Spotlight – the understated veg

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Have you ever come across a particular fruit or vegetable, which just doesn’t get the celebrity attention it deserves? That’s how I feel about this smooth, pale green, waxy vegetable, known as ghiya, dhudi or lauki in the Indian subcontinent. It’s called bottle gourd in English.

Growing up, I’ve associated this vegetable with a cooling, refreshing side dish called ghiya raita (grated bottle gourd, mixed with yoghurt).This was my late grandfather’s FAVOURITE accompaniment for Indian food. You may have noticed, that cucumber raita is the common side dish in mainstream Indian menus. However, in kitchens where traditional, family home-cooking prevails, you will find that ghiya yogurt is acknowledged with an approving smile. This is certainly the case for the dadimas that I’ve spoken to! For many, it’s an unspoken given, that ghiya raita is the upgraded version of cucumber raita. I feel a bit cheeky writing that about vegetables! For the record, I love cucumber raita, but ghiya is my favourite. My grandfather, knowing the health benefits of ghiya and preferring its richer taste, would always dismiss cucumber raita in favour of ghiya raita. My nanima (nan) would make it at home, and for dinner gatherings. I think ghiya impresses, as you go to that extra bit of effort in boiling it, before adding to the yoghurt. Not to mention, the subtle richness in taste.

Ghiya raita is the perfect side dish for summer as it’s known for its refreshing effect. Bottle gourd is known for its high water content (apparently around 90%) and minerals, as well as being good for digestion. My nanima tells me that bottle gourd has a cooling effect on the body. Having read about this vegetable, I see  that my nanima’s advice is rooted in Ayurvedic teachings of certain foods being ‘thanda’ (cooling effect on the body), and others being and ‘garam’ (warming effect on the body). You can read more about the health benefits of bottle gourd, online.

Ghiya is versatile – it’s used in different ways in Indian cooking. It can be used as a subji (chopped up and coated with a masala as a main dish), as a filling for vegetable koftas (see page 129-130 in dadima’s book), in daal (lentil dishes) and also as a yoghurt side dish. Here is the recipe for ghiya yoghurt (on page 162 dadima’s book) if you fancied giving it a try. It’s an easy dish to get the kids involved and make them feel important – especially squeezing the bottle gourd and doing some mixing.

I used to always buy this vegetable from Indian supermarkets, but was delighted when I first saw it at my local Tesco.

Ghiya raita (bottle gourd yoghurt) 

Serves 4-5 as a side dish 

 

 Ingredients:

  • 1 long bottle gourd (ghiya, dhudi or lauki in Indian supermarkets)
  • 200g Greek yoghurt
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • Salt, to taste
  • Small handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish
  • Pinch of garam masala and paprika, to garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Wash, peel and grate the ghiya. The skin is quite thick, just a heads up.
  2. Transfer the grated ghiya to a saucepan and boil in loose water. (A little tip – bottle gourd oxidises quickly, so boil it as soon as you’ve grated it). Once the water has boiled, simmer for 20-30 minutes until the ghiya is soft.
  3. In the meantime, mix the natural and Greek yoghurt in a bowl until smooth.
  4. Drain the ghiya through a fine sieve and rinse through cold water until cool enough to handle.
  5. Take a handful of ghiya and use your hands to squeeze out all excess water. Repeat until you have done this for all of the ghiya.
  6. Mix the ghiya through the yoghurt.
  7. Add salt to taste. Garnish with the pomegranate, paprika and garam masala.

Prepare ahead: Prepare the yoghurt up to a day in advance and keep refrigerated. Step 7 should be done just before serving.

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