Last Sunday, over lunch, I was telling Goon about how I wanted to enter WTSIM no 5 (which Cooksister Jeanne is hosting) but was totally stuck on ideas. The theme this time was stuffed vegetables and fruits. Goon had a suggestion.
GOON: I know what you can stuff. I’ve seen green wrinkly things. The label said you can stuff them.
ME: Any idea what they are?
GOON: Green wrinkly things.
ME: But what are they called?
GOON: I don’t know. But they’re green and wrinkly.
I was clearly going to get no more information about the mystery vegetable from him and I mentally dismissed the green wrinkly things as some figment of Goon’s imagination. But, that evening, six of them appeared in the kitchen.
I recognised them immediately, although I think I’d describe them as more knobbly than wrinkly. Goon had picked up kerala, which had appeared in my mother’s kitchen from time to time when I was little. It’s a vegetable which, like courgettes and sprouts, drives fear into the hearts of small children.
Here the vegetable is known as bitter gourd. It’s called that for a good reason. In order to remind myself what the kerala tasted like, I cut a tiny sliver from the middle of the largest one and tasted.
For a second I thought it wasn’t so bad but, literally a few seconds later, there seemed to be a small chemical war going on in my mouth. My face contorted and I made a noise that was something like “GAAAAAAAH!” The next ten minutes were spent trying desperately to drown out the flavour with cherry brandy. It didn’t go easily. *
I was seriously dubious about trying anything with the green knobbly gourd but, since Goon had gone to all the effort of getting it, I thought I’d better make an attempt at cooking it. Some people actively like it, so there must be something I could do to de-bitter my kerala.
I called up my parents to see if they could help me make this strange vegetable edible. Apparently they’d only ever used them in salads and curries, which didn’t really help me with my plans for stuffing, but cooking with sugar and tamarind seemed to be a common theme. The internet also provided me with some help. The bitterness of the kerala could be reduced by scraping off some skin, deseeding it, rubbing it with salt and soaking in cold water. I decided to try and balance the bitter flavour with a very strong sweet and sour stuffing made from tomato, onion, and lots of sugar and tamarind. After all, it works for chicory. The dish would be an accompaniment to a Sri-Lankan style goat curry.
I didn’t really know what to expect from my kerala as I began to prepare them, but scraping off the skin was easy enough. It did however leave a big green mess in the kitchen.
Once the skin was off, I cut the kerala in half and looked inside. Like many gourds, it had a clear divide between the flesh and seed area.
A small knife was ideal to scrape out the seeds. Now there was a cylindrical hole in the gourd which was a perfect shape and size for stuffing.
So the gourds were salted and soaked for an hour whilst I finished preparing the rest of our dinner: the slow cooked goat curry and spiced rice. I also made a lot of dahl, just in case the gourd was inedible.
The tomato chutney stuffing for the gourd was simple to make. I sweated some onion, added a couple of fresh chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and coriander, then added lots of sugar, tamarind and just a drop or two of vinegar to make it really sweet and tangy. Once the gourds were stuffed I cooked them in the excess tomato concoction.
Now, maybe Goon accidentally found the bitterest bitter gourds in the shop, but even after lots of soaking, these things were still not very nice. Goon ate one piece and said “Why the heck would anyone voluntarily eat these things?” I have to admit, I was thinking the same thing. The sweet and sour flavour certainly helped but, after a few bites, the bitterness was overwhelming. I can’t believe that some people actually eat it without salting it first!
So, if you happen to be a bitter gourd fan, good for you. I don’t get it but I think the sweet-sour thing turned it from totally inedible to the point where I could manage a piece or two. Fortunately there was plenty of curry so we didn’t go hungry.
This is my entry to this month’s Waiter, Waiter event. The roundup will be on Jeanne’s blog very soon, so go and check out the other entries. I’m sure that, unlike me, most people even made something they could eat!
* Which meant I had to drink a lot of cherry brandy. Shame.