Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bitter gourd + Onion subzi with gram flour - a zunka of sorts with my favorite vegetable

Olympics games in Rio come to a close :-(, another 4 years of wait for the next round of heart warming sportsmanship, rush of medals, breath taking competition.. I am not a huge sports fan, there are select games that I enjoy watching and when it is Olympics, gymnastics catches all my attention. I had fun watching the US women's team and the fabulous girls that not only bagged the medals but also stole hearts of the viewers. This year, I also closely followed the badminton finals :-). Since it was during work hours, I had to satisfy myself my periodic updates and not really watching the game. 2016 games are memorable also because of the 3 unassuming girls from my home country that had an entire nation rally behind them, each playing a different sport, each from a different region of India, but each one showing what true sportsmanship was, here is to Sakshi, Sindhu and Aditi, may they continue their passion in the games.
For the past week, all my social media feeds have been abuzz with the stories, jokes, controversies and news of how the girls are saving the Indian subcontinent from shame in the games, they secured not one but two medals in the games, the only two that Indian team got to take home. Every time some one speaks about gender inequality, I think of my father. Growing up between 2 completely boyish brothers and an older sister, he never for once treated us any differently than his boys. I got lucky in marriage too. I think my personal experiences sometimes make me blind and gives me the false sense that girls are treated equal to boys all over. Whenever the discussions happen, my first reaction is disbelief and then I cringe if someone talks derogatively of girls/women. Hopefully the recent accomplishments of these achievers will help a generation of girls and women back home and every where else too.
I have something yummy today (as always :-)), made with a vegetable that doesn't have a very huge fan following. I am an exception and so is BH, we both love, love the bitter gourd. If you are not convinced of our love for this veggie, look up the recipes on this blog to find the variations I make with this vegetable, there are already too many of them to list. But I understand completely when people say no to anything that spells bitter gourd in the list, it is bitter and not many people like the taste, I get it. So, why am I posting another recipe with the same vegetable again? Hmmm, let me think.. oh I know, it is because I am sure I will have some converts when you taste this recipe, it is that good.
Don't believe me? here is a simple anecdote, the parents do not like the bitter gourd at all, I have never seen amma buy it or make anything with it. They are very sweet and polite though and slyly avoid the dish if I make something with it. So, normally at home, I will make an additional choice of vegetables if bitter gourd is on the menu. Now that the inlaws are visiting, I always remember this rule of additional non bitter vegetable :-). But a couple of months back when I made this dish, the entire content vanished right infront of my eyes and nobody even seemed to care for the other item on the menu (I don't even remember what that was). Thinking about it, I was convinced that the other item was so bad that made the bitter gourd recipe a better choice. But I made it the second time to see the same results and then realized that they infact liked it. So I have 2 converts at home now and I have made it more than a couple of times in the past few months.
Zunka/Junka is a dry subzi from North Karnataka and Maharashtra regions in India. This is a preferred side dish for the jowar (pearl millet) rotis. It is easier to make, stays good for a couple of days and easy to pack for travels. Zunka is made with just onions or spring onions and then there are a few versions of zunkas with bell pepper too. The hero of the dish is gram flour and the whole idea is that you make a side dish without a vegetable. But I added bitter gourd and onion in almost equal proportions, I like the crunchiness that onions impart while also further reducing the bitterness of the dish. But the treatment to the cilantro takes this recipe to a new height, don't sprinkle or garnish cilantro on top after the dish is made but add it to the hot oil so it leaves the flavors and aroma right into the dish. Go ahead, try it and let me know how you liked it.
I won't hold you to use the same proportions I have below, look at this recipe more as a 'method' than as the exact proportions. You can tailor it to your liking. Here is the ratio of ingredients I prefer, change it any way you like. 1 cup chopped bitter gourd, 3/4 cup chopped onion, 3/4 cup gram flour, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Rest of the ingredients according to taste :-). The idea is to have enough gram flour to coat every bite of bitter gourd and complement the bitterness of the gourd with an equal amount of sweet onions.

What do you need? 
3 medium bitter gourds/haagalakaayi/kaakarakaya = 2 cups chopped
1.5 cups thinly sliced onions
1.5 cups gram flour/besan
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
5 Tbsp oil (Oops, this is one recipe I won't advise skimping on oil)
a quarter size tamarind
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp asafoetida (be generous, it enhances flavor and also helps digestion)

How do you make? 
  • Wash and pat dry bitter gourds. Remove the two ends and scrape the skin lightly with a peeler.
  • Slit the gourds vertically and scoop out all the seeds from the center. 
  • Discard the peeled skin and seeds and gently wash the gourds. 
  • Cut each half further vertically and chop into thin slices. You can chop the gourds any shape and size you like but this works well for me. 
  • Take a microwave safe bowl, add the pieces into it, add water so the pieces are all submerged in water along with turmeric, tamarind and 1/4 Tsp of salt. MW it for 6-8 minutes or until the pieces are fork tender. 
  • Take it out and let it stand for 15 mins before straining out all the water, pick out the tamarind pieces and discard. Squeeze the gourd pieces to remove any extra water and keep aside. 
  • Remove the stalks of chilies and cut them into small roundels.
  • Heat a non stick kadhai/pan, add 2 tbsp of oil. 
  • Add mustard, cumin, and asafoetida and let the seeds pop. Add the green chilies and let them cook for about 30 secs.
  • Add most of the chopped cilantro (keeping a spoonful for garnish) into the hot oil and fold it in. 
  • Add the sliced onions along with the remaining salt and let it sweat a bit until onions are soft. You do not need to brown them. 
  • Add the gram flour and mix it well with onions & cilantro. 
  • Add the cooked bitter gourd pieces. 
  • Mix everything together until well combined, add the remaining 3 Tbsp of oil, cover the pan, reduce heat to low and let cook for about 12 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes to avoid burning. 
  • After about 12 minutes, you get the nice cooked smell of gram flour and the mixture in the pan seems light when you stir/fold it. 
  • You can even taste and check for salt at this stage and also confirm gram flour has lost its raw smell. 
  • Switch off, garnish with remaining cilantro. Serve warm with roti or rice. 
Notes: 
  • Use tender bitter gourds that are green and firm to touch.
  • I am ok with the MW technology for short durations, if you don't use MW go ahead and cook the pieces on stove top until tender. 
  • I like to keep onions and bitter gourds about the same size and shape, someone it makes the distribution even and aesthetically good :-)
  • You can use 1/2 - 3/4 Tsp red chili powder instead of green chilies. 
  • Using non stick pan helps reduce the oil usage a bit and also ensures that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. 
  • Pre cooking bitter gourd with turmeric, tamarind & salt reduces the bitterness, so does the scraping of the skin and the double washing. 
  • If you don't have cilantro in the fridge, use curry leaves chopped fine. My preference is for cilantro and especially when it is blistered in the hot oil, it leaves the aroma that lifts the dish a notch up.