Bitter Gourd rings simmered in freshly ground coconut, black pepper, tamarind gravy
I think about this all the time.
An Apple Pie or a Tiramisu, say a Chocolate pots de crème – people need no introduction on any of these dishes, let alone ask for ingredients. A mention of the dish is pretty much enough to lure anyone to grab and taste. This is true for many of us, isn’t it? How often does someone totally new to a dish from another cuisine get drawn to and motivated to cook it without a clue about its taste, especially when it is a typical traditional dish never seen in any restaurant?
How does one coax people to shed their inhibitions and give it a try? It might seem as big a challenge as getting a fussy eater child to take a first bite of something he/she isn’t willing to. At least, the latter I am familiar with. With these thoughts, I am bringing to you this treasured family recipe, hoping that it endears you as much as it is loved by us all at home, leaving the fussy eater that is.
I presume by now, you know my love for bitter foods. Well, don’t judge me yet, because I have a massive sweet tooth to compensate for it. Now that it is evened out, let me say that if Amma’s Haagalkai Gojju is my number one favorite Bitter Gourd recipe, this has got to be a close second!
This hasn’t changed one bit since my childhood days, days that were well spent in a very religious and orthodox environment in my Taatha’s house. For most Brahmins, Ekadashi – 11th day of the Hindu calendar aka the popular fasting day is the common denominator, observing or not.
But, what I remember the most is Dwadashi. May be because, in traditional Iyengar households, Dwadashi, the 12th day is of much importance and Ekadashi is almost non-existent. An entire day of fasting, a big no-no. A normal month devoid of any festivals and birthdays was punctuated by Dwadashi and Amavasya (New moon), in anticipation of the special cooking dictated by those days. Typically, on Dwadasi, Taatha would perform a special Aaradhanai (Pooja) followed by Teertham (holy water) and Prasadam. And later followed lunch, the menu wonderfully medicated in itself, to neutralize the acidity from the previous day’s fasting (for those who do!).
I miss the sheer bliss of anticipation, the longing for certain dishes that were cooked only on specific days of the month. It made those dishes special, as we could not have them on any other day. Though it is hard to keep track of Dwadashi without reminders from Amma or my loving aunt these days, this Poricha Kootu is something I never forget to make. Because, it is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
One of our first few visits to my Taatha’s house as newly weds, must have been on a Dwadashi. Irrespective of who comes and goes, the menu remains constant on Dwadashi in my Taatha’s house and so, we were treated to this Kootu. It was love at first bite for my husband and became his favorite too in no time. Since then, whenever he finds Bitter Gourds, he brings at least a handful of them home. And when that happens, I know what’s for lunch!
Poricha Kootu is similar to Puzhi Kootu without the whole spices. Poricha means “fried” in Tamil. Urad dal, black peppercorns, curry leaves, red chillies and coconut are roasted to make a freshly ground gravy. Tamarind and jaggery cut the bitterness of the gourd.
For Bitter gourd lovers, this is a great addition to the repertoire.
This Kootu is a classic brown food and a challenge to photograph. Recently, in this interview for Learnfoodphotography.com, I shared how I shot a brown pudding and also asked beginner photographers to observe various photographs to learn. How about we start that right here and learn together?
Can you tell me where the light is coming from, in the photographs?
I am not claiming to be an expert on anything. Just want to share what I have learnt, if it helps someone.
Pahalakkai Poricha Kootu Recipe
Things you’ll need:
2 small – medium Bitter Gourds
1/4 cup mung dal or Toor dal (pigeon peas) or a mix of both
1/4 ts turmeric
half a small lime sized tamarind (seeds removed)
1-1/2 tbsp crushed jaggery
to roast & grind:
1 tbsp split black gram / urad dal
4 whole dried red chillies (byadagi chillies)
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 stalk or 10 curry leaves, washed and towel dried
a big pinch of hing/asafoetida
2-3 tbsp freshly grated coconut or desiccated coconut or grated Kobri
a few drops of ghee for roasting pepper
water for grinding
How it’s done:
Wash mung dal / toor dal or the dal mixture well until water runs clear. Wash and soak tamarind in warm water for 10-15 mins. Pressure cook dal for 3-4 whistles or until well cooked.
Alternatively, to cook dal in open pot method, bring water to a boil in a medium-sized pot over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add the washed dal and cook semi-covered, and simmer until dal is soft, about 30 minutes. Add more warm water if needed to keep them from drying out.
Wash and towel dry the bitter gourds. Slice the ends about 1/2 cm, slit them in half and scoop out the seeds. Then slice them into thin half moons about 1/2 cm thick. In a medium-sized heavy bottom pot covered with lid, cook bitter gourd slices in just enough water, until soft but not mushy. Squish soaked tamarind to pulp and pour into the pot. Season with salt.
Dry roast While it simmers, get the masala for the gravy ready. Place a kadai or medium skillet over medium heat for dry roasting the spices. When the skillet is hot enough, add few drops of ghee, drop in the black peppercorns and roast until they just begin to splutter. Remove onto a plate. Add urad dal, red chillies, curry leaves and roast on low to medium heat until urad dal turns golden brown and curry leaves are crisp. Switch off, add hing and grated coconut and sauté until coconut is light brown and smells toasty (for desiccated) or until hissing sound subsides is using fresh coconut.
In a blender, grind the roasted ingredients along with some water to a smooth paste. Pour this paste into the simmering pot and stir to mix well.
By now, the cooker would have cooled. Whisk turmeric into the cooked dal, stir to mash well and pour into the pot with cooked bitter gourd.
Adjust the salt, add more water to fix the consistency if required (it will be relatively thick, like that of Dosa batter) and bring to a gentle boil over low heat, stirring intermittently to avoid sticking or scorching at the bottom, about 15 mins.
Add crushed jaggery and simmer for another 5 mins until jaggery melts.
Serve hot with a spoon of ghee drizzled over hot rice or grain of your choice and a side of papad.
This recipe also works well with salted sun-dried turkey berries or Shundakkai
Because of the coconut, it does not keep well for long at room temperature. Store leftovers immediately in the refrigerator.
Adjust the quantity of red chillies and peppercorns to suit your spice level.
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