Thursday, March 27, 2014

Haagalakayi gojju - bitter gourd in a sesame flavored, tangy, spicy, slightly sweet sauce

Here I am today with one of my favorite vegetables cooked in my favorite way :-), this is nammamma's signature haagalakayi (bitter gourd) dish. I am sure I have professed my love for this bitter veggie on the blog here, here & here but I kept the best to later (not last, there are many other ways to cook this delicious veggie and I will introduce them to you over time). I know many people shy away from eating bitter gourd, it is an acquired taste but once you catch on, you are hooked and it is a never diminishing love story.
How many of you are readers? What kind of books do you read - fiction, non fiction, historical, scientific... I am so habituated to fall asleep only after reading some pages, no amount of web browsing brings me the kind of satisfaction and happiness that an old, wrinkled book in my hand does. Over the years, my taste in books have changed and the genre I read have morphed. I have some favorites that I go back to without fail after a decent gap :-). While in school, influenced heavily by nammamma's reading, I was a fan of Bengali literature. One of my uncles is well known in Kannada literary field and has translated a short stories collection from Bengali to Kannada. Most of these books were set in pre-independence India, of middle class or lower middle class struggles. Sharath chandra chattopadhyay was one of my favorite authors, it felt like all his women had strong characters and yet vulnerable in a very appealing sort of way. It must be my generation, I tried to feed the story to my 'Harry Potter' devouring daughter once and she had this incredulous look of disbelief about the story line on her face :-), I guess she just couldn't relate to it, not at her age atleast, either that or I made a very sorry attempt at bringing Sharat's novels to life by my limited imagination.

Why did I jump from bitter gourd to Sharat novels? here is why.. One of his very famous books is called 'Biraj Bahu', it is about this very sweet couple who have been married since they were little kids, are soul mates and go through many pains and pleasures in life with pain taking the upper hand. The story begins at the peak pf prosperity with bustling family home, happy joint family, multi coursed meals and lot of visible wealth but as the downhill becomes evident, they don't have much to eat on a daily basis. They become poor as the husband trusts everyone including a half brother who takes control of all the family fortune. So one of the days, the wife goes out and all she can find are a couple of bitter gourds, she brings it home and cooks something out of it and makes an excuse that she is not well at lunch time so she doesn't have to serve it to her husband. Only her sympathetic sister in law understands why she won't sit next to her husband during lunch time. To set this in context to anyone that don't relate - those were the generations when wives dutifully sat by the husband as they ate, serving them, making sure they were fed well, for her to give up her wifely privilege would have been akin to doing the 'unheard of'. It is a really emotionally charged and sad scene but every time I read it (yes, I read it more than once) my bitter gourd crazy mind would be asking the wife, "what is wrong with you woman? Go & enjoy the haagalakayi with your husband" :-) which totally broke the seriousness of the novel. Every time I make hagalakayi, I remember Biraj Bahu. Fortunately for me, my BH is as much in love with this gourd as I am and so we make it often and without feeling sorry for anyone except the gourd itself, we enjoy our food.
Here is a gojju that you will fall in love whether you like bitter gourd generally or not. Both nammamma and chikkamma(aunt) make this very deliciously albeit with certain differences of their own. Nammamma chops the bitter gourd very finely, doesn't peel the skin, makes it a slightly gravy gojju. Chikkamma cuts them into bigger pieces, cooks for a verrrrrry long time and brings it to an almost sticky, soft gum consistency. I like them both ways but like nammamma's version better :-) as it works well for both mixing with rice or as a dip for dosa, rotti etc.

You can use either white or black sesame seeds but the black ones give a stronger flavor and darker, more traditional color to the gojju. I used the black ones today.

Other than as a side dip that I can lick, I love to eat this gojju mixed with hot rice, a couple of drops of oil and a side of chopped onions, yummmm. Here is my lunch box for tomorrow - seasoned yogurt rice topped with haagalakayi gojju, I will think of you all when I eat it :-), have a great weekend and I will see you next week.
What do you need for Haagalakayi gojju?
4-5 medium sized bitter gourd/haagalakayi
Big gooseberry sized tamarind
1/2 Tsp grated/crushed jaggery/bella
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
3 Tbsp shredded coconut
To roast: 
1 Tbsp chana dal/kadle bele
1 Tsp coriander
1/2 Tsp cumin
4-6 black pepper
1.5 Tbsp sesame seeds/ellu (black/white)
4-5 red chilies
For seasoning: 
3 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
2 dry red chilies (broken into pieces)
1/8 Tsp Asafoetida
8-10 curry leaves
How do you make Haagalakayi gojju? 
  • Wash, pat dry and chop off the ends of the bitter gourd. 
  • Cut them in half vertically, remove all the seeds, cut them into thin strips and chop into tiny bits. 
  • Dry roast all ingredients under 'To roast' except for sesame seeds for 4-6 minutes on medium heat.
  • When the chana dal starts to turn light pink, add sesame seeds and continue to roast.
  • Continue roasting until sesame starts to pop, set aside to cool. 
  • Once cold, grind it into a thick chutney consistency along with coconut. Keep aside until ready to use. 
  • Soak tamarind in water for 20-30 minutes and extract the juice, discarding the pith and seeds. See notes for a quick & easy way to get the tamarind juice. 
  • In a heavy bottom pan, heat oil, add mustard seeds and let them start to pop. 
  • Add asafoetida powder, broken red chilies, curry leaves and give a mix. 
  • After 10 seconds when the red chilies start to turn crisp and bright red, add the finely chopped bitter gourd. 
  • Add salt and turmeric, mix well, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about 15-20 minutes. 
  • Stir a couple of times in between and continue to cook until the pieces become soft and lose the raw bitterness. 
  • Add the tamarind juice, continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes until the juice reduces, thickens and loses the raw smell. 
  • Add the ground masala, jaggery and about a cup of water to thin it down, adjust salt and let it boil without covering for 7-8 minutes. 
  • Keep stirring in between ensuring the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom, the sauce will thicken and you will start to see oil leaving the sides. 
  • Switch off, let cool completely before storing in dry, air tight containers. 
  • This gojju will stay fresh for upto a week if refrigerated. 
  • I add about quarter to half cup to cover the tamarind in a microwave safe bowl and zap it for 30-45 secs. Let it stand for a minute before squishing the softened tamarind and extracting the thick juice. 
  • I use my heavy gauge aluminium pan for curries with tamarind or tomatoes instead of the cast iron or non stick pan to avoid chemical reactions. 
  • You need to add water along with the ground masala, else the thick mixture will start sticking to the bottom before it has a chance to cook.
  • Instead of fresh coconut, you can use desiccated or dry coconut (kobbari/kopra), this enhances the shelf life of gojju. 
  • I gave jaggery a slip today but the gojju tasted awesome. 
  • If you want to be completely rid of the bitterness of the gourd, mix the chopped pieces with a few drops of oil, pinch of salt and turmeric, keep aside for 15 minutes and then wash it under running water. Squeeze the wet pieces to remove any water before using them.
  • You can also lightly scrape the top skin of the gourd to mellow down the bitterness. 


Lakshmi Grandhim said...

On one of my visits to Srirangapattana, I ate this yummy gojju and I forgot the recipe I wrote down. Thanks very much for sharing. This is definitely on my list now!

NamsVeni Pothas said...

nice aagalakaayi gojju my favorite.

Priya Suresh said...

I dont read much, if am reading it will definitely something historical. Gojju looks prefect for me to give a try since i love bittergourd very much.

Gayathri Sathyanarayanan said...

Healthy gojju. Well explained.will try.