Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gourd tales: why you should disown the kofta

This is the 'eat-your-vegetables-as-they-come' week. I find that there are some vegetables that people want to cook up, upscale, and deliberately metamorphose them into things that they are not! This is definitely true of the gourd (lauki in Hindi). A general favourite I find is 'lauki ke kofte' - a kofta, or a dumpling, where everything that is integral to the gourd is crushed ruthlessly in order for it to taste of anything but a gourd! Mothers tell their children, 'but you can't tell it's lauki!' Others wax eloquent about how the kofta tasted just like chicken, not gourd! Really, I ask? Is it because it is assumed that the gourd can never be prepared in a manner that does justice to it being a gourd - the soft mild flavoured gourd?

This is not an eulogy to the gourd, really. All I want to say is that sometimes it's easier to cook a vegetable in a manner that retains its essential form, and they taste better that way too. I find that gourd (and often bitter gourd) are its greatest victims, at least in India. A fresh, succulent gourd can be delicious. And even if it does not hold the mantle of the queen of your dinner table, it can certainly whisk away that much-coveted supporting role award. The trick is to find a gourd that is neither too large nor too old, and the skin should be soft when pricked, and the peel a beautiful light green colour. 

At home, we love to have a boiled gourd salad with salt and lemon leaves, when eating pork cooked with bamboo shoots. It is a cool comforting side dish that beautifully complements the richness of the meat. In my mother's kitchen there is a lightly sautéed chopped gourd peel with poppy seeds, that tastes wonderful with daal in summers. This is a big summer favourite and anybody who has ever tasted it would never consider those disgusting balls of gourd paste, mixed with masalas beyond recognition, as the finest example of a gourd dish. Sometimes, I also also like adding cubed gourd in fish curries, such as in the delicious Assamese tenga.

There is no end to the possibilities. Just keep cooking!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The farm friend: Pumpkins in the goodie bag

Len loves vegetables. And so do I. Despite my love for eating meat, I genuinely enjoy eating vegetables and trying out variations of the same dishes. Last week, a family friend - with large farm to his long list of assets - visited us, and brought along with him, a big bag filled with fresh farm produce. There were two pumpkins in the goodie bag, along with generous portions of green beans and potatoes! Yay! If I ever had a farm to myself, I would grow all my vegetables, and have five big dogs as pets. And, also a pony. Sigh... a Halfinger.

Pumpkin with fragrant lemon leaves

What you need:

500 gm pumpkin, diced to 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 tsp, ginger-garlic paste
Lemon leaves, a handful
1 tsp, red curry paste
1 cup, freshly squeezed-out coconut milk*
1 tbsp, lemon juice
2-3 green chillies, chopped
2 tbsp, oil
Salt, to taste

How to:

Pour oil into a non-stick pan, and once hot, add the onions to it. Fry them till they a pale pinkish colour and then stir in the ginger-garlic paste. If you are using a fine paste that has a higher water-content, then it would be a good idea to fry the onions for another minute more before adding the paste. I prefer a fresh, more coarse paste using a mortar and pestle.

Add the red curry paste and stir it around for a couple of minutes, so that the paste melts into the onion mixture before you add the pumpkins. Fry the pumpkin for 10-15 minutes. You could add the salt as well as lemon leaves and chillies at this time. If it gets too dry, add a splash of water, now and then.

Now add the coconut milk and let it simmer away till the pumpkin is very soft and breaks easily with a ladle. You may add the lemon juice or later before serving.

* If you wish, you could substitute coconut milk with fresh desiccated coconut. In this case, add the coconut just after frying the onion-ginger-garlic mix. Cook the coconut till it loses its raw colour before adding the red curry paste.

* You could also add shrimps to this recipe, or prawns, or even crabs for a delicious variation.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, last Thursday was the happy happy day! :)
That's called Strawberry Seduction: a delicious chocolate cake topped with a tart strawberry preserve from Whipped! YUM!

Cake from Lenny