Bottle Gourd — 4 ways: Chana Dal Lauki, Sorakaya Paalu Koora, Chorakaa Pulissery, Sookhi Lauki Sabzi
Another summer vegetable which I love is bottle gourd, also known as calabash. One of the oldest cultivated vegetables, bottle gourd is native to the subcontinent like many of the Asian and African gourds. While its texture and flavour make it suitable for multiple preparations, from savoury to sweet, it still remains amongst the least favourite vegetables.
You will hardly find it on a restaurant's menu or Indian cookbooks unless it's made into a kofta, similar to a meatball, and doused in a ton of gravy. Although, widely made in Indian homes, it's often spurned.
After my post on bitter gourd, I bring bottle gourd to the forefront along with four easy and interesting recipes to cook it!
Bottle Gourd, the vegetable
As per the research article, Transoceanic drift and the domestication of African bottle gourds in the Americas, "Bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) was one of the first domesticated plants, and the only one with a global distribution during pre-Columbian times. Although native to Africa, bottle gourd was in use by humans in east Asia, possibly as early as 11,000 y ago (BP) and in the Americas by 10,000 BP. Despite its utilitarian importance to diverse human populations, it remains unresolved how the bottle gourd came to be so widely distributed, and in particular how and when it arrived in the New World."
Lagenaria is a genus of gourd bearing vines in the squash family, Cucurbitaceae, and it contains six species, all indigenous to Africa and also known to have long existed in Asia. Bottle gourd is the siceraria species of the Lagenaria genus, and is the only one that's cultivated. In fact, bottle gourd or calabash was first cultivated to make bottles and musical instruments
This gourd comes in various shapes and sizes, and has many regional names in India. Lauki, ghia, doodhi in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi and other north and western Indian languages, lau in Bengali and Odia, sorakaya in Telugu, chorakaa in Malayalam and so on.
Extremely to digest, bottle gourd is truly a wonder vegetable because you can create as simple or complicated dishes with it. It's full of health benefits which adds a reason on why you should include it in your diet. In today's post, I'm focusing on simple recipes though.
Chana Dal Lauki
This is the most ubiquitous bottle gourd preparation you will find in many regions across the northern-western half of India, including Punjab, Gujarat, and parts of Maharashtra. Bottle gourd is cooked with Bengal gram (chana dal) along with some basic spices like turmeric, coriander and red chili. Chopped tomatoes or jaggery can lend some sweet-sour acidic tones.
Since the gourd itself is quite soft and may not retain its texture upon high pressure or extended cooking, chana dal helps provide a stew like consistency to the dish. The dal also adds the protein quotient, and when served with a carb like rice or roti, a wholesome meal is ready. Chana dal also has a slightly nutty meaty quotient in it, and when paired with bottle gourd, which is neutral to sweet in its flavour profile, the dish is balanced and tasty.
In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, you will find a similar version of chana dal lauki, in stews which are known as koottu. A koottu has lentils (dal) added to vegetables, and usually has coconut although coconut is not mandatory. It's not as watery as a sambar and not dry like a stir fry dish such as a thoran or poriyal. The lentils commonly used in a koottu are hurled yellow split moong dal, hurled white split urad dal or tur dal.
I grew up eating this dish owing to the influence of Punjabi neighbours, and my mother's attitude towards developing divergent tastes in our home cooking. It was also a welcoming change from the lau-chingudi (bottle gourd with shrimp) and lau bati basa (bottle gourd cooked in a small vessel or pan with a hint of mustard paste, minimum or no water and steamed in it's own juices), which are more common bottle gourd preparations in Odia households. In my home, it's considered as a vegetable side dish than a dal. It's common to serve it with rice or roti and an additional stir fried vegetable.
This dish is a vegetable preparation more than a dal. So, the quantity of dal is less as compared to the gourd. Although, you may make it with more dal. The ratio I usually follow is: for 1 cup of chopped bottle gourd, I use 1/4 cup dal.
In the absence of chana dal, you can use split yellow moong dal or tur dal. These dals cook faster and may not hold their texture as a chana dal. Nevertheless, they taste great with bottle gourd.
You may or may not use onions and garlic in this recipe. These are completely optional ingredients.
If you want to make this as a koottu, first make a paste of coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds along with some water, then temper hot oil with urad dal, dry red chilies, curry leaves and asafoetida, add the bottle gourd, the dal (yellow split chana or moong) plus turmeric with salt and sauté, add the coconut-cumin-green-chillies paste and mix. Add water and pressure cook.
