One of the goals of this column is to champion the cause of underdog ingredients, and this time it is the bottle gourd’s turn to be in the spotlight. While a lot of people dislike bitter gourd for its strong taste, bottle gourd, also known as dudhi/lauki/ghiya/sorakkaai, gets a bad rap just for being bland and boring.
Fun fact: Bottle gourd was one of the first plants in the world to be cultivated for use as a vessel (bottle!). The varieties grown for this purpose would have had a much larger proportion of seeds and core, with a thinner wall for increased capacity within. However, the varieties grown for edible uses are better off with fewer seeds and core and a fleshier wall.
Thanks are due to Baba Ramdev, co-founder of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. and yoga guru, for making a lot of people guzzle dudhi juice first thing in the morning. The day can only get better from there, right? Jokes apart, adding mint, ginger and black salt does make dudhi juice easier to pass down the gullet. When Baba Ramdev’s morning show on Aastha channel was at peak popularity, starting in 2003, I used to live in Mumbai. Such was the popularity of bottle gourd that the vegetable vendors in the markets would gleefully announce that the prices of dudhi had gone up because of Baba Ramdev.
But like other members of the gourd family, such as cucumbers and zucchini, bottle gourd may also have extremely bitter variants. Drinking a bitter bottle- gourd juice could be toxic at higher doses, even leading to death in some cases.
Lauki lacks in the flavour and texture department. Add some drama to it with the flavoursome texture of boris (Bengali sun-dried lentil dumplings) or vadi (Punjabi-style sun-dried spiced lentil balls) or just cook it with chana dal (Bengal gram).
The mild flavour can also be boosted by choosing from ingredients like coconut, ginger, garlic, chillies, amchoor (dried mango powder), black pepper, cumin, etc.
There are quite a few Indian recipes for tasty bottle gourd. Here are some of them.
Lauki and chana dal in a soupy curry work well with both rice and rotis. Gujarati-style muthia, made with grated bottle gourd, a mix of flours and spices, shaped into dumplings, steamed and then tossed in a tempering of mustard and sesame seeds, is one of the most delicious snacks, served with green chutney.
Dudhi koftas are made by combining grated dudhi with besan (gram flour) and spices; the dough is either deep-fried or shallow-fried. These koftas can be eaten as an appetizer or added to a tomato-based gravy base to make a kofta curry.
In the Salad Series, a series of live talks I am doing on Instagram, one viewer asked me for ways to use Indian vegetables like dudhi in a salad. Here’s what I would do. Spiralize the dudhi or grate it into long noodles. Steam for a few minutes or microwave for a minute. Cool and use as a noodle salad in a peanut butter-chilli-vinegar-soy-ginger dressing. Just don’t tell anyone that they are eating bottle gourd.
Dudhi is one of the vegetables that feature in desserts like kheer and halwa (see recipe).
The bottle gourd quesadilla recipe is a great way to use leftover rotis and a hearty dose of this vegetable. It comes with a kids-will-love-it guarantee.
LAUKI KA HALWA
1 tbsp ghee
2 cups grated bottle gourd, packed
Half cup raw cane sugar
Half cup grated khoya
Quarter tsp green cardamom powder
For the garnish
2-3 tbsp almonds, sliced
A few strands of saffron
Heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the grated bottle gourd and fry on a low to medium flame for 3-4 minutes. Cover and cook for 6-8 minutes until the bottle gourd is softened.
Uncover the pan and allow the excess moisture to dry out over a low flame. Mix in the khoya and sugar and keep stirring. The khoya and sugar will melt and after 5-6 minutes of stirring, come together.
Once the excess moisture is dried out, mix in the cardamom powder. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with slivered or sliced almonds and saffron.
1 tbsp olive oil
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups bottle gourd, coarsely grated
1 small carrot, coarsely grated
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
Half tsp roasted cumin powder
4 tbsp tomato puree
2 tortillas or leftover rotis*
2-3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
3-4 tbsp cheese, grated
For the garnish
Heat oil in a pan. Sauté garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes. Add the grated bottle gourd and carrot and keep stirring on a high flame for 4-5 minutes. Mix in the salt, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin powder and stir to combine. Add the tomato purée and stir over a high flame until all the moisture dries out. Cool the mixture for half an hour.
On a working surface, place one tortilla. Spread the filling all over the tortilla. Sprinkle grated cheese and coriander leaves. Cover with the other tortilla.
Heat a flat pan or tava. Brush some oil over it. Carefully place the tortillas with the filling over the tava and cook over a medium flame until the tortilla is crisp and golden. Brush the top with oil, turn over and cook this side similarly.
Remove to a chopping board and cut into wedges. Garnish with sliced chillies and coriander leaves. Serve with a sour-cream-based dip.
*I used leftover whole-wheat roomali rotis to make these.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.