Of all the legends that surround Petha, Agra's iconic sweet treat, there's one that is particularly fascinating. Shah Jahan asked (that's slightly more persuasive than a modern-day food writer making a suggestion to a Chef) to craft a dessert that's as pure and white as the Taj Mahal. Of course, they complied. The Petha might be one of the best-known sweets or dishes made with ash gourd, but it's also used extensively in states like Kerala and Karnataka.
Kumbalanga in Malayalam, Budkumbalakai in Kannada, ash gourd is known by different names including wax gourd and winter melon. It's not just the petha, winter melon candy is a delicacy in many parts of China and is not very dissimilar to our own petha. This vegetable has been a favourite in ayurvedic diets for its health and nutritional properties. The high-water content (and cooling effect on your body) in ash gourd makes it ideal for summer. The young ash gourd is covered in a fuzzy coating and develops a waxy coating as it matures; hence the name wax gourd. In Kerala the young ash gourd (with the green exterior) is usually referred to as elavan (the younger one). The vegetable takes its name from the grey (or ash grey) exterior as it matures.
Ash gourd doesn't just possess cooling properties but is also packed with anti-oxidants and boasts of anti-inflammatory properties. It's also a rich source of Vitamins (including Vitamin C, B6 and A) as well as calcium. It's also a favourite with dieticians because its low on calories and high on dietary fibres. The key is not to overcook this vegetable, a tip that holds good for both these recipes:
Kuvale Sassam (Ash Gourd Coconut Curry)
Recipe By Vinaya Mallya
I first tried this flavoursome curry in Mangaluru. It tastes best with steamed rice and retains the goodness of ash gourd:
1/2 kg ash gourd cut into chunks
1 cup grated coconut
1-2 green chillies
2 dried red chillies
Small piece of tamarind
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coconut oil
salt to taste
Add grated coconut, dried red chillies, green chillies, tamarind and grind until coarse paste.
Once the paste is ready, add quarter teaspoon of mustard seeds and grind again till mustard blends with the paste
To make the curry
Cut ash gourd into big chunks and pressure cook with salt, water and curry leaves on high heat for 1 whistle only.
Transfer the cooked ash gourd with water into a kadai.
Add the ground masala, a small piece of jaggery, add rice flour (mixed with water) and check salt
Temper mustard seeds and curry leaves in coconut oil. Add this to the curry and bring it to a boil.
This dish is made with young ash gourd (elavan). I've tried this dish at homes in the Palakkad-Thrissur area in Kerala. It's certainly not as popular as the olan, a popular dish with ash gourd. This one's subtly flavoured and combines the goodness of dal and ash gourd. It's also a quick fix dish. The hero ingredient in this dish is the young ash gourd; it tastes best with steaming hot rice and a stir fried vegetable (thoran or poriyal) as an accompaniment
Ash gourd: 400-500 gm
Tur dal: 3 tablespoons
Coconut oil: 1-2 teaspoons
Chili powder: 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric 1/2 teaspoon
Green chillies: 2-3 (slit)
Salt: to taste
Fresh grated coconut: 2-3 teaspoons
Curry leaves: a few
Pressure cook dal in coconut oil with a teaspoon of coconut oil and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder.
Chop the young ash gourd into chunks and boil it with salt, turmeric powder and chili powder.
Add the ash gourd to the cooked dal and add water to bring to a thick dal consistency. Check for salt. Add 2-3 slit green chillies, with crushed curry leaves and let it cook for a couple of minutes
Fry the finely chopped shallots in a small quantity of coconut oil till they turn golden brown and add it as a tempering or garnish
You could also grind the green chillies (instead of dunking them in a slit form) with freshly grated coconut, jeera and add the mixture to the dal before you add the shallots.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.