Sorakaya Paalu Posina Koora
Southern Odisha shares its borders with Andhra Pradesh, and the district of Ganjam in the south-eastern fringe, especially has a connection with Telugu food and culture, which is as old as the Nolia fishing community who have a Telugu origin, and continue to speak Telugu even today, and the Telugu Lengayat Dera weaver community who moved to Mohuri and Berhampur on being invited by the Mohuri king and settled to create the famous silk sarees, the Berhampuri patta.
My parents' have their roots in Berhampur city of Ganjam, which was a small town in the past. Needless to say, the Telugu influence in their food is palpable. I have spent many summer vacations with my sisters jaunting along the narrow lanes between my grandparents' houses and their Telugu neighbours, smelling mustard, chana dal, urad dal, dry red chilies and curry leaves bloomed in hot oil, tasting tamarind based sauces and stews and chilies soaked in curd, and savouring multiple versions of pappus (dals) and kooras (gravies having no dals).
I wouldn't say it's easy to fall in love with those cramped streets and the obnoxious humidity, and the often loud and seemingly rude bawls from people passing by or selling flowers, vegetables, fish and whatnot. For someone who comes from outside, which I think I am too in many ways, I will understand if they don't adore the city at first sight. However, over a few visits, you develop a certain affection for the food, and knowing that much of it also comes from a shared culture, adds a layer of respect for the spirit of inclusion.
While machcha ambila (fish in a tangy sauce) and chaaru pani are Odia renditions of Telugu cooking style, sorakaya paalu posina koora is a complete adoption of a slice of Telugu cuisine in our home.
So, what's a paalu posina koora anyway? It's all in the name. In Telugu, paalu means milk, posina means pouring and koora means some sort of gravy. I'm giving you loose translations here, and I'm no expert in the language but I can assure that my Telugu friends and acquaintances wouldn't shun these English terminologies.
Thus, any vegetable cooked with some amount of milk poured in the end to give a gravy like consistency to the preparation is a paalu posina koora. This usually goes well with soft sweeter gourds like bottle gourd (sorakaya), ridge gourd (beerakaya), etc. The tempering is no fuss — chana dal, urad dal, cumin, mustard and curry leaves in minimum oil. The seasoning is with a few pinches of turmeric and slices of green chilies. You may add some sugar in the end for extra sweetness.
Since the dish uses milk, red chilies don't go well in the flavour profile. If you're not fond of green chilies, I'd say use less or don't slit them or perhaps skip it but don't substitute with red chilli powder.
If you're afraid that milk may curdle, whisk about 1/4 tsp rice flour or gram flour in the milk before adding it to the pan or wok.
If paalu posina koora is a story of adopting food culture of a neighbouring state I grew up close by, chorakaa (bottle gourd in Malayalam) pulissery is about discovering comfort in the food of places I wasn't associated by birth but through connections I forged as a grown-up.
Back in the days when Bangalore was home and I worked in one of the many tech giants, pulissery served in the canteen was my saviour on days I didn't carry my lunchbox. I tasted pulissery for the first time during a sumptuous Onam sadhya, a traditional Malayali banquet, and I knew immediately that it was to become a part of my everyday meals.
A pulissery is a curd or yogurt based dish where the gravy usually contains coconut and cumin paste. The consistency is somewhere between watery and too-thick, the curd almost loosened like buttermilk, and the flavour is a delicate balance between sweetness from coconut and sourness from curd. This is not to be confused with erissery, which is thicker and appears almost like a mash, says my closest Malayali friend, M. Both are seasoned or tempered in the end with mustard seeds, curry leaves, dry red chillies and sometimes shallots. The process and the coconut paste may differ from one home to another, but the essence of a pulissery lies in the sour curd or buttermilk and coconut.
Some may draw a parallel between a Kerala style pulissery and a north Indian kadhi, but they're not the same. A pulissery never has lentils or dals in any form, while a kadhi may have gram flour (besan) and no coconut. Although, the tempering for both has some similar ingredients, the differences are unambiguous. And, what is a Kerala style pulissery without a glug of pure coconut oil, which you will never find in a kadhi or any of its close kins. A mor kuḻambu is a Tamil relative of the north Indian kadhi, containing coriander seeds and pigeon peas in its coconut paste.
