I’m thankful that we are alive… that’s really the only thing I’ve ever learned from this, my favorite of all western holidays, a very pagan holiday with a long history that Christianity was never able to stamp out. I always take October 31st and November 1st off from work. Always always. And I enjoy it every year!
This one was a relatively quiet one for me. I didn’t attend the costume balls at any of the local clubs of the preceding weekend. I didn’t work on an elaborate costume of any kind. Instead, I enjoyed a quiet Wednesday afternoon carving 3 butternut squashes into small jack-o-lanterns, simultaneously doling out candy to trick-or-treaters when they knocked. There were more than usual this year, and let me tell ya: some of them were quite an eerie sight! The most memorable? A mother and her three young daughters- all dressed as witches, another mother and her two children dressed as Japanese spirits or something, and the next-door kid who donned a fantastic grim reaper (death represented as a black-hooded-and-caped skeleton wielding a scythe) costume, complete with remote-controlled blood that oozed down his face. Lovely. Have some candy.
Night fell, the holiday truly commenced, and I set my jack-o-lanterns outside to ward off any stray evil spirits. By 8 o’clock the trick-or-treaters became sparse, and because I was in a sociable mood and tired of being inside the house, decided to venture out to a local haunt. Halloween is one of the western gay community’s most popular holidays, and, although the weekend costume balls had come and gone, I felt sure that this particular Wednesday would still draw a crowd out into the night. I was right! It was nice to mingle with familiar faces, most of which I thankfully recognized!
I thought I’d also share a little recipe with you. My old friend May taught me this dish, so I assume this is a Hmong dish, but it could be Laotian, it could be Thai, it could very well be known and enjoyed throughout this region. Who knows- I’m not even sure of the proper name for this dish! I tend to call it Bitter Flowers, as this is what the finished dish reminds me of. Flowers. Very spicy and bitter flowers. If you are a person who would enjoy taking a piece of lemon-rind, sprinkling it with ground chiles and salt and devouring it with glee, then this dish is for you! It is essentially a stir-fry of bitter eggplants, those in the photo above being a popular type of these (nope, dey ain’t no pumpkins), but I know of two more: a type that is more egg-shaped with lengthwise ridges as well, and a teeny-tiny eggplant often called “pea eggplant” (as they look like large green peas). All three of these are remarkably bitter and widely available here all summer and autumn in the “Asian” markets and at the farmers’ markets. Heaps and heaps of them. And I usually make this dish a few times during the season, but this year I didn’t get to it until now, and barely at that as some of my stash had become soft. Luckily, most were still usable!
1-2 T oil
fresh red chiles, seeded and sliced- I used 3, but to taste…
1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced very thinly at a diagonal (discard the dry outer leaves and use the paler portion near the root end)
Uh….a quantity of bitter eggplants– such as what would fit into a pair of cupped hands…sliced 1/8″ across into “flowers”
salt to taste (yep, salt…nam pla is not used in this dish- disturbs the colour scheme probably)
1)Heat the oil in a wok over med-low heat and add the chiles and lemongrass; stir-fry for about a minute, just enough to infuse the oil with flavour.
2)Add the bitter eggplant slices and stir-fry just until until a bit wilted, but not entirely soft; they should still retain their shape.
3)Remove from heat and add salt to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature with khao nyao (sticky rice) or any other rice on hand.
This is most refreshing in hot weather, or anytime that the appetite is a bit jaded. Perky, very perky. Oh. and before I forget: this simple recipe is also used for bitter melon.
May you all enjoy the bounty of the harvest, good health, and good spirits. Et men…er Amen. 😀
Anita’s post for the Kashmiri dish, al yakhni, was, I believe, the first recipe of hers that I commented upon. I remember it well, as she was so kind to suggest this recipe after learning what a huge fan of karela I am, as, although her post made use of al (bottle gourd), the same gravy can be used to cook nadur(lotus stem/root/tubers) as well as karel…
So, because I had a sizable new batch of yoghurt at the ready, and locally-grown bitter melons from both the farmers’ market and my own vines, I decided that the time had finally come to try this dish and do it justice with these freshest of ingredients. (A stock of Lucknowi saunf helps too!)
