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Saturday, November 21, 2009

HT Cafe ( 22/11/09) Lazeez Lauki

As the vegetable carts groan under the weight of the season's bounty, the writer in me gets an inspiration. It's a good time to take a good look at all the fresh stuff. I will take you through a few paras on a cousin of cucumber called lauki! What, did you say? It's not your favourite vegetable? And what do I have to say so much about it? Well, you don't know what happens when a chef puts on his thinking cap! Weight watchers' friend Lauki, which is also called dudhi, is bottle gourd in English, named thus because of its container-like shape.
But lauki in our house is considered a versatile vegetable--next to potatoes. Potatoes make you feel heavy in the stomach. Lauki has the reverse effect. No wonder, in our daily `watch-the-diet' planning of the menu, lauki takes on various forms.
Versatile gourd A Punjabi home would have lauki koftas at least every fortnight. And yes, I'm a Punjabi, so we do have lauki koftas often. But there's a difference--we steam them whereas most others deep fry the koftas.

But more on this later. These are then dunked in spicy onion tomato gravy. We make a lot of lauki raita too. It should be thick and chilled with a light sprinkling of red chilli powder and jeera powder. It's also a good accompaniment with any pulao. My wife, Alyona makes dudhi thepla and it's fascinating to see how she rolls them out so thinly! We have them straight off the tawa without oil! It's difficult to make dudhi muthia without oil, or any muthia for that matter, but my research on it will continue.
Why is lauki light?
It's suggested that one never eats raw lauki. But the juice of the vegetable is beneficial as it is cooling, calming and a good diuretic that helps to detox in summers.

Also, it helps to bring down the cholesterol levels. In the range of health juices, lauki juice with a pinch of salt wins because it gives relief from excessive thirst. So if you've had some fried stuff and feeling too stuffed, top it with a glass of lauki juice. Lauki is 96 per cent water, so it's light on the stomach. But can we go without the kadai? I mean deep fried food, specially the thin slices of lauki, sprinkled with salt, red chilli powder, amchur and then coated with besan and fried? These pakoras will fascinate your guests. Or dress up the lauki in a mussallam recipe. It requires rich ingredients like ghee, khoya and cashewnuts, but it's a royal Hyderabadi presentation.
Sweet and sour Or take another variation of lauki cooked with freshly roasted garam masala and tamarind and a generous amount of freshly scraped coconut. In a simple meal, steamed rice goes well with lauki chana dal, specially if the perfect sweet-sour punch is added. Another quick thing to do is pressure cooked lauki with aloo in tomato gravy. It goes well with both roti and rice.

So, as you eat Steamed Palak and Lauki Koftas for Sunday lunch, say well done, to yourself as you master the techniques of no-oil cooking and prove that lauki is, by no stretch of imagination, a low-key vegetable.

By Sanjeev Kapoor ­ Master Chef, Author, Television Host. Reach him at enquiry@sanjeevkapoor.com

Steamed Lauki and Palak Kofta

Method Add a little salt to 250 grams grated lauki and leave it for five minutes.

Squeeze lauki to completely remove excess water.

Blanch and chop two bunches of palak. Squeeze out excess water.

Combine the two with three boiled mashed potatoes, 2-3 chopped green chillies, 1 tablespoon raisins, 3 tablespoons coarse rice powder, 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala, half teaspoon of ginger paste, half teaspoon of garlic paste, 1 chopped onion and salt to taste in a large bowl.

Divide into 20 equal portions and shape into oval shaped koftas.

Steam them in a steamer for 15 20 minutes. Set aside.

Heat a non-stick pan.

Roast 1/2 teaspoon ginger paste, 1 teaspoon garlic paste and 1 chopped onion on medium heat for five to six minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon red chilli powder, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder, 1 teaspoon roasted crushed kasoori methi and two tablespoons of water and cook for a minute.

Add puree of 5-6 tomatoes, 1 1/2 tablespoons honey and salt. Add one cup of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Arrange the steamed koftas on a serving plate, pour the gravy over and serve immediately. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

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