A bowlful really perfect for the summer time – quick to cook, light, lemony and healthy. It is the simplest kind, usually not heard of very often when “Indian Cuisine” in general is discussed. Cooked with very little spices, and “satvic” in nature, it is a recipe which has pretty much remained cloistered solely in the homes and hearts of many Indians.
I came across Barbara’s blog when I had participated In an event a few months after I had started blogging. She had created the well known and popular event Hay Hay It’s Donna Hay. Barbara also created the Taste of Yellow for the food bloggers to participate and to raise awareness for cancer and it was her way of supporting the LiveStrong Foundation.
Sadly, Barbara lost her battle with cancer a couple of weeks back.
I silently read her blog mostly when I am weighed down with the thoughts of my maa, whom I lost to cancer eleven years back. My heart weeps and wrings in pain more often than I can tell. Sometimes I just “need” my maa just as I did as a child – wanting to reach out to her, talk to her and share the everyday life with my girls and family with her – none of which she could see. She had to leave too soon. Just recently we lost my only aunt (my maa‘s sis.) to cancer too. The disease has taken away many more of our close ones, leaving us helpless and hurt beyond words. Barbara was strong and passionate to life; and I felt like she was always there for me - to show that life matters, life moves on, and to live each day with a smile. We never got the chance to communicate much, Barbara and me. But reading her blog is something which kept me going on many down days, softly reminding me and providing me with the strength I needed. I have seen days of the pains of cancer – with my maa, and they are a far cry from “easy”. Barabara fought with it for the past few years and she did it bravely.
Hear it from Barbara – “I am one of 28 million people worlwide living with cancer…and I have lived with cancer for 7 years now. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been days where I have wanted to give in. Like everyone I have this strong will to live and have been prepared to try new chemos and new drugs as they became available. I just need to hang in here long enough in the hope they find a cure for cancer.”
Barbara lived with dignity and courage. She has left back a part of herself. Do read her blog. May her beautiful soul rest in peace.
Photo by Arjun
As I have mentioned before that the recipe today is not one of those dishes which would be “Featured”. But it is wholesome and homey. Bottle gourd or Lauki/Doodhi/Dudhi/Lau/Ghia (yes many names!!) as it is commonly called, is a popular vegetable in India, espcially during summer time. It is kind of plain, mild and flavorless which absorbs any flavor it is cooked in and is very easy to digest. Pretty and dainty with an attractive green peel and a really white, and slightly spongy flesh inside Lauki versatile enough to even make desserts!
When ever I work with it and the little cubes are piled up, it makes me think of the times when I was little and always thought of the delicate Jasmine flowers – white and tender, as I ran my fingers through the pile of sliced “lau” (that is what we call it!.. and it not a”luau” and has nothing Hawaiian about it!) as my maa worked with them.
I had posted Khatti Meethi Lauki sometime back. This recipe is similar in its simplicity and flavors, only cooked along with lentils. With a side of bread/flatbread or even some rice on the side, it makes a fresh, nutritious and complete meal. There are quite a few ways to cook this humble combination of lentils and the bottle gourd. As with most Indian recipes, the flavors and the spices change from one household to another. I make another version of this which is richer and spicer and cooked and braised like meat. But the one I have today is right for the season when the heart craves something light and yet fulfilling.
The only thing I have done different this time is use the lemon thyme instead of fresh cilantro which I always use. Only because I had no fresh cilantro/coriander at hand. As I was tending the herbs in my back yard, I realized that the lemon thyme would be just a perfect to add the refreshing lemony flavors to this dish!
And now that I have done it and got over the guilt of “tainting” an original recipe, I think I love the lemon thyme here even more than fresh coriander.
Since the flavors are simple and minimalistic, it is important to use fresh ingredients here. The hing/asafoetida and the ground coriander is vital and so is the ghee. So do make sure you have good spices when you start with this dish.
Lauki Chana Dal – Soupy Lentils with Bottle Gourd
Ingredients: (serves 4)
- 1 small lauki/bottle gourd, 3 – 3.5 cups peeled and chopped **
- 1 large tomato, about 3/4 – 1 cup chopped
- 3/4 cup chana dal/split Bengal gram
- 2 tablespoon ghee or melted butter if you do not have ghee (use oil for a vegan version)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- a generous pinch of good quality hing/asafoetida
- 1 – 2 hot green chili pepper, like Thai Bird
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 teaspoon coriander powder, (freshly ground preferred – use a small coffee grinder to make about 1/2 cup and store the extra in an air tight container)
- salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- red chili powder /cayenen/parika to taste
- approx. 3-4 cups water (adjust to how thick or soupy you want the consistency to be)
- fresh lemon juice to sprinkle before serving
- fresh cilantro/coriander or any fresh herb you want to use
- Optional (a sprinkle of Chaat Masala for extra flavor)
**Note: If you do not find bottlegourd, any squash kind of vegetables may be used. I have used zucchini or yellow squash; even if it does not taste exactly the same, it is still a good one.
Peel the bottle gourd/lauki. Chop into 1/2 inch – 3/4 inch cubes. Wash well and drain.
Wash the chana dal/lentils in several changes of wate until water runs clear. Soak for at least an hour. Drain and set aside.
Heat ghee/melted butter in a pot/pressure cooker. Add the hing and the cumin seeds and the slit hot peppers. When they sizzle, add the chopped tomatoes, turmeric, salt, red chili powder/paprika if you are using and salt. Toss them well, reduce heat and cover for about 5 minutes and allow the tomatoes to soften.
Add the dal/lentil to the pot. Increase heat and sitr and toss them well for all the spices to coat the dal. Keep stirring to prevent catching at the bottom of the pan, for about 2 minutes. Reduce heat, add half a cup of water and cover and cook for about 5-7 minutes. The lentils will combine with spices and also the tomatoes and the lentils will soften. (I do this as the lauki/bottle gourd cooks faster than the lentils, and I feel it is better to cook the lentils a bit before you add the lauki/gourd).
Uncover and add the lauki/lentils and stir it in. Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar if you want to use it. Add the rest of the water and cover the pot/pressure cooker until the lauki is cooked through (it will look glazed/translucent and it takes about 10-12 minutes in the pressure cooker after the steam has built up. It will take longer without the pressure cooker) and the lentils will be cooked too, but not mushed up. They should still be holding their shape.
Mash some of the lentils with the back of the spoon, sitr and cook for another 2 minutes. Cover and keep until ready to serve.
When ready, drizzle the lemon juice and add the fresh cilantro and chaat masala if you wish to.
Serve with bread or rice.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 as a side dish
Difficulty Level: Moderate