As the vegetable carts are groaning under the weight of the season’s bounty, it does inspire the writer in me. It is a good time to take a good look at all the fresh stuff. I will take you through a few paras on a cousin of cucumber called lauki! What, did you say it is not your favourite vegetable? And what do I have to say so much about it? Well, you don’t know what happens when a chef puts on his thinking cap!
Weight watchers’ friend
Lauki, called doodhi too, is bottle gourd in English, named hence based on its shape like a container. But lauki in our house is considered a versatile vegetable next to potatoes. Potatoes make you feel heavy in the stomach. Lauki has the reverse effect. No wonder, in our daily ‘watch-the-diet’ planning of the menu, lauki takes on various forms.
A Punjabi home would have lauki koftas at least every fortnight. And yes, I am a Punjabi and yes we do have lauki koftas very often. But there is a difference – we steam them whereas most others deep fry. More about this a few paras later. These are then dunked in spicy onion tomato gravy. We make a lot of lauki raita too. It should be thick and chilled with a light sprinkling of red chilli powder and jeera powder. It is also a good accompaniment with any pulao. Alyona makes doodhi thepla and it is fascinating to see how she rolls them out so thinly! We have them straight off the tawa without oil! It is difficult to make doodhi muthia without oil, or any muthia for that matter, but my research on it will continue.
Why is lauki light?
It is suggested that one never eats raw lauki. But the juice of the vegetable is beneficial as it is cooling, calming and a good diuretic and helps to detox in summers. Also it helps to bring down the cholesterol levels. In the range of health juices, lauki juice, with a pinch of salt, wins as it helps give relieve from excessive thirst. So if you have had some fried stuff and feeling too full, top it with a glass of lauki juice. Lauki is 96 % water so light on the stomach.
Make it rich
But can we keep on going without the kadai? I mean deep fried food…especially the thin slices of lauki, sprinkled with salt, red chilli powder, amchur and then coated with besan and fried? These pakore will fascinate your guests. Or dress up the lauki in a mussallam recipe. Requires a lot of rich ingredients like ghee and khoya and cashewnuts but it is a royal Hyderabadi presentation. Or take another variation of lauki: cooked with freshly roasted garam masala and tamarind and a generous amount of freshly scraped coconut. In a simple meal, steamed rice goes well with lauki chana dal especially if the perfect sweet sour punch is added. Another quick thing to make is pressure-cooked lauki with aloo in tomato gravy. This is nice with roti or rice as you wish.
My promised recipe Steamed Lauki and Palak Kofta
Add a little salt to 250 grams grated lauki and leave it for five minutes.
Squeeze lauki to completely remove excess water.
Blanch and chop two bunches of palak. Squeeze out excess water.
Combine the two with three boiled mashed potatoes, 2-3 chopped green chillies, 1 tablespoon raisins, 3 tablespoons coarse rice powder, ½ teaspoon chaat masala, half teaspoon of ginger paste, half teaspoon of garlic paste, 1 chopped onion and salt to taste in a large bowl.
Divide into twenty equal portions and shape into oval shaped koftas.
Steam them in a steamer for fifteen-twenty minutes. Set aside.
Heat a non-stick pan.
Roast ½ teaspoon ginger paste, 1 teaspoon garlic paste and 1 chopped onion on medium heat for five to six minutes.
Add 1 teaspoon red chilli powder, ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon garam masala powder, 1 teaspoon roasted crushed kasoori methi and two tablespoons of water and cook for a minute.
Add puree of 5-6 tomatoes, 1½ tablespoons honey and salt. Add one cup of water and simmer for ten minutes.
Arrange the steamed koftas in a serving plate, pour the gravy over and serve immediately garnished with chopped coriander leaves.
So as you place these Steamed Palak and Lauki Kofta as Sunday lunch, say well done to yourself as you master the techniques of no oil cooking and prove that lauki is, by no stretch of imagination, a low-key vegetable.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.