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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Happy Mother’s Day and Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Family reunions are a very special event and one that I always look forward to. And when we reunite, a sense of dé·jà vu sets in. No matter how old I grow, I become that little girl that my parents nurtured. I feel like I am ready to take on the world and pursue my dreams, knowing that if something goes wrong, I will always have their unconditional love and support to get me through it all.

That is perhaps the reason why the most secure place in this world is still in that warm and affectionate embrace of my Mother.

Many a times we have disagreed and quite vocally so.
She is a bad listener, I often complain.
Yet, she is my best friend. A soul mate.
She hears without listening. She speaks without speaking.
Her eyes tell a story. The story of her life.
A life of sacrifice. A life of giving.
A strong woman in the inside and so fragile outside.

I can never forget an incident from the time I was thirteen.

I waited outside my school for hours but Ma didn’t show up. Upset and angry, I mentally rehearsed the conversation I planned on having with her when we meet. Instead, my Uncle appeared. We were headed in a different direction. When I enquired about Ma, he quietly whispered ‘She is in the hospital’. My heart sank.

She had met with a very serious accident. The image of her lying on the hospital bed with one leg completely covered in plaster and tubes all around her haunts me to this day. She was in immense pain. She looked at me and all she said was “Don’t cry, I am fine. Remember to have your dinner. I will be home in 3 days.”

At one point, the doctors wanted to amputate her legs. She refused. She demanded to be transferred to another hospital. Thanks to the doctors, her will power and fighting spirit, she averted the amputation. For her family. And most importantly, for her children.

After a painful 3 months in the hospital, she finally returned home.

Like a baby, she had to learn to stand and walk all over again. At times she would break down saying she will never be able to stand on her feet. And the next moment, she would get up fumbling but trying harder than ever before.

Many months later, she walked. Slowly but surely. And she hasn’t stopped since.

It’s Mother’s day on the 13th of May. I dedicate this post to my Mom, who means the world to me and my family.

Today’s recipe is a family fish curry which was handed down from my grand-ma but every woman in our family has her own version of it. This is my Mom’s.

Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Serves: 6-8 (depending on your appetite 😉

To print the recipe, click here.

For frying the Fish:
Seabass: 1 kg cut in slices (Traditionally, Rohu is used to make this curry). I had about 8 pieces excluding the fish head. head. (Alternatively, you could use Rohu)
Mustard powder: 2 tablespoons
Garlic paste: 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Whole wheat flour (aata): 1 ½ tbsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp, for frying

For the curry:
Black mustard seeds (rai): ½ tsp
Dry red chillies: 2
Tomatoes: 1 big, ground to a paste. ½ a tomato chopped finely.
Garlic Paste: 1 ½ tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Mustard powder: 4 tbsp
Chopped tomato: 1 small
Green chillies: 2
Warm Water: 3 1/2 cups
Salt

1.     Take ¼ cup warm water to mix together 6 tbsp of mustard powder (2 for frying the fish and 4 for the curry). Leave aside for 5 mins.
2.     Rub 1/3 of this mustard paste along with garlic paste, turmeric, flour and salt (see ingredients under ‘for frying the fish’. Let it rest for 15 mins.
3.     Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a flat nonstick frying pan. Once the oil starts smoking, remove from heat. Let it cool for 30 seconds. Then add the fish pieces frying it on medium heat until it turns slightly brownish. The fish pieces will also cook in the curry later so do not overcook the fish.

4.     In a non-stick kadhai / deep bottomed pan, add 1 tbsp mustard oil. Once the oil starts smoking, let it cool off a bit before adding the black mustard seeds (rai) and the dry red chillies. (Note: I added the dry red chillies but took it out once it was done before moving to the next step as I was also making it for my little one. If not, leave the dry red chillies in and continue to the next step).
5.     Add garlic paste. Fry for a minute on low heat.
6.     Add tomato paste, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Fry on low-medium heat until the tomatoes are fully cooked and form one mass. (about 7-8 mins).
7.     Add the remaining mustard paste. Cook for about 2 mins. Do not overcook the mustard as it can turn bitter.
8.     Add 3 ½ cups of warm water. Bring it to a boil. Let the curry boil on low-medium heat, covered, for another 7-8 mins. Adjust salt if necessary.
9.     Gently slide in the fish pieces and the chopped tomatoes into the curry from the sides. The curry is supposed to be of thin consistency. Adjust water to your liking but always add hot water to make sure the cooking process doesn’t slow down.

