I don’t get Bengalis’ obsession with gourds. If you have no idea what a gourd is, you are not alone. Similar to squash, they are mild tasting vegetables with high water content, fleshy interiors and seeds. They’ve got a tough exterior, depending on the type of gourd you are dealing with. These are called bottle gourds, because you can apparently hollow out the interior, dry it out, and use it as a bottle (hello, cousin jack-o-lantern?). But Bengalis swear by these veggies!! You will not find a Bangladeshi homeowner without this growing in their garden! They are ubiquitous. And I don’t get why. They are essentially flavorless. Sauteed, with mustard seeds and turmeric, is one way to prepare them. Simmered in a light broth with shrimp is another. I prefer to mix in large chunks with my daal.I don’t know why I have the knife facing me like that. Despite my ambivalence towards bottle gourd, when your mother in law hands you a fresh one from her garden, you take it. And you cook it. And you feed it to your family with love and gratitude because for once you know they’re eating something that was cultivated with care, that is not GMO, and has no toxic pesticides on it (as a result, though, my poor mother and father in law have had to suffer losses at the hands [or should I say mouths] of deer, rabbits and groundhogs). Ambivalence best describes my feelings toward bottle gourd. Bitter gourd is whole other story. I abhor it. True to it’s name, it’s bitter as heck. Highly nutritious – but that’s not even why my family eats it. They actually enjoy the taste. I guess similar to how Italians enjoy radicchio. Finally, there’s snake gourd – which is actually pretty good. Slightly sweeter than the bottle gourd, but still quite mild and fleshy.
And there you go! All you never wanted to know about these little consumed (at least in the West) veggies. Perhaps now, you will walk by your Asian grocer with a bit more clarity.
- 3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of your knife
- 4 dried red chilis
- 1 medium sized bottle gourd (I used 2/3 of a large one)
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped
- Peel the gourd (I didn’t and I deeply regret it). Cut off both ends and halve it so it’s easier to manage. Take one half and stand it up and cut down the middle. Slice into thin (1/8 in thick) slices.
- In a large non-stick wok or sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and dried chilis. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds – you don’t want it to burn). Open up your windows, too. Toasted chilis make you cough up a storm! Add the sliced gourd, turmeric and salt. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until cooked through: about 15 minutes. If the veggies start to brown, reduce heat to medium and keep stir-frying. Check for seasoning (salt). Top with chopped cilantro. Serve alongside rice and daal.