Another way to understand the difference of a kadhi from a dish like pulissery is to comprehend the soul of the dish. A kadhi has to be a slow-cooked boiling pot of yogurt with besan whisked into it for thickening. The longer and slower you let this mixture cook (some kadhis have only besan like Sindhi Kadhi), the better in taste and consistency will be the kadhi. That's the heart of the dish —yogurt, which is not just a souring agent for this preparation. A pulissery on the other hand has a gourd or fruit or something else at its center, and other ingredients mix and match to lend it flavour and texture. Yogurt here is not cooked for a prolonged time, and works primarily as a souring agent or a medium to carry the ensemble of the main ingredient with coconut and spices.
Pulisserys are made from different soft and water-based vegetables, like ash gourd, cucumber or bottle gourd, and even fruits like mango and pineapple. The bottle gourd version was definitely the latest in the list of pulisserys I had eaten. Every time the menu at the cafeteria failed to impress my extra hungry stomach, I scanned the buffet for some pulissery, which was usually a constant. Few ladles of rice and more of pulissery and a bowl of sambar gratified my heart like nothing else. I would take two appalams, crush one fully atop the sambar-rice, keep the other to bite intermittently through the meal, savouring spoonfuls of pulissery, and I instantly felt at home.
Comfort foods are social surrogates that derive their emotional power from their connections to existing relationships. In other words, comfort foods gain their emotional power by reminding us of the people who fed them to us (Triosi & Gabriel, 2011). While my mother never made a pulissery, it somehow always reminded me of her nadia pachedi, an Odia style coconut chutney which includes curd or yogurt. The entire ensemble of sambar, rice and pulissery was a schmaltzy ballad recalling a plate of archetypal rice, dalma and nadia pachedi that mom fed me and my sisters on several days of the week when we returned from school with many rounds of roasted papad.
Pulissery still remains that comfort food for me, and now reminds me of the time when I grappled prosaic weekdays in an MNC, awaiting half an hour of quiet with a plate of understated lunch, which momentarily diluted my hiraeth. With time, I learned making delicious pulisserys on my own, and this effortless dish of Kerala is undoubtedly a part of my homemade meals now.
In Kerala, you will find the pulissery much more sour than what you'd get in Karnataka. I prefer the sour version more, so I tend to use a sour tasting yogurt or curd. By no means this implies a sour flavoured yogurt! The older the yogurt, the sour it will be.
The coconut paste in a pulissery may or may not contain shallots. I prefer using shallots when making a bottle gourd or ash gourd pulissery. For mango, cucumber and pineapple, I don't use shallots. If you can't find shallots, use pearl onions or skip it.
Sookhi Lauki Sabzi
Sookhi Lauki was one of those revelations you have and wonder "why didn't I ever do it before?" You will find many local eateries in Bombay that have a vrat ka khana, foods for fasting, section on their menu. It was one of those days after an utterly long and rather uninteresting lecture in my post grad class when I headed out of the college with a rumbling tummy. At 4 p.m. the canteen wouldn't serve things like roti-sabzi and dal-chawal. So, I landed at one of those piffling restaurants that sell all-day lunches. I opted for few things from the fasting foods entries in their menu.
I have usually had the most satisfying meals in places which have no names and non-existent in the list of venerable restaurants and hotels. The plate that arrived had a bowl of sookhi lauki sabzi, bottle gourd cooked as a dry preparation with hardly any spices, dubki kadhi, two chapatis and some rice with complimentary salad. While the kadhi with un-fried pakodis (fritters made of lentils or gramflour which are boiled in the kadhi itself) wasn't new for me, the lauki sabzi definitely made its way to my memories and my kitchen later.
This recipe is so simple and has so few ingredients that you'll wonder how can the final dish taste so good. It's all in the tempering I would say, one that you begin the dish with. The oil has to be hot before you add the cumin and mustard, which have to sputter before you add turmeric. You let the turmeric cook, and just before it changes colour, add sliced green chilies and throw in the diced bottle gourd. Sprinkle salt as you stir and that's all to it. The younger the gourd, the tastier the dish will be. Bottle gourd is truly the showstopper of this dish.
If you like garlic, a good quantity of minced garlic works really well too. Adding profuse garlic to a simple bottle gourd is something I discovered on my own. The interplay of garlic with green chilli and bottle gourd turns out really delicious.
You may add red chilli powder although I would suggest not to. I wouldn't want to take away from bottle gourd's flavour. Even the green chilli is a tad. Don't load a ton of it.
Cover and cook the bottle gourd and keep checking in between until done.
Don't skip the fresh coriander leaves in the end. They're not just for garnish. They add a lot of freshness and add flavour as well.
