It has been just about 2 months since we returned from Kerala, India to visit the man’s family where we ate curries and saucy dishes like this one morning, noon, and night. I have recovered from the deluge and can once again embrace curry. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. This South Indian vegetarian curry is simple with just a handful of ingredients, but the flavor is tremendous. After his dal, this recipe is the second most requested in the man’s small arsenal of old family favorites.
The star ingredient is calabash or bottle gourd squash. As a vining member of the squash family, calabash goes by many names– cucuzza in Italy, opo in China, loki in India to name a few. In fact, citizens from virtually every country and culture have a name and a use for this delicately flavored, silky textured vegetable which tastes and acts a lot like a zucchini or cucumber.
Americans use it too, but instead of eating it, we like to dry it, paint it, and turn it into a birdhouse that we sell at a craft sale. I bought the one pictured here about seven years ago at a farmers market in Cleveland. The paint has faded, no bird has ever resided here, but it is a birdhouse nonetheless. In defense of crafters everywhere, turning it into a birdhouse isn’t such a far-fetched notion as humans the world over have for 100’s and 1000’s of years used the dried gourd to make bowls, pitchers, and even musical instruments.
I have never seen calabash at a supermarket, but Indian or Asian grocery stores with a produce section carry it. No Indian or Asian grocery nearby? No problem. This recipe works just fine with cucumber. (Yes, you can cook a cucumber!) But I admit I prefer the texture of the bottle gourd. So if substitutions won’t do and the Indian grocery seems too far, try planting some. You still have time.
I have a tiny garden which I plan meticulously as space is at a premium. I have grown both zucchini and bottle gourd in the past and have decided that only bottle gourd is worth the effort and space. Calabash produces just as many squashes as a zucchini plant and any recipe calling for zucchini can easily substitute calabash. The difference lies in that imperative to pick it. Let a zucchini go and you have a giant watery squash best suited for the compost pile. Let a calabash get carried away you you’ve got yourself a fine birdhouse.
- 1 medium bottle gourd (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and diced in ¼ inch pieces
- ½ cup water
- ¼ t turmeric
- ½ t paprika
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- ½ t salt
- 1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
- ½ t cumin
- 1 t salt
- ⅔ cup yogurt
- 2 T oil--coconut oil is best
- 1 t mustard seeds
- 1 – 2 whole dried chili
- 10-15 curry leaves* (optional)
- In a medium sauce pan, add diced squash and ½ cup water--the squash doesn't have to be fully submerged.
- Stir in turmeric, paprika, and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam squash until it become slightly translucent--about 5 minutes.
- Next add the tomatoes. Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes until the gourd becomes completely tender and the tomato cooks down. Do not let the curry dry out. It should remain soupy; add more water if necessary.
- Remove curry from heat. Add about ⅓ cup of the hot curry liquid to the yogurt and stir until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the curry and gently stir.
- In a separate small sauce pan, heat coconut oil over a medium-high flame. Add mustard seeds and dried chili pepper and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Next, toss in curry leaves, fry 10 more seconds and remove from heat. This is called tempering the spices. Pour this oil and spice mixture over the curry and serve.
Cooking with Kids: Studies show that kids tend to eat what they cook, even never-before-seen veggies like calabash. They also love to use tools. The peeler is a good first-step “sharp” to teach your kids to use properly.Start with a good quality peeler–one that doesn’t have a fully exposed blade–like this Oxo. Show your child to move the peeler away from her hands and body and go slowly. This is my just-turned-5 year old peeling a bottle gourd squash while she listens to Led Zeplin. That’s just how we roll here in the local global kitchen.
Peel squash and scrape out the seeds.
Simmer the squash for 5 minutes in a bit of water with turmeric, paprika and salt.
Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them down–about 10 minutes.
Temper the mustard seeds, dried chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil.
Pour the oil and tempered spices on top of the curry and serve.
Serve hot or at room temperature. I like to serve it with dal, Basmati rice, a bit of yogurt and onion chutney. Click on the links for these recipes.
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