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Ditch salads, and use cucumbers to make kheer or cake

From the coast of Goa to the interiors of Maharashtra, several regional dishes are prepared with the summer staple

(From left) Ingredients for Tavshachi kheer; a cucumber cake named Dhondas.
(From left) Ingredients for Tavshachi kheer; a cucumber cake named Dhondas.

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Cucumbers are synonymous with raw salads and raita. So much so, that one can be led to believe that the only way to eat this summer staple is in its raw form. 

The spectacular variety of India’s regional dishes prove otherwise. There is a traditional cake in Goa and regional preparations from the interiors of Maharashtra where the core ingredient is cucumber—and it’s cooked. 

There are health benefits too. Dr. Eileen Canday, medical nutritionist and dietician from Mumbai says raw cucumber can cause bloating, indigestion and skin irritations in some people. To counter such issues, it is advisable to cook it. “Cooking makes it easier to digest without reducing any nutrients significantly,” explains Dr. Canday adding, “this wisdom is found in our traditional recipes too.” 

In the Konkan belt and Goa, a unique cucumber cake named dhondas is relished. It's also known as tavsoli or mandas. Kakadiche ghavan (pan cakes), gharge (puris), tavsachya patolya (sweet dumplings) and tavshachi kheer (cucumber porridge) are sweet and savoury delicacies in this region. While dhondas, patolya and kheer are sweet, ghavan and gharge can be prepared as sweet or savoury. In western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha, there are a variety of spicy preparations with cucumber. Khamang kakadi (cucumber salad with a tadka) and kakadiche thalipeeth (cucumber multigrain roti) are other Maharashtrian favourites. Cucumbers are used in curries and kottus in home kitchens of South India, there is a spectacular variety of kachumbars across the country, and it goes into achaars too.

To act as a counterpoint to summer, and move beyond everyday cucumber salads, here are regional recipes from home kitchens:

Tavshachi kheer from Goa
Recipe by Savita Naik, hotelier working at Hotel Shantadurga, Sanguem

1 cup grated cucumber (don't squeeze out the water)
1.25 cups coconut milk
1.25 cups jaggery (or as per taste)
1 cup poha 
Pinch of salt

Wash the poha and remove the excess water. Keep aside for 5 minutes. Place a pan on medium heat, add grated cucumber. When it starts to release water, cover the pan, and let it cook for two minutes. The cucumber will release more water. At this point, add crushed jaggery and stir for three minutes. Pour in coconut milk and stir for about two minutes. Turn off the gas. Add the soaked poha and a pinch of salt. Stir well, cover the lid and let it rest for some time. The poha is not meant to be cooked and should be added when the cooked ingredients are taken off the gas. The kheer can be served at room temperature or chilled. 

Dhondas from South Konkan and Goa
Recipe by Rekha Kelbaikar, homemaker, Mumbai

2 bowls grated cucumber
3 bowls semolina (regular wheat or rice rava)
3 bowls jaggery (adjust as per taste)
1 bowl milk (with cream)
Homemade ghee (clarified butter)
Sliced cashew nuts

Place a large pan on low heat. Add ghee and roast semolina. Mix in all the ingredients and let it cook while stirring continuously. Once it turns lumpy, pour it into a tray greased with ghee. Keep the tray in the oven at 180 degrees for 10-12 minutes. (No need to preheat the oven).

Alternatively, place this mixture in a pan greased with ghee and let it roast on a slow flame. Heat another tava and keep it on the pan. This ensures heating from both sides. Check after 10-15 minutes. Switch off the gas when the edges turn dark red. 

Let it cool. Cut into squares and serve. They will keep well in the refrigerator for about five days. They can be fried in ghee before serving. 

A similar recipe is prepared in coastal Karnataka as well as northern coastal Maharashtra.

Kakadichi Bhaji from western Maharashtra
Recipe by Mandakini Khillari, a shepherd and a farmer from Solapur

3 large cucumbers, grated
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
Half teaspoon mustard seeds
Half teaspoon cumin seeds
7-8 curry leaves
3 teaspoons green chillies, coarsely ground
3 teaspoons garlic, crushed
Half teaspoon turmeric powder
4-6 tablespoons gram flour
2 tablespoons peanuts, crushed
Salt to taste

Add oil to a pan placed on a high flame. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once the seeds splutter, lower the flame and add green chillies, garlic, curry leaves and turmeric powder. Now add grated cucumber (along with its water). Cover the lid and let it cook for 2 minutes. Remove the lid, add the gram flour and keep stirring. Add a splash of water if the mixture gets too dry. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Open the lid and keep stirring for 2 more minutes. Add crushed peanuts and salt. Mix well and keep stirring. Switch off the gas after 2-3 minutes. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves. A pungent curry is ready. Garlic can be replaced with ginger.   

Always taste a piece of cucumber before grating or cutting. Some cucumbers are intensely bitter and must not be used in these recipes.

Tender cucumbers with thin and sweet skin need not be peeled. But wash them well in salt water to remove the pesticides and dirt.

Large cucumbers have bigger seeds. Deseed if the seeds are too hard.

When using cucumber in a salad, add salt just before serving to avoid release of excess water. 

Bhushan Korgaonkar is a Mumbai-based writer.

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