I was not disappointed. Most delicious…fragrant with saunf, which goes so well with karela. (Bengali cooks would agree!) Rice is a must to accompany this very soothing, comforting dish and allow the aroma of the gravy to bloom. It will definitely be a regular item on my personal menu from now on. Thanks so much for sharing all that you do Anita. May your next year in food-blogging be just as spectacular!
750 gms karel/karela/bitter gourd/bitter melon, sliced into 1/3″ rounds**
Mustard oil as needed (highly recommended; use another oil if you absolutely must)
1 C dahi/yoghurt
3 t powdered saunf/fennel seeds
1/2 t saunth/dried, powdered ginger
1/4 t whole shah jheera/kala jheera/black cumin
1/4 t whole jheera/cumin/white cumin
green chiles (optional ingredient- not traditional? Anita uses 3 snapped in half; I used two sliced into rounds, retaining the seeds as well)
1)Deep-fry the slices of karela in oil until golden brown; drain well (You may also shallow/pan fry the slices in a few tablespoons of oil if you like- I did so this time, but next time I think I would prefer to deep-fry them as it would be quicker, really, and karela is not highly-absorbent of oil)
2)Place the yoghurt in a bowl; beat or whisk it until smooth; add the saunf and saunth powders; mix well, then add 1 cup of water; set aside. (This should be at room temperature to minimize separation of the yoghurt)
3)Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a pan over medium-low heat, add both black and white cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds until their aroma is released; turn heat to very low and add the yoghurt mixture.
4)Add the fried karela slices, green chiles, salt to taste, and, if necessary, a bit more water to just cover the vegetable. Bring slowly to a simmer, cover and cook until the chiles are tender. Serve warm with hot rice. Unforgettable!
*Uh…Anita? Why does yakhni change to yakhin in this title? Inquiring minds want to know! 😉
**The rule of thumb that I use for bitter gourd is this: if the interior seed-coatings are red, scrape out the seed cavity. If it is still green/white, slice it and the seeds along with the rind. Ingesting the seeds has been known since ancient times to remove intestinal worms. I’m safe! 🙂
If you’d like to remove some of the bitterness, soak in salt-water for an hour; rinse and drain, or sprinkle the slices with salt, let stand for an hour, place in a muslin or cheesecloth and squeeze out the liquid. I don’t de-bitter the vegetable anymore, as I would not like to compromise nutrients or lose any of the fine flavour.
NEW NOTE!!!! With the latest info: Kashmiris prefer the karela to be cut in half, or quarters if they are larger, and the seed-cavity removed before cooking in this dish. The seeds, with their protective jackets (if not yet red) are deep-fried until golden and crispy, then sprinkled with ground red chiles and salt and served as a side with the yakhin.
I thought I’d share a few photos with you, my readers, of the karela-vine progress…
Globe thistle; behind them, on either side, are trellises which the vines are quickly taking over.
This is a white, Chinese/Thai variety called Hybrid Beauty Winner. This one is still very young; they become paler as they mature and grow, but this one didn’t make it that far!
Soyi bahjill chane gashi (chick-peas in roasted coconut gravy) + Stuffed Bitter-gourds I (Konkani? Tamil?)
I’ll admit this to all of you: my absolute favorite legume/pulse is channa, AKA gram, chole, garbanzo bean, chick-pea……kabuli or badi/kala…..and also known as many, many other names around the world, but I know it as delicious!
Over the years, I have tried several recipes of Indian origin, most of them Punjabi. I can’t blame them for their fondness, no….not at all! And while I find great pleasure in devouring these near-spherical wonders in rich browned onion and tomato or tamarind sauces, I found myself yearning for something new, something that I hadn’t yet found, and yet steeped in a long tradition that had as yet not revealed itself to me. That is, until a few days ago, when I happened upon a very intriguing recipe hidden in the folds of Manjula’s marvelous collection of Konkani recipes, Daalitoy.
I think what intrigued me most while reading over her recipe, besides the lush coconut, red chile, and tamarind- based gravy, was the very subtle use of lightly-roasted methi seeds to add an almost imperceptible note within the layers of flavour. Manjula described two ways of making this dish: the first was with fresh, unroasted coconut and the use of methi made optional. As I tend to welcome a bit of luxury and greater complexity in flavour, I opted to prepare what she described as “a special variation of chane gashi” made with roasted coconut called soyi bahjill chane gashi.
