Wednesday, June 25, 2014

everyday subzi: kundru pyaz nariyal ki subzi | ivy gourd stir fry with shallots, coconut and curry patta in sambar masala

Kundru is the Ivy gourd, Tendli or Tindora in different parts of India. It is one of those convenient vegetables that don't need peeling so the preparation time is really suitable for most urban cooks. Just rinse the kundru and slice them, it cooks faster than many vegetables unless you want to change the texture. I like it with a bite so almost half cooked is good for me. Kundru has great nutritional value too, read it all here.

Everyday subzis cannot be simpler than this. Kundru ki subzi is not a very welcome dish in most families but I have always loved this slightly sour little gourd. The most frequently made stir fry with ivy gourds was this kundru ki lasuni bhujia that we always love with our daal chawal meals. This recipe with coconut was introduced to me by a senior in my research days. She used to bring it in her lunch box and we used to share our food, not to mention that I always loved whatever she brought just because it smelled of sesame oil and had loads of coconut in it always.

After so many years when I started making this kundru with coconut and southern spices, I had very little memory of what I tasted back then so I resorted to this quick stir fry with ready made sambar masala. It didn't disappoint me at all.

(2 servings)
sliced kundru 1.5 cup (250 gm)
sliced shallots (or baby onions) 100 gm or 3/4 cup
curry patta about 12 strings or a generous handful
grated fresh coconut 2 tbsp (I used frozen)
sambar powder 1 tbsp
salt to taste
sesame oil 1 tbsp


Heat the sesame oil in a kadhai. Preferably cast iron kadhai or a thick base pan would be good. Tip in the curry patta as soon as the oil gets hot, followed immediately by onions and sliced kundru.

Add salt and keep tossing the vegetables, lower the heat after a couple of minutes and keep cooking for about 5-8 minutes or till the kundru gets cooked and the onions get nicely caramelized.

Now add the sambar powder and the grated coconut, stir and cook for a couple of minutes and take the pan off the stove. Serve hot or at room temperature, this stir fry tasted great any way.

This is a good subzi for lunch box and keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gooler, the country fig: a medicinal fruit that can be cooked in many ways | gooler ka chokha and other recipes

My article about Gooler, the country fig or the Indian fig was published in Down to Earth magazine. I am posting the detailed version of the article, the magazine article was a downsized version of all the research I did with gooler and it's properties.

I remember my grandmother telling us bedtime stories and taking us to unknown lands of fantasy. Her stories involved birds, jungle animals, trees and their conversations and we grew up considering these ‘characters’ as our companions. One of the stories that stuck in my mind was when she told about Gooler ke phool  ( Fig flowers) in a story, that these flowers are seen by rare lucky people and whoever is able to see Gooler ke phool finds a treasure or a lost kingdom. This story stayed with me in my childhood and I often enquired the wild fig trees around to find a flower. No wonder I could never be lucky, I came to know later when I studied inflorescences in my biology class much later. The small figs we saw on the trees were actually inflorescences (cluster of flowers) and this special type of closed inflorescence is called as Syconium. There are more reasons why I associate Gooler with my grandmother, she relished Gooler as food and introduced us with the ways it can be eaten.

In the last few years we have seen the fresh plump ripe figs appearing in the upmarket stores, the fruit being sold at a premium price as it is deemed exotic. These fresh figs are the Ficus carica species, this fleshy variety of figs is either imported or grown as exotic fruit only in a few places in India, one variety grown around Maharashtra is called 'Poona figs' (ref. Handbook of Indian Agriculture). This fruit variety is highly perishable and hence most of the produce is dehydrated to form discs that can be re hydrated and used as required. Many of us have been relishing these figs in the dehydrated form called sookhe anjeer, those flattened and dried sweet discs filled with crunchy seeds and chewy dry flesh. Many 'sugar free' desserts including the kulfi and ice creams use sookhe anjeer.

Most of us have forgotten the smaller, more common variety of figs that grows wild all over India and is seen on roadsides or along old buildings. This one is called cluster fig or country fig, Ficus racemosa is the small Indian fig that is equally nourishing as the fruit fig. Goolar is the more common name it is known as in north India. The fruits are loved by Macaques, Squirrels and most birds, particularly Barbets, Tree pies and Parakeets and that is how the seeds get dispersed and this fig variety propagates easily.  

