Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bitter Gourd and Cottage Cheese

This is one of those combinations that I never would have thought of, even if a mountain of bitter gourd lolled suggestively beside a lake of cottage cheese right in front of my eyes. I'm fond enough of my bitter gourd, the Bengali tastebuds saw to that, but I prefer them fried or in titaa chhechhki, eaten right at the beginning of a three-course meal to cleanse the palate and shock the tastebuds to life. Eating it in a main course had just never occured to me. Foreigners have the strangest ideas.

However, the first time I ate bitter gourd with tofu in black bean sauce, it was absolutely delightful. The gourd was not as bitter as our home-grown korola/karela, and I've long been a fan of the fermented black bean sauce one gets at Chinese/other East Asian grocery shops. Still, knowing my darling family's reaction to unfamiliar cuisines, I hadn't bothered replicating this at home, till our green-grocer delivered three orders of bitter gourd instead of one last week. Suddenly, we were scrambling up the aforementioned mountain of bitter gourd. And although black bean sauce and tofu were in short supply locally, the time for experimenting was ripe.

First, slice the uchhe/karela/bitter gourd and scoop the seeds out. Then leave them salt-water for half an hour to drain some of the bitterness out.

Is it me, or did the uchhe absord the water and grow plumper? o_O

Here's my tofu substitute: paneer. Cottage cheese. Made at home and diced into inch-thick cubes, then lightly sautéd.

In the same wok the paneer was sautéd in, heat a little more oil. When hot, turn the flame down completely, and fry half an inch of minced ginger and a couple of cloves of minced garlic in it. When the ginger and garlic smell fried, add the drained and washed gourd.

After stirring the gourd in with the ginger and garlic for a minute, throw in finely chopped red onions. Keep stirring, so everything is evenly fried.

When the gourd becomes a darker, fried green and the onions turn translucent, then slightly golden, add diced tomatoes. Sprinkle a little salt on them. Turn the flame up to medium. Holding the wok steady, toss them thoroughly till they begin to disintegrate and form the beginnings of a gravy.

Now, add the sautéd paneer. Right with it, add half a level teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch more salt.

Mix everything up furiously. Then add half a teacup of water (unless you want a more soupy effect, in which case add more water). Fold it in well, scraping up drippings from the sides and bottom of the wok. Cover and simmer for about seven minutes.

When you lift the cover, the paneer and gourd should be tender, easily sliced by the spatula, and there should be a light gravy in the wok (unless, that is, you added more water in hopes of a soup).

Serve this delicious concoction of tangy sweetness, balanced by an appetising bitterness, over boiled rice. I suppose this can also be eaten as a soup, but for me, if something can conceivably be eaten with rice, it must! Blame the Bengali genes.

For those still hesistant about this, my cuisine-conservative parents absolutely loved it. In fact, I -- the long-suffering cook, was only allowed one helping, because Themselves conquered the bowl and didn't let go till there was one desultory paneer and a few slices of gourd left.

So try it! Live a little. Give the foreigners a chance. It's a global world, after all :-)


Tara said...

Delicious, it sounds! But can i make it without the tofu/ paneer? As in, is this an effective ucche recipe by itself? I want one!

Rimi said...

This *is* an effective uchhe recipe by itself, but I'd recommend something else with it to offset the bitterness. Tomatoes take the edge away, but not quite. But hey, you should be able to get the black bean sauce AND the Chinese bitter gourd, which is not as bitter as the uchhe. Go for the original!

IshitaUnblogged said...

Rimi - this is a interesting combination - have never tried and never heard - but is stored in the memory card now:)

Is there a way I can follow your blog? RSS or something? Couldn't find an option anywhere...

Rimi said...

Ishita, I have Google FriendConnect instead -- just click "Join this site" and sign in with your Google account, and you'll be subscribed :-)

And let me know if you ever try this dish!

thalassa_mikra said...

One of the dimsum places here used to make a sublime dish - pieces of Chinese bitter gourd (light green and less bitter than the Indian type) and shrimp, wrapped in rice noodle sheets (cheong fun) and steamed. The two ingredients were perfectly matched. Alas, they've changed the composition to chicken and bitter gourd and it just doesnt taste the same.

Rimi said...

Would pork taste better?

thalassa_mikra said...

Hmmm....I think shrimp and bitter gourd have a special something going on in this dish - pork might be better - it has more depth of flavour than plain ol' shredded chicken breast.

Papiya said...

This sure is a very interesting twist to bitter karela. Loved your posts