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Tried and Tasted: There are ways to redeem lauki, we’ve found some

Very few of us don’t make a face at lauki but here’s how things are gonna change: We have found a place that breathes new life into the vegetable.

more lifestyle Updated: Jun 25, 2017 19:11 IST
Rahul Verma
This week, give a new twist to the dreaded lauki.
This week, give a new twist to the dreaded lauki.

A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.

Our summer vegetables are much maligned folks. When it comes to getting a bad press, I am afraid they are on top of the class. Say lauki – or bottle gourd -- and you will evoke an instant ‘ew’ or a look of sheer disgust.

I don’t blame them, for I would have reacted similarly once upon a time. I grew up eating lauki cooked in a simple way – with chopped tomatoes, and just a few masalas such as cumin seeds and red chillies. The only time it appealed to me as a wee lad was when it was cooked in thickened and sweetened milk, and turned into a lauki ki kheer.

But I must say that the gourd has managed to surprise me in recent years. A Bengali preparation first caught my fancy – it was milk white in colour and had a top layer of fried and ground vadis sprinkled on it. Then, just the other day, I cooked another Bengali dish – lau chingri, or bottle gourd with shrimps – and was quite pleased with the result.

In times of climate change, when summer is hotter and longer than ever, I even see gourds taking a bow on the high table. Recently, in fact, Le Meridien Hotel in Delhi had a lauki-special festival, where it had some of the old favourites – such as lauki dumplings (in this case stuffed with dried plump) – and some interesting variations such as lauki ravioli with makhni glaze and tossed cherry tomatoes.

Because I had been raving about my lau chingri, the chefs prepared the dish for me. It was rather nice, but being somewhat biased on culinary matters, I preferred my version.

For this, I marinated small shrimps (ordered online) with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder, fried them and kept them aside. I heated oil, added cumin seeds, grated ginger, turmeric powder and slit green chillies to it. I put bottle gourd chopped into small pieces, seasoned it, stirred it, covered it and let it cook. Once almost done, I added the shrimps to it, stirred some more, and let the water evaporate. The final dish should neither be runny nor dry, and has to be served with hot rice.

Because the poor lauki has no taste of its own, it works well when given a twist, or when paired with sharp ingredients. I had an interesting dish called lauki galawat with khasta, sweet chilli reduction. In this, the lauki had been boiled with channa dal and masalas and then turned into a paste. This was smoked, moulded into small balls, fried like kebabs and served with a sweet chilli reduction.

I think gourds work particularly well as dessert because of its own bland taste. The chefs at the lauki festival had prepared a nice halwa out of the gourd, and served it with caramelised almond and a pista biscuit.

In parts of Delhi, and elsewhere in the north, you can still get a sweet dish called ghiye ki launji – a kind of burfi. But I have been looking hard for ghiya ka lachcha – cut in a long pasta-like shape and coated with sugar. It’s a laborious process, so you don’t get it easily these days, at least not in Delhi. I had it some days ago when a friend’s father-in-law got some from Allahabad.

Clearly, there’s quite a lot you can do with the poor lauki. Let’s stop sneering at it and give it a pat on its back instead.

(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)

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