liquid beneath the scum
3. Strain the syrup on a clean cloth 4. Scum to be discarded
5. Add the pressure cooked ginger and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If you feel the water has reduced you may add a cup at a time. After two hours check if the ginger is tender and the sugar syrup has penetrated inside each piece, if not, put it back on the fire. If done, add the lime juice, stir and remove from fire and cover with a slotted plate to allow excess heat/steam to escape. When the preserve has completely cooled down, the syrup will thicken.
1. Strain excess clear syrup from the cloth 2. The clear sugar syrup without impurities
3. Drain cooking liquor from the pressure cooked ginger 4. Add the cooked ginger to the sugar syrup
6. Store in sterilized airtight glass jars/canisters. If prepared hygienically the preserve will last for a year without refrigeration * see note#5
1. In and around Mangalore (across the coast) new & very tender ginger is available when the monsoons begin to taper off - this is usually from the end of August till the first week of September. Traditionally this preserve is prepared before the Nativity (Monthi) feast that falls on September 8th, so be sure to buy/source your ginger around this time. Any delay will result in slightly fibrous ginger which is not suitable for this preparation. In India, tender ginger is not easily available in the commercial market unless you place an order for it as it tends to rot fast and hence what you see in the market is always matured ginger which is highly fibrous.
2. For extra sweet sugar syrup increase the sugar by another 200-250 grams.
3. The quantity of water to be used is usually proportionate to the quantities of sugar and ginger, however, it may slightly vary depending on the tenderness of the ginger and the consistency (thickness) of the syrup desired. So keep 1.5 litres of water handy and use only as required.
4. The initial preparation time will be reduced if you have a helping hand to clean the ginger. Cooking time will vary slightly depending on the tenderness of ginger used. Also, each piece of ginger needs to be adequately pricked/poked with a fork - only then will the sugar syrup penetrate the pores and help to stew the pieces properly.
5. Always use a clean dry spoon to remove the ginger preserve.