This week, enjoy Jhinga Alu Posto, Shipra Lodh's generations-old Bengali recipe, as described by her daughter.
This recipe uses beige poppy seeds aka white poppy seeds which can be purchased from an Indian grocery store. This is also where, hopefully, you can get the ridged gourd.
Indulge me as I write this recipe - it is as long and filled with love as is the process by which I like to cook! (Scroll down for recipe summary)
I'm assuming that after your daily yoga and meditation, you've listened to your body and heard it request the warming, creamy (but without cream) and lingering taste of jhinga alu posto, right? Well then, let's take a quick jaunt to the store and pick up a fresh ridged gourd, preferably tender to the touch, yet with no bruises nor hints of impending mold. Errand done, let's hop, skip and jump on the way home, visualizing the yummy times ahead.
Soak the gourd in 1:10 vinegar:water solution for a few minutes and then rinse off. With a peeler, slide down longitudinally to strip off the dark strips on the ridges, keeping the valleys' skin intact. The action should feel like playing a slide guitar held at an angle, right? You might as well sing along: know any songs about gourds, squashes or melons?
Peeling and singing done, chop up the gourd in approximately 3/4 inch cubes.
Heat enough oil of your choice (but one without a dominant flavor) on a saucepan to enable sautéing the gourd, and proceed with the sautéing on medium heat.
While the gourd is sautéing, reach into your pantry's potato basket and pick potatoes that would add up to about half the volume of the ridged gourd. Make sure you don't get so absorbed in 'eye'ing those potatoes that you forget to stir the sautéing gourd periodically to avoid burning. You may or may not choose to peel the potatoes, but do chop them into ½ inch cubes. You are chopping them into pieces smaller than the gourd pieces because after cooking, the gourd will shrink somewhat, and you'll end up with a dish in which all parts have democratic equality with regard to size and volume!
Glance over at the saucepan - most likely the gourd pieces are still intact in their cubic shapes. So let the potatoes sit on the cutting board for a bit, and you could proceed to prepare some garlic purée, unless you have some ready in the freezer (I purée a moderate sized batch at a time, pour into a Ziploc, flatten into a thin sheet and freeze, so that when needed, I can just break off however much I need).
Glance over at the saucepan again. Are the gourd pieces beginning to lose their shape?
If yes, it is time to add the cubed potatoes and continue sautéing. If the oil has disappeared, you can add a bit more.
After a while, the oil will disappear again. This time, instead of adding oil again, you can choose to make the recipe not too oily and instead add some salt. This will make the potatoes sweat, adding moisture to the pan. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and do a little jig because you can now take a mini break.
Or maybe not. If you don't already have some poppy-coconut purée in the freezer from prior kitchen escapades, you can take your singing and dancing toes to the high-performance blender (like a Vitamix), where you can purée beige (not black) poppy seeds and some fresh coconut. I think you like coconut twice as much as poppy, which is good because that's how this ancient recipe goes too. Depending on your spice tolerance, you can add a green chilli or two to the blender too (two, to, too - cool!). Feel free to use water to nudge the blender along, but not so much that you'll later need a lot of time drying it up in its avatar as a sauce on the pan. For this recipe you'll need a total "sauce" of about 2 tbsp, but you might want to make multiples of that to enable easier pureeing and then freeze the excess for future use (maybe in little cups as you see in the photo).
Let's do the glancing thing again. How is the saucepan doing under the lid? Needs stirring? Then give it the love it deserves. Is it too vata-ish (dry)? Feel free to give it a drink, like say, a few teaspoons of water. Cover it again.
Now it's time to do some yoga stretches. And listen to some good music. And catch up on some reading. And do some mahanarayan tailam massages. And make an herbal infusion. And look at the pickles collection. And make some rice and daal to round out the upcoming meal.
Let's look at the saucepan again. If drying, add some turmeric in a space created in the middle, then toss it around in that little space to roast it for 3-5 seconds to transform its raw flavor to the yummier roasted flavor. Stir and cover for a short while, say, a minute.
Soon after that minute, to prevent burning the gourd and potato pieces due to the drying effect of the turmeric powder, add the poppy-coconut-green chilli purée as well as the garlic. The picture shows the relative proportion of the poppy-coconut-green chilli purée (in the center) and the garlic (toward the top rear)
Stir. And a dash of sugar or jaggery to balance out the flavors. Stir. Add a little mustard oil to add a bit of tangy edginess. Time to cover and simmer again on low heat, ensuring you've added enough water to the saucepan, if necessary, to last the entire duration that you'll be soaking in that hot bath with, maybe, lavender essential oil (in the bath water, not in the dish!).
You emerge from your bath tub, open that bathroom door, and oooh, what's that aroma in the air? You are tempted to head straight to the kitchen! When you do get there after getting dressed, you might want to do a taste test and adjust for salt-sugar-chilli-mustard oil balance, and make sure it's NOT al dente - slightly naturally mashed is yummy and good!
How do you eat it? Well, you can mix it with rice and use it as a starter course. Alternatively, you can use it as the side vegetable that goes with rice and daal. If using it as a starter course, make sure it is a little runny so that when mixed with rice the course is not too dry; you'd also want to anticipate the salt level for dilution by the rice. If using it as a side vegetable, make sure it is on the drier side so that it doesn't run into the rice and daal.
Ridged Gourd 1 - 1.5lb
Potato 1 - 1.5lb
Turmeric ½ -1 tsp
Garlic 2 - 4 cloves
White Poppy seeds 2 - 3 tsp (from Indian grocery store)
Fresh coconut 4 - 6 tsp
Green chilli To taste, say 1
Salt To taste, say ½ -1 tsp
Jaggery/sugar To taste, say ¼ - ½ tsp
Mustard oil 1 - 2 tsp
Cooking oil 2 - 4 tsp
Water As necessary
Peel the ridged gourd's ridges, dice into 3/4 inch cubes, sauté in oil in saucepan over medium heat for about 15 mins
Dice potatoes into ½ inch cubes, add to saucepan , add some oil if necessary, stir, add salt after about 15 mins
When dry, add turmeric and roast. Add coconut-poppy seeds-green chilli puree, garlic puree, jaggery, mustard oil. Simmer covered for 45 mins, ensuring moisture periodically.
The above love-filled process takes about 1½ hours and feeds about 2-4 persons, depending upon prevailing appetites and whether it is used as a starter course or as a side dish. As an alternative, the entire dish can be made in as little as 15 minutes if you boil (or pressure cook) the gourd and potato cubes first. Then all you'll need to do is roast the turmeric, add the purées and flavors and stir in the boiled vegetables. It will taste somewhat like it ideally should, but you'll definitely feel the far lower dose of love in it!
Caution: If you have a blood test coming up, the poppy seeds might skew the results. You may accordingly choose to substitute white or brown sesame seeds for the poppy seeds.
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
Enliven your holistic health! Visit Alakananda Ma in Alandi Ashram’s ayurvedic clinic to support the overall rejuvenation of your body, mind, and spirit. In-person and virtual appointments available. Book now!