The last time I had the fortune of tasting Goolar ki subzi was a couple of years ago when I was visiting Banaras. The spicy meaty Goolar ki subzi has been a family favourite and my mother had cooked that for us. We miss Goolar here in Delhi though we see it growing around our colony. Goolar is a great shade tree, home to my favourite birds but the fruits were never accessible somehow, this time I asked the gardener to bring me some and he obliged. I cooked chokha and kababs first and then pickled a few for the first time. The pickle is doubly nourishing as it gets some probiotic flora along with the naturally occurring prebiotic fiber.

Considered as cooling, blood purifying, anti inflammatory and healing by Ayurveda practitioners, the raw fruits are valued as a tasty and healthy vegetable. The fruits contain tannins and the soluble and insoluble fiber found in the fruit is prebiotic in nature. That is the reason the raw fruit used as a vegetable was considered extremely good for stomach ailments. I remember my grandmother who lived a healthy and active 105 years, always brought some goolar whenever she had upset stomach. She would make goolar ka chokha mostly but she loved the spicy meaty curry made using goolar as well. People of her generation knew what to eat day to day ailments.

The goolar ka chokha is considered cooling during summer months, a raita mixed with buttermilk is cooling too and highly recommended for stomach upset caused due to amebeosis.

Interestingly, goolar was never cultivated as vegetable or fruit but the abundant bunches of fruits were foraged during harsh summers and beginning of monsoons when the green vegetables would become scarce in the olden days. Ripe fruits used to be plucked by children as they are quite attractive and aromatic, some children would eat the fruits but the taste is not as good, so most of the ripe fruit would get wasted. 

Raw fruits are actually an inverted flower filled with stigma and stamens and hundreds of insects that pollinate this closed inflorescence called Syconium. These insects would complete their life cycle till the fruit is ripe and would escape leaving the ripe fruit empty. This is a great example of symbiosis between a fruit and insect.

To cook the raw goolar, one has to cut them in quarters, clean the interiors of all the fibrous floral parts and the insects and the fleshy envelope of the fruit will be parboiled and then either curried or mashed to make bharta or chokha.

Many vegetable vendors would collect the goolar from nearby jungles and sell them to earn some profit, there was always a demand for goolar as folks knew it is good for health. Even dehydrated raw goolarwould be stored, its powder was used with sugar candy to cure E. coli infection. 

The fresh milky discharge (latex) from the leaves is considered healing for epidermal wounds when applied 3-4 times a day, it helps many kinds of infections of the skin (source). The enzyme ficin present in the fig latex is responsible for its anthelmintic activity and can be given with great benefit in worm infestations especially ascaris and tricharus types (source). Apart from the usage in traditional medicine, scientific studies indicate F. racemosa to posses various biological effects such as hepatoprotective, chemopreventive, antidiabetic, anti inflammatory, antipyretic, antitussive and antidiuretic (source).

Gooler ka chokha recipe 
1.     cleaned, quartered and seed removed goolar 1.5 cup
2.     finely diced onion 1/4 cup
3.     minced garlic 1 tsp
4.     minced green chilly 1/2 tsp or to taste
5.     salt to taste
6.     mustard oil 1 tsp
1.     Boil the chopped cleaned goolar in sufficient water till soft. Strain and reserve the gooler.
2.     Mash with a fork or blend in blender and mix the other ingredients after blending.
3.     Serve with khichdi, daal rice meals or as a side dish for any Indian meals.

Gooler ka Kabab recipe 
1.     cleaned, chopped and seed removed gooler 1 cup
2.     roasted chickpeas flour or sattu 2 tbsp
3.     minced ginger, garlic and green chillies 1 tsp each
4.     garam masala 1 tsp
5.     chopped coriander and mint greens 1/2 cup
6.     salt to taste 
7.     ghee to shallow fry
1.     Boil the cleaned gooler in sufficient water till soft, drain and cool. 
2.     Mash with other ingredients except ghee to make a dough like mixture.
3.     Shape lime sized balls and flatten them between the palm. Arrange to be shallow fried in batches.
4.     Shallow fry using ghee or any oil of choice. Serve hot with green chutney or tamarind chutney.