Chana Dal Lauki
2 cups bottle gourd, peeled and chopped (1 small bottle gourd)
1/2 cup Bengal gram, washed, soaked for at least 2 hours and drained
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped (optional)
1 small tomato, finely chopped or 1 tsp jaggery
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste or minced (or only ginger)
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander and cumin seeds, freshly dry roasted and pounded
1 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly chopped cilantro
In a pressure cooker or instant pot, heat oil and add mustard and cumin seeds. Let them crackle and then add the onion. Sauté and let it turn pink. Add the ginger-garlic paste and toss for about a minute.
Add asafoetida, chilli, turmeric, coriander and cumin powder and give everything a good mix. Cook for 3-4 minutes, scrapping the bottom of the cooker or the pot with few splashes of water if needed.
Add the tomatoes (if using) and stir to combine. Add the Bengal gram or chana dal and sauté well. Reduce the heat slightly and let the dal absorb the masala — about 4-5 minutes. This will ensure the earthy smell of the lentil to be released into the gravy. Now add the bottle gourd and mix again. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes. If you're using jaggery, add it now and mix.
Add a little salt, 1 cup of water, mix and close the lid of the pressure cooker or instant pot. For a pressure cooker, cook for 1 whistle on high heat and 2 whistles on medium to low heat. For instant pot, cook at high pressure for 8-10 minutes.
Open, add more salt to adjust seasoning. Add the cilantro before serving.
Sorakaya Paalu Koora
2 cups bottle gourd, washed, peeled and chopped (1 small bottle gourd) - discard spongy middle part and any big seeds
2 tsp oil
1/2 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp chana dal
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
7-8 curry leaves
1/2 cup milk
2 or 3 green chillies, slit
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
In a wok or deep pan on medium heat, add oil. Once oil is hot, add mustard seeds, urad dal and then chana dal. Fry the dal till golden brown but take care not to burn them. If you're not used to this, keep the heat slightly less than medium hot.
Next add, cumin, curry leaves, slit green chillies, and turmeric powder. Sauté for a few seconds and before anything burns, add the bottle gourd pieces. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add water enough to cover the bottle gourd pieces, then add salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook on medium to low flame for about 15 minutes.
Open and check the doneness — the bottle gourd pieces will have a transparent shine and be easy to cut with a spoon but not mushy. If undone, cook for another 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to very low and add milk. Let it cook over low heat till the milk starts boiling. Then turn off the heat and let the gravy rest for 8-10 minutes before serving.
1 cup bottle gourd, peeled, sliced and chopped
1 cup buttermilk or curd
For coconut paste: 2 shallots/small onions (optional), 1/2 cup coconut grated or cut into small pieces, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1-2 green chilies (use as per your spice tolerance)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
For tadka or seasoning: 2 tsp coconut oil, 2 dried red chillies, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 5-7 Curry leaves
1 cup water
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Blend coconut along with shallots, cumin seeds and green chillies into a fine paste. Keep it aside.
In a pan on medium heat, and add bottle gourd along with 3/4 cup of water, turmeric, red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Once the water starts boiling, cover and cook on medium to low flame for 15-20 minutes.
Once the bottle gourd is cooked well, add the coconut paste and mix. Let it cook for another 1 minute. Add remaining 1/4 cup water if you find the consistency too thick and let it boil. Meanwhile, whisk the curd with remaining salt.
Reduce the heat to very low and add the whisked curd into the pan. Stir continuously for 30-40 seconds. Leave it to simmer and turn off the heat when the gravy is just about to a boil. Make sure the curd doesn't boil more than a minute. Keep the pan aside.
Heat oil in a small fry pan or tadka pan, add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. As they splutter, add dry red chillies and curry leaves. Saute and pour the tempered oil over the prepared gravy. Give a good mix and taste the salt. Add more salt to adjust if required.
Sookhi Lauki Sabzi
2 cups bottle gourd, peeled, sliced and chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1-2 green chilies chopped
1 tbsp garlic chopped (optional)
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Place a pan or kadhai on medium heat and add oil. Once the oil is hot, add cumin and mustard and let them crackle. Immediately add turmeric powder and stir for 30 seconds.
Add the green chilli slices and bottle gourd pieces and stir to combine. Cook with intermittent stirring for about 2-3 minutes. Add salt and mix again.
If using garlic, add it now. Mix again.
Cover and cook on low to medium flame for 15-20 minutes or until bottle gourd is fully cooked. You can open the pan or kadhai and keep checking the doneness. Every time you open the pan, give a good stir and close again.
Switch off the heat when done and add the chopped coriander leaves. Stir to combine. Serve with hot rotis or dal and rice!