Let me tell you now, I was not disappointed! This dish, because of the complex aromatics released while roasting not only the coconut, but the chiles and methi as well, and also added to this the final tadke with its bounty of curry leaves, will literally bask your olfactory senses in sheer delight! Such a few, simple ingredients made into perfection! And look, I haven’t even mentioned the chick-peas since I began. It’s that good.
This dish is traditionally prepared with the addition of a mild-flavoured, starchy vegetable that soaks up the delicious gravy like a sponge. She strongly recommends green jackfruit (fresh or tinned) if you have access; I opted for one of the other three that she mentioned: green banana (such as unripe plantain). After tasting this, I think I could recommend a few more, if I may be so bold: sweet potatoes, taro root, sweet cassava, jicama….
Soyi Bajill Chane Gashi
1 C chane, preferably kala/badi, but kabuli is fine too
1 C coconut, freshly grated or frozen
10-16 dried red chiles
a piece of tamarind, the size of a small lime
8-10 fenugreek/ methi seeds
1 C diced green jackfruit(fresh or canned)/suran(Indian yam)/green banana/potatoes
salt to taste
2 t oil
1/2 t mustard seeds
a pinch of hing(my addition…for greater authenticity, Manjula stated that this is not usually included.)
4 sprigs of curry leaves
1)Rinse chane and soak in water for 24 hours. Drain and cook in pressure cooker(20 min at 15#) or boil in water until just tender. Drain, reserving liquid.
2)Wipe the inside of a pan with oil and roast coconut, stirring constantly over med-low heat, until golden and fragrant. Remove to grind.
3)Seed chiles(if desired) and break into pieces. Roast in the same pan until they turn a shade darker. Remove and add to coconut.
4)Soak the tamarind in hot water for 30 min; pour through sieve and press as much liquid through as you can. Discard pulp and seeds, but collect any extract clinging to the bottom of the sieve.
5)In a grinding mechanism(I used a food processor) grind the coconut and chiles, adding a bit of reserved chane broth when necessary to achieve a smooth paste. Add tamarind to balance the sweetness (This paste is called masolu).
6)Lightly roast the methi seeds until a shade darker and fragrant. (Do not let them burn as they become too bitter). Grind to a powder (I used a mortar-and-pestle and then added chane broth to the mortar to make a “methi water”).
7)Take the paste, methi, diced vegetable, and cooked chane in a pot, add enough reserved chane broth to thin to a gravy. Bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring frequently, to cook vegetable and blend flavours (5 min if using canned jackfruit or 30 min or so otherwise). Add more broth as needed, and salt to taste.
8)Heat oil in a small pan, add mustard seeds. When they pop,
add hing(optional) and curry leaves and fry for a bit. Pour this over the finished dish.
I teamed this up simply with plain rice and, instead of Manjula’s suggestion of podi (vegetable fritters), I decided on stuffed bitter melon (origin of recipe as yet unknown), and mosaru bajji, an excellent recipe I found within Shilpa’s collection. Thanks to you both (and hopefully neither of you are giggling over this combination for a meal!) 🙂
BONUS RECIPE!!!!!!!!!!! If anyone can identify positively the place of origin of the following dish, I will post absolutely any requested dish in the world within one moon cycle. (disclaimer: if I absolutely cannot obtain a certain ingredient, reasonable substitutions must be allowed)
Stuffed Bitter-gourds (from Premila Lal’s Indian Recipes, Premila Lal, 1968)
-written exactly as it is in the book
2 large bitter-gourds
2 T ghee
To be fried then powdered:
3 t black gram dhal
5 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
1/2 t fenugreek seeds
Grind to a fine paste:
8 dry red chillies
1 small ball of tamarind(size of a small lemon)
A little asafoetida (size of a tamarind seed)
Salt to taste
Wash the bitter-gourds and cut into even round pieces. Remove only the seeds from the pulp then stuff these pieces with the thick paste made by mixing the fine paste with the powdered ingredients. Cook on steam ’til tender.
Place a saucepan on a low heat and heat 1 tablespoon ghee. Transfer the cooked bitter-gourd pieces to the saucepan and pour the remaining ghee over them. Fry them on both sides ’til they become crisp and brown in colour.
Serve with idlis, rice or chappatis, as preferred.