10.  Continue cooking uncovered on low heat for 5 mins before turning it off. (I added the dry roasted red chillies at this point).
11.  Let it rest for about 10 mins before serving. This step will make sure that the fish pieces absorb the curry.
12.  Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Notes:

  • I cooked this with ‘Sunrise’ mustard powder. It is quick and hassle free. The only downside is that it isn’t so easily available. I usually stock it up when I go back home. You can use other commercially available Mustard powders. If you have a powerful grinder, you can use that to make fresh mustard paste. Soak 3 tablespoon of yellow mustard seeds + 3 tablespoons of black mustard seeds for 30 mins in warm water. Add the mustard seeds, 2 green chillies and salt and grind to a paste.  Do not grind for too long as it can make the mustard paste bitter.
  • Back home, this is usually made with Rohu. I prefer to make this curry with Seabass as fresh Seabass is easily available here. It has less bones and tastes great!

Prawns with coconut milk and spices (Prawn Malai Curry)

October 2003

A close friend ‘D’ had a sudden craving for Prawns. Not just any prawns. It had to be Prawn Malai Curry. I didn’t really know how to make it. But the sheer opportunity of making something new excited me. I was more than happy to cook, if only I knew how.

In less than 24 hours (from what I recall), I got the recipe from his mother straight into my inbox. This is D’s grand mother’s recipe. This is an authentic Bengali recipe and one that I have made many times now! Thank you aunty!

The part I enjoy most is the involvement & enthusiasm everyone has in making this curry. Talk about team effort! Over the years, this has become a ritual and I look forward to it..:)

D get’s the prawns. The biggest and freshest available (though to this day my husband ‘R’ argues that the prawns he gets sometimes are the same size..:P) D and R don’t sleep the night before. They drive down to a particular seafood wholesale market at 3am where one can find the freshest catch of the day. It is a wholesale market where the fresh catch comes in before it is sent to other shops / restaurants in the city. Some of the biggest King prawns I have ever seen! One needs to buy in wholesale.. So, most of the time this dish is cooked – it is a BIG feast ! The only exception to this festivity is when it’s a last minute plan or a feast is somehow not possible (a rare possibility!)

Step 2 is the cleaning up.. And that is R’s forte. After the prawns come home, R spends a good amount of time cleaning it up thoroughly! You do realize that when I wake up… lazy… all of this has already happened ! D & R really go all the way to make it happen. I see the fresh and clean prawns… waiting so eagerly to be soaked in the most amazing coconut cream curry ever!

This is one of my most treasured recipes simply because it is one recipe that has no age or spice boundaries… It has been loved by my 2-year old son as much as it has been appreciated by Indians and by non-Indian friends alike.

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

King Prawns: 500 gms – the bigger the better! (smaller prawns are also fine) – The prawns in this picture are from the local grocer.. which reminds me haven’t had a feast in a while!
Onion paste: 1 medium sized onion ground to a fine paste
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Garlic paste: 1/2 tsp (this is my personal preference and not part of the original recipe. you can ignore it if you like)
Coconut milk: 1/2 cup. I vary this depending on my guests’ spice tolerance level. If I want a more authentic and spicy taste, I stick to 1/2 cup. However, sometimes I add more coconut milk when I need to tone down the spice.
Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
Chilli Powder: 1/4 tsp or more depending on your spice tolerance level
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Cinamon stick: 1/2 inch
Dried Bay leaf: 2
Sugar: 1/4 tsp
Oil: Use a neutral oil (I use a blend of Canola and Sunflower oil)

How I did it:

  • Wash, de-vein, clean prawns. I like to remove the head and the vein but leave the tail behind. Put 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder and sprinkle a little bit of salt on the prawns. Mix this gently and keep it in the refrigerator until the Masala is ready.

  • Use a heavy bottomed pan to cook this curry. Add oil. Once hot, add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, sugar and cumin seeds. Let the cumin seeds crackle for about 10-20 seconds. Add the onion paste. Fry this until it turns brownish and sticks together as lumps. Do this on low heat to avoid burning. This may take 10 to 15 mins.

  • To this fried onion paste, add the ginger paste, garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Fry this for 1-2 minutes until it is cooked and blends in with the masala.
  • Take out the pre-marinated Prawns and add it to the masala now. Stir this to ensure that the prawns are coated well with the spices and the prawns turn a nice pink/brownish color. (2 to 3 mins).

  • When the prawns turn pinkish, add the coconut milk. If you are using thick coconut milk like I did, you should add 1 cup of warm water along after adding the coconut milk. This curry is about your preference of coconut and spices. Remember that we have added sugar earlier, prawns are naturally sweet and coconut milk is also sweet. I strongly suggest you go slow on the coconut milk and taste it before adding more coconut milk. If the gravy is thick, add hot water into this to bring it to the right consistency. I alter the quantity of coconut milk and water to suit the palate of my guest.

  • Add some garam masala powder (a spice mix readily available in an indian grocery store) to this curry now. Let it cook on medium heat for another 7-8 mins until the coconut milk is cooked and comes together with the curry. Prawns cook really fast, so make sure you don’t overcook them.

Goes best with steamed white rice 🙂