Now I love most types of squash, but I had rarely ever cooked with the bottle gourd (dudhi or lauki), a delicious variety of squash that’s very popular in Indian cooking. Even when I found an Asian supermarket in my area that sold it, I just wasn’t motivated enough to pick it up, take it home, and cook it.
Enter Navami, my intrepid social worker friend who, while staying with us for a weekend, told me about the bottle gourd’s amazing health properties. According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of holistic healing, bottle gourd is a diuretic, is great for your digestive system, and even has cholesterol-lowering properties. Being a sucker for anything that’s supposed to be good for me (I know it sounds weird, but that’s just me!) I dragged Navami to the Asian supermarket and, under her eagle eye, picked up a beautifully pale-green bottle gourd.
Next came the prep- Navami passed on to me her family’s simple but delicious recipe, which I tweaked just slightly to suit my family’s tastes. It was so tasty, I couldn’t resist buying the bottle gourd each time I went to the Asian store.
This is where my other friend, Sharon, comes in. Sharon is a fearless reporter at a newspaper where I once worked myself. She travels regularly to Iraq and other parts of the world, digging up amazing stories. Sharon loves Goan food, and dreams of writing a cookbook about cuisine from that part of the world some day.
Anyway, Sharon and I went to the Indian store this past weekend, and I had a blast explaining to her the role of various spices, condiments and ingredients used in Indian cooking. Being a Sunday evening, we had slim pickings when it came to the fresh produce section, but Sharon seemed intrigued by the bottle gourd.
I promised at the time to send her the recipe, so here it is. It takes minutes to put together, and is utterly delicious eaten with some rice and lentils or just a chapati or two.
Dudhi or Bottle Gourd Subzi
1 medium bottle gourd, chopped in a 1-cm dice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp chana dal or bengal gram, soaked for about 30 minutes in warm water, then drained thoroughly
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt to taste
1/4 cup grated coconut, for garnish
1 tbsp grated jaggery (optional)
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and wait until they sputter.
Add the chana dal and stir for a minute.
Add the turmeric and chili powder and stir quickly. (Make sure you ventilate the kitchen because the fumes from this this can cause some coughing and eye-watering)
Immediately add the chopped bottle gourd pieces and stir to coat with the oil and spices.
Add salt to taste and stir.
Add about 1/2 cup of water to the saucepan. Cover and let it cook, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes or until the gourd is really tender.
Add the jaggery, if using, and stir in.
Garnish with coconut.