Bee of Jugalbandi has added in her comment: “Tamilians have this penchant for urid dal. J. says it looks very Tamilian (he’s one). Keralites would use rice flour to crispen it, so it isn’t from Kerala.
Anju from Mangalore has added from a comment: “The stuffed bitter gourd recipe is very similar to a Konkani dish my mom used to make (and I try to copy ineffectively) and is called ‘Karathe Pathrado’ (or ‘Karathe Kudko’ in some circles). The only difference is the method of cooking the Karathe (Bitter gourd) after stuffing it. My mom’s method calls for heating some oil, spluttering mustard seeds in it and placing the stuffed pieces in the hot oil. After crisping up the bottom side of Karathe, water is added around the pieces (1/2cup maybe) and the lid closed and the pieces steamed until almost done. Then, the pieces are turned over and cooked on the second side until that side has crisped up and the pieces are fully cooked.”
NOTE—–> This book, although printed under a single authoress, appears to be a compilation of recipes from many writers, as there is little uniformity in ingredient names or wording. (It reminds me of the American “church cookbooks” that are made by collecting donated recipes to raise charity money). A fine collection of recipes none-the-less….definitely a personal treasure…
Because of a nagging concience, or perhaps from the suggestion of concerned friends, I decided to move on to a fairly healthy dish for this post. Let me tell you quite bluntly though: I do not need to be persuaded in the least to cook a dish using bitter melon(bitter gourd, karela, karathe, mara, etc). This is one of my most favorite of vegetables, and my cravings for it are quite intense when I have gone without it for a while. So intense, that I find great difficulty in thinking of other foods until this craving is met.
Last year, I tried growing my own so that I would have a steady supply. I wasn’t quite sure how this plant would fare in the temperate zone that I live in. Added to this doubt was the fact that I started the seeds 2 weeks after the usual planting time, so I told myself that at the least I would have some pretty vines to look at, and this was all I allowed myself to look forward to.
The seeds sprouted within a few days. I set to work constructing trellises of split cedar to serve as a vertical home for these little darlings as they grew. They soon developed into 5-inch plants and developed tendrils that daily I had to untangle from each other and coax onto the supports of the trellises. Another two weeks, and they were slowly winding their way upward…..and then, some inner clock mechanism seemed to strike noon: they franticly began scrambling their way all over everything possible: the trellises, the wall, each other, my tomatoes….(I was a little concerned about losing my cats) I measured a foot a day during this mad clamour! Then, little yellow flowers bloomed, and I began a search daily for female blossoms and was thrilled to find three! And these three I kept a very close eye on and watched them swell and mature. At that time, I was thankful that the One Who Creates had blessed me with enough for one dish. And this was at the height of summer… then, I noticed that hidden in green sanctums from the ground to the very peak of the garage that the trellies leaned upon, were more, many many more, tiny green fruits that became pluckable at the rate of about two or three a day….and the flowers kept blooming…..and I couldn’t keep up with them! I gave away what I could. I started storing some in the refrigerator, until the drawer was brimming with them, and they were nestled in baskets on the counter-top.
Thinking back now, I should have thought of freezing or drying them(thanks AMTP!), but I didn’t….and I needed a way of preserving these fast and now! I decided on kerela ka achaar. This is a favorite Indian preserve of this vegetable that, though I dearly love, I had never made myself. After a scurried internet research session, I found the basics for achaar-making. I chose to preserve most by the oil-cured method, as it lasts indefinitely at room temperature, and some found their way into a delicious fresh-eaten pickle recipe that I found on the website, Aayi’s Recipes(and thus began a food-blogging adventure). As much as I love to eat these pickles, several years will pass before I am able to consume what I have stored in my pantry. So, be prepared if you decide to grow these!
There are actually 45 different known species within the genus of Momordica, and the bitter melon/gourd, momordica charantia is but one of them. There are many medicinal applications of this vegetable from both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, and much research has delved into these properties, as well as into new ones that have been discovered or are involved in research at this time. (You may read more here if you wish, or search the internet for more information)
At one time, the Indian and Chinese varieties were thought to be separate species, but it appears, from my more recent readings, that they have been re-classified as phenotypes of the same species. They may be used interchangeably, and indeed, in my garden both varieties crossed freely producing fruits with characteristics of both. Many unusual cultivars are available as well, some of which are white in colour instead of green, some that are miniature-sized that can be used whole and stuffed for a unique presentation! The fruits are generally picked when young and firm, before the seeds mature and develop a bright red casing, eventually bursting forth from the pod at full maturity.
