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
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.
  • 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)
  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.
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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1 thought on “Tomato Loki Curry–South Indian style Bottle Gourd

  1. My Filipina grandma usllauy makes upo into a soup or a simple salad with tomatoes, garlic and other odds and ends that escape me. You could try for a vegan take on a traditional dish. Also, my Mexican grandparents usllauy make calabacita (upo is considered a summer squash and it’s pretty interchangeable with other squash recipes) into a taco-like filling with ground meat (not all too different from ginisang upo actually) and tomatoes. They serve it with beans, rice and tortillas. Lastly, my Sicilian husband’s family makes squash dishes with cucuzza (a general term for calabash/summer squash) and tomatoes. I used to make a layered eggplant parmigiana casserole, where I alternated squash with eggplant slices, topped it with marinara and cheese, then baked it in the oven. Just be sure to salt and rinse your eggplant slices, then briefly bake them in the oven on a cookie sheet before getting the casserole together (I baked them for about 5 minutes then flipped and baked for another 5).Regardless, I don’t think you’ll go wrong combining the upo with tomatoes if three different countries make it that way, it seems like a sure bet! Good luck and good eating!

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