Tomato Loki Curry–South Indian style Bottle Gourd

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.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

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.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Bottle Gourd BirdhouseAmericans 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.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--opo in the Chinese marketI 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.

Tomato Loki Curry--South Indian style Bottle Gourd
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetarian Main dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
 
Make this instead of a simple cucumber and tomato chopped salad, serve it with dal and rice, and you have a complete meal.
Ingredients
  • 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)
Instructions
  1. In a medium sauce pan, add diced squash and ½ cup water--the squash doesn't have to be fully submerged.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Notes
Curry leaves come from the curry tree (a relative of the neem tree). It is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The leaves have a smokey, aromatic flavor unlike anything I've tasted before. They are used a lot in west-coast and southern Indian cooking. I have only found fresh curry leaves at the Indian grocery store. (Don't bother with dry or frozen as the flavor is greatly diminished). If you find them, treat them like a bay leaf--they are a flavoring agent and people generally don't eat them. If you can't find them, try using a bit of smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

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.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Peeled Squash

Peel squash and scrape out the seeds.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Simmering Loki in Spices

Simmer the squash for 5 minutes in a bit of water with turmeric, paprika and salt.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Cooking Tomatoes Down

Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them down–about 10 minutes.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--mixing in yogurt

Add some of the hot liquid to the yogurt, mix well, and stir it back into the curry.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Tempering Spices

Temper the mustard seeds, dried chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--add tempered spices

Pour the oil and tempered spices on top of the curry and serve.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

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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South Indian Snap Beans–Everything is better with mustard seeds

My husband grew up on the spice coast of South India in Kerala and each Sunday night we are treated to a South India feast.  In general, South Indian cuisine is much quicker and easier to prepare than North Indian fare.  It uses flavors and cooking techniques similar to those in South East Asia in combination with the classic Indian spices.  My advice: If you have ever wanted to cook Indian at home, start in the South with a simple dish like this family favorite.South Indian-style Snap Beans

This is the Man’s quick and easy go-to side dish for our Sunday supers in Kerala. Coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves spice up the humble little snap beans and make it a Kerala classic.

South Indian Snap Beans
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable Side
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Chopped cabbage or grated kohlrabi make delicious substitutions for the snap beans.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. snap beans, green or wax, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ½ T oil, canola or coconut
  • ½ t black mustard seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about a ½ cup)
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 10 – 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • 1 t paprika
  • Pinch or more cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • ⅔ cup water or more as needed
Instructions
  1. Using a 12 or 14-inch sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat the oil until hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they just start to pop. This is called tempering the spices.
  2. Once they pop, immediately add the onion, salt, curry leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Saute until the onion just begins to brown—5 minutes.
  3. Add beans and ⅔ cup of water. Cover and let steam until the beans are tender—about 10 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
  4. Remove lid, add coconut and continue sauteing until all the liquid evaporates about 1 minute longer.
  5. Serve with rice and yogurt.
Notes
Unsweetened grated coconut can be found in the freezer section of any Indian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a small bag of black mustard seeds which have a slightly different flavor than brown mustard seeds. lastly, fresh curry leaves are a sort of herb from a curry tree grown in tropical climates only. Find those in the fresh produce section of the Indian grocery store.

South Indian-style Snap Beans--chopping

 

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South Indian-style Snap Beans--finishingCooking with Kids

“Do you know what they call Indian food in India?…Food.  That is one of our long running little jokey admonishments to the kids. It comes up when they make a comment about not wanting to try some dish because it is new or unfamiliar.  What’s left out, but certainly implied and understood,  “Now try it.”  Rejecting food based on appearance or unfamiliarity is a strict no-no here and should be for you too.

From the age of about 2, kids have a natural impulse to reject any new food.  It is a self preservation instinct.  The first time a toddler experiences a new taste, they will only consume a little.  We evolved that way so as not to accidentally ingest a big bowl full of poisonous berries and die.  Instead, we eat a little, wait to see if there are any adverse effects.  None noted…let’s eat a little more of that food next time around and re-evaluate. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, doesn’t it?  Those of the species who threw caution to the wind and ate the big bowl of poisonous berries, well they didn’t last long enough to pro-create. Millions of years of natural selection have given rise to the picky eater.

So don’t hesitate to serve something new.  Even if it is rejected, serve it again and again if you liked it. Have the kids try at least one bite each time.  I guarantee that they will come around to eating it eventually.  Eighteen exposures to a new food is the rule. And the next time you’re in a conversation where you say or hear something like, “Little Bobby would never try anything like Indian food,”  remember what they call Indian food in India. One billion people can’t be wrong.

Tips

Snap Beans StorageSnap beans are prone to frost damage. To prevent this, store them in a paper bag placed in another plastic bag and placed in the warmest part of the fridge.  Do not wash them before storing.  They should keep up to a week like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onion Chutney

From cooked to raw, smooth to course, and sour to sweet, Indian cuisine abounds with condiments made from veggies and spices known as chutneys. If you frequent Indian restaurants, you probably have sampled at least three of these: mint, tamarind and onion.  For unknown reasons, these chutneys have become the ubiquitous accompaniment to most Indian buffets.

Onion Chutney 2While I find them all delicious along with countless other chutneys, onion remains my favorite. Essentially a pickle (you may have noticed my fondness for all things pickled), onion chutney adds tantalizing zing and bite to any meal. This recipe forgoes the preternatural red dye that most restaurants add.  I made up the recipe based on taste; the Man tweaked it adding tempered mustard seeds.  He couldn’t help himself—Keralite Indians believe mustard seeds make everything better.  I say it works either way.

Onion Chutney IngredientsOnion chutney along with dal is a part of our basic Sunday night Indian meal.  I use this chutney in non-Indian meals too.  I particularly like it with eggs or smoked meats.

Onion Chutney
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • 1 T oil--mustard, vegetable or canola (optional)
  • 1 T black mustard seeds (optional)
  • I large onion, finely chopped (about a cup)
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t sweet paprika
  • 1 pinch cayenne powder
  • 3 T cider vinegar
Instructions
  1. If adding the mustard seeds, first heat the oil in a small pan over a medium-high flame.
  2. Once hot, add mustard seeds and cook until they "pop" and release their flavor (30 seconds), then immediately remove from heat.
  3. Mix all the ingredients, store in a glass jar, refrigerate, and serve the next day. The chutney should last several weeks if kept refrigerated.
Notes
Cooking spices in oil to release their flavor is called tempering spices and is a technique used in many Indian dishes.

Tip: 

If you live in a town or city with even a small Indian population, you undoubtedly have access to an Indian grocery.  I can think of five in Milwaukee alone and every time I drive to an unfamiliar part of the city or suburbs, I see another one.  Find one near you and go.  The Indian grocery sells spices and other whole foods like rice, legumes and nuts at a fraction of the cost you find in the supermarket.

Going to a small mom & pop shop where YOU are the foreigner can seem intimidating sometimes, but they do want you and your business.  Be brave  Just think of it as an adventure—a cheap, quick, international-travel experience.  Go; take your time; explore the aisles; it’s fun to discover new foods.  Think about it as visiting an ethnic museum with a food theme.  Not only will you have fun, but you will also support a local family business while you save money.  I can’t think of a better masala than that!