Spicy Pointed Gourd and Potatoes Curry adapted from the big fat Indian feasts (Bhoj waala Aaloo Parval)

The inspiration for this recipe comes from the big fat Indian feasts that happen in the Eastern state of India, Bihar.

For most special occasions in our family home in Bihar, we outsource the cooking to a local caterer who has an army of cooks working for him. They come prepared, set up their temporary cooking stations in our big open backyard, slowly the gigantic pots and pans start coming out followed by jute sacks filled with fresh produce like onions, potatoes, pointed gourd (Parval) and other ingredients for the big feast.

If you are as crazy about food as I am, you’ll quickly realize that it is such a treat to watch! These seasoned cooks operate with ease, often engaging in a friendly banter, the topics covered range anything from the current price of locally sourced onions to the fate of the country post elections and sometimes world peace!

Their efficiency and skill is beyond doubt, exceptional! The one thing that I am always in awe of is how they estimate spices & salt when handling such large quantities of ingredients. There is no madness like you would normally witness in a commercial kitchen, even though the menu is usually quite extensive. The preparation and cooking is flawless and the food just seems to magically come together, on time! Of course, what we don’t see are the years of practice, planning and time management skills that have gone in to what seems like an effortless pursuit.

I took inspiration from the pointed gourd curry which I have had on many such occasions. The use of Kashmiri and Deghi chilli powder (easily available on amazon or your Indian stores) imparts a nice red colour as well as heat to the curry. I like to add a little yogurt in this curry which helps balance the heat from the chilli. The addition of yogurt to this dish may not be traditionally done, but I like the hint of tang and creaminess that it lends to the curry. Also please note that, traditionally, the potatoes and pointed gourds are deep fried. I am always on the look out for adapting traditional recipes to a more balanced form so that I can maintain their nutritional value, taste and ease of cooking. That totally does not mean that I never deep fry stuff or you shouldn’t either. Everything in Moderation – that’s my food mantra!

Recipe for Pointed Gourd and Potatoes Curry (Aaloo Parval sabzi)

  • Serves: 6-8
  • Time taken: 1 hour and 5 mins
  • Preparation time: 20 mins
  • Cooking time: 45 mins

Ingredients and Preparation:

Potatoes – 2 medium sized Golden potatoes (Bought from Asian store). Boiled firm, Cooled, Peeled and cut in large cubes (Keep cubes are similar in size to the pointed gourd).

Pointed Gourd (Parval / Potol) – 16-20 small pcs of tender, fresh pointed gourd. I do not discard the seeds if the pointed gourd is tender. Trim the ends, scrape it unevenly with a pairing knife and cut into halves.If the pointed gourd you get is bigger in size, cut them into 4. This will also reduce your cooking time in the final step.

Mustard Oil – 2 Tbsp (You can always use your regular cooking oil if you don’t have mustard oil)

Bay leaf – 1-2

Onions – 1 medium sized (I used Red onions from the Asian store, you can use yellow onions as well). Makes ¾ cup of this onion paste.

Salt – to taste

Sugar – 1 tsp

Turmeric powder – 1 tsp

Garlic – 5 cloves

Ginger – 1” thick pc

Thai or Indian green chilli – 1

Make a paste of ginger, garlic and Chilli (reduce the garlic if you do not like too much garlic in your food)

Coriander powder – 2 tsp

Cumin powder – 1 tsp

Kashmiri chilli powder – 1/2 tsp

Deghi Chilli powder – 1/2 tsp (skip the Deghi Chilli powder if you want to reduce the heat)

Tomato –  1 ½ roma tomatoes. I didn’t have those so I used 3 relatively big size cherry tomatoes (as in photo). Make it into a puree without adding water. It should yield around ½ cup of paste.

Yoghurt (thick): 1 Tbsp (skip for vegan version)

Garam Masala Powder – ½ tsp

Method:

STEP 1: The base of the curry: the Masala

  1. Heat a heavy bottom pan (wok/kadhai). Once hot, add 1 tbsp of mustard oil. Let the oil reach smoking point, then reduce heat and begin cooking.
  2. Add the bay leaf. Stir for a few seconds
  3. Next goes the onion paste, a pinch of salt, sugar and turmeric. Cook this mixture on medium-low heat.
  4. Once the onions start to lose its moisture it will become brownish. Continue to fry until it looks dry and comes together.
  5. Next, add the ginger+garlic+chilli paste. Fry on medium-low heat until all the raw smell of the masalas are gone and the masala looks dry-ish. Add more oil, if you need to. Or sprinkle a little water to prevent burning.
  6. Once the masala is ready, add the cumin powder, coriander powder and the Kashmiri as well as Deghi chilli powders (if using). Mix for another 2 mins
  7. Now add the tomato paste. Stir to combine and fry until oil separates and the raw smell of the tomatoes is gone!
  8. Reduce heat to the lowest setting. Add a Tbsp of water. Mix to cool off the pan, then add the yogurt. Give this a good mix until it is well combined. Cooling off the masala and the pan is important and will make sure your yogurt doesn’t curdle. Once the yogurt is well combined, you can turn the heat to medium and keep stirring until the oil separates from the masala

STEP 2: Preparing the vegetables, can be done along with STEP 1

  1. Meanwhile, since our masala (above) will take a good 15+ mins to come together, I make use of that time by preparing my vegetables.
  2. Heat another heavy bottom pan to lightly sear the vegetables.
  3. On medium heat, add 1/2 tbsp of oil, a pinch each of turmeric and salt. Stir it around occasionally until you start seeing a nice browning effect on parts of the skin. This should take a 4-5 mins. In a traditional feast, this is deep fried
  4. Once the pointed gourd is done, take them off the pan and keep aside. Repeat the process above with the cubed boiled potatoes but since our potatoes are already boiled, it should be done very quickly. Keep aside.

STEP 3: Combining it all

  1. On medium heat, add the prepared Pointed Gourd (from Step 1) to the prepared Masala in Step 1. Let this cook for a good 7-8 mins.
  2. Now add the Potatoes (from Step 2) and stir for another minute.
  3. Add 2 cups of hot water. Let it come to boil, then cover on low-medium heat for about 15-20 mins. Stir every 5 mins and cook this curry until the pointed gourd is cooked through. It should be soft and not crunchy. The curry can be of medium thickness but also note that if you keep it in the fridge, the curry thicken as it rests.
  4. When the curry has reached it’s desired consistency, finish it with a generous pinch of Garam Masala Powder and Ghee. Stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Notes:

  • An optional finishing touch is to add a final tadka of dry red chillies and some more chilli powder in ghee. I do that sometimes to finish the dish and for some added colour and heat.Relish this spicy curry as a main course for a weekend meal or a weeknight meal with Roti / Rice along with your favourite Dal (lentils).
  • For best results, prepare this curry ahead and let it sit for a couple of hours before serving.
  • This keeps well in the fridge and in fact it tastes even better the next day!
  • In Bihar, we relish the left over curry the next day, as a side with Chooda (Flattened rice flakes), Dahi (Yogurt), a tiny pinch of salt and green chilli on the side. This is a very popular breakfast in Bihar!
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A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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