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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!

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