Science and achaar-making marathons aside, this dish is based almost solely on a Bengali recipe which I found in Madhur Jaffrey’s fine tome, World-of-the-east Vegetarian Cookbook. It makes use of the Bengali spice mixture, panch phoran, which lends a unique flavour to this dish. Over the course of perhaps 15 years of preparing this dish often in my kichen, I did a little tinkering with the original recipe and produced my own version which I present to you. I was influenced both by a Phillipino recipe for bitter melon paired with eggs, and my love of Thai cuisine with its affinity for roasted peanuts. In this dish, the soft eggs contrast with the crispness of the bitter melon and onions, and the crunch of fresh-roasted peanuts. I developed a pleasing colour combination that ought to include fresh red chiles(or red bell peppers/capsicum if you prefer it mild), but as I am currently not able to locate fresh red chiles right now, I have substituted 2 t of red chile-garlic paste, omitting the clove of garlic in lieu of this. I have used the Chinese type of bitter melon in this rendition of the recipe, but you may use either kind.
If your bitter melons have a white or pale green interior when cut open, do use the whole vegetable for this dish as the seeds are quite delicious. If they have turned red, then scrape out the seed cavity before proceeding; fish the seeds from their red jackets and add to the dish during cooking, if you are inclined.
4 t oil
a handful of raw peanuts/groundnuts, skins removed
a pinch of hing(optional)
1 1/2 t panch phoran(Bengali 5-spice mixture)
2 fresh red chiles(or to taste), sliced thinly
1 clove/flake of garlic, sliced thinly
3 medium-size onions, in 1/3″ slices
1/2 to 3/4 lb. of bitter melon(s)(1 large or two small chinese type, or 3-4 Indian type)
1)Rinse the bitter melon(s) well under running water, scrape any discoloured areas away with a knife if necessary. Trim off the stem end, and cut in half lengthwise. If you see any red, scrape out the seed cavity with a spoon, otherwise, slice into 1/3″ half-rings.
2)Put the sliced bitter melon into a bowl and cover with cold water. Sprinkle 2-3 t of salt over them and swish them around with your hand to dissolve the salt. Set aside for 2 hours. Drain through a colander and then pour them back into the bowl, cover with cold water, swish around, and then drain through the colander once again. Shake it a bit to remove the excess water and set aside. (see note at bottom of page)
3)Over a medium flame in a wok or kerai, heat 1 t of oil, add the peanuts and fry, stirring continuously until well-roasted and fragrant. Remove and set aside.
4)Take the eggs and beat lightly in a small bowl, add 1 T of water and a pinch of salt and blend. In the wok or kerai, heat 1 t oil over medium flame and add the beaten eggs, stirring once every 10 seconds until the eggs are set and scrambled. Remove to the bowl with the peanuts.
5)Heat the remaining 2 t of oil in the pan and add the panch phoran and hing(if using). Stir gently until the mustard seeds pop and then add the chiles and garlic, fry for a few seconds, and then add the sliced onions. Fry these, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes.
6)Add the drained bitter melon slices and continue frying for 4 minutes, add salt to taste(1/2 t) and mix well, frying for 1 minute more.
7)Add the reserved peanuts and eggs and fry, stirring, for 1 more minute. Check for done-ness: the onions and bitter melon should be thoroughly hot and still crispy. Turn off heat and keep stirring for 1 more minute. Check for salt.
Note—–>There are two methods of removing some of the bitterness. Both involve the use of salt. While one method is used above, the other is to simply salt the bitter melon pieces, let it stand in a bowl for 30 minutes to an hour, and squeeze out the bitter juices by using a cheesecloth or bare hands. While this method works excellently as well, and is best for pickle-making and achieving a chewy texture required in many recipes, as well as greater ease in frying brown and crispy, it is not the method of choice for this dish, where it is preferrable to somewhat retain the natural crispness and shape inherent in the fresh vegetable.
Some people prefer, because of taste preference, or because they feel that some of the vital nutrients may be lost, that the natural bitterness of this vegetable be left intact; if this is your wish, then this salting and rinsing step may be omitted entirely.