Gooler pickle recipe
1.     cleaned and chopped gooler 1 cup
2.     white vinegar (preferably with mother) 1/2 cup
3.     salt 1 tbsp
4.     chopped green chillies 1/4 cup
5.     crushed mustard seeds 2 tsp

To make the pickle, boil the cleaned gooler till soft, drain the water and let the gooler cool down. Then mix everything together and store in a sterile glass jar. The pickle is ready to eat in 3-4 hours and keeps well for a month or so.

Friday, June 6, 2014

pyaz badiyon wali subzi | onion soup with 'sun dried lentil cakes' | a traditional summer curry from UP

I was reminded of this pyaz badiyon wali subzi when I was flipping through the pages of Vikas Khanna's book called Hymns from the Soil. There is a similar onion soup in the book that uses ginger and cumin for the base flavours, the simplicity of the onion soup and the way it looks brought my childhood back.

pyaz badiyon ki subzi

This pyaz badiyon wali subzi was made during the hottest time in summers. Back then I did not realise but it was for a purpose, it was light to digest and tickled the taste buds that were overwhelmed with more and more mangoes. This curry was actually had like a soup (in large amounts) but along with whole wheat thin chapatis.

Badiyan (singular-badi) are sun dried lentil cakes made using urad daal (skinned black lentils) paste mixed with spices and grated ash gourd or chopped coriander greens. The aroma of these badiyan is really interesting as this is one of those umami flavours in Indian cuisine. These badiyan are shallow fried in mustard oil and added to curries to add flavours. In this case it is just sliced red onions and the badiyan made it really special.

pyaz badiyon ki subzi

The recipe is simple, but need precision as the specific taste has to be recreated. Onions are caramelised along with crushed badiyan and then the mix is cooked with loads of water. No spice or even turmeric is added and flavours come from the onions and the spices sun dried along with the badiyan. I shall try and make these badiyan and post a recipe soon.

(2 portions)
sliced red onions 1.5 cups
crushed badiyan 2-3 tbsp or to taste
mustard oil 1 tbsp
broken dry red chilly one
cumin seeds 1 tsp
salt to taste


Heat the mustard oil and tip in the cumin seeds. Add the red chilly, the broken badiyan and sliced onions one after the other. Fry the onions to caramelise them slowly and the badiyan also get nicely roasted along.

pyaz badiyon ki subzi

Add salt and about 3 cups of water and let the curry cook on low flame for 15 minutes or a little more. Adjust consistency as desired and serve hot with thin chapatis and may be a sookhi mung daal. It makes the most divine meals in summer time.

pyaz badiyon ki subzi

I had it with besan wali roti and some raw salad on the side and was a content soul after having a hot meal that revived memories of my grandmother.

It will do the same to you if you belong to eastern UP or you parents have lived there. Such foods make their way into your home even if you have lived there just for a while.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

achari paneer and mushrooms | paneer and mushrooms stir fried with baby onions in Indian pickling spices

Paneer and mushrooms are consumed quite frequently in my kitchen especially for the lunch box meals that Arvind takes every day. Something that stays tasty even when cold, retains flavours and is not messy to eat. I have served this stir fry to large gatherings too and have found that this is one of those recipes that never fail to impress. For a small serving the cooking time is just about 10 minutes.

This kind of achari stir fries are a great side dish with Indian meals of daal, rice, roti and bharta or salads. It can even be rolled up in a roti or stuffed in a sandwich for a quick meal. Suits me many a times.

(2-3 servings)
cubed paneer 200 gm
halved or quartered button mushrooms 100 gm
quartered baby onions 100 gm
whole dry red chilly 1 or as per taste
slit green chilly for granish
turmeric powder 1 tsp
kashmiri chilly powder 1 tsp
crushed ajwain seeds 1/4 tsp
crushed nigella seeds 1/4 tsp
crushed fennel seeds 1/4 tsp
salt to taste
mustard oil 1 tbsp
lime juice 1 tsp


Make a paste of all the powdered spices in 3 tbsp of water and keep aside.

Heat oil in a kadhai and tip in the spice paste slowly. Let it cook till the oil separates, stirring occasionally for about a minute or so.

Now add the baby onions, mushrooms and paneer in that order and keep stirring it for a few minutes. The ingredients do not need much cooking but the spices should penetrate them, high heat and frequent stirring does the needful.

Finish with lime juice and slit green chillies, add coriander greens if using and serve hot or cold. This stir fry stays well at room temperature for a day and refrigerates well for a week or so.