Pora Lau-er Biryani — Dry roasted Bottle gourd (Calabash) in spiced Pilaf

Pora Lau-er Biryani — Dry roasted Bottle gourd (Calabash) in spiced Pilaf

My foodie man loves to get home a new variety of veggie from the grocery store each time – one that he doesn’t remember eating last. So we have this big rotation of vegetables in our meals and probably do not get to eat the ones again for a month or two (except for spinach, beans, carrots, peas and corns that are eternally available in my pantry for my kids) – which is good in more ways than one and so none of us complain. Two days back, S was on one of his generous grocery spree and among others brought a calabash (bottle gourd) home. Though commonly eaten in India, bottle gourds (Lauki in Hindi) are among the most underrated veggies I have known. Its nutritional quotient isn’t questioned though, but bottle gourds aren’t counted in the most exotic veggies that make the best deluxe vegan dishes. Instead, they are more thought of (indigenously) for their benefit against gastro-intestinal and a few other conditions.

My parents prefer bottle gourds more, simply because one, they are readily available most time in a year; two, because they’re one of the least calorie vegetables; and three, because they require minimal processing and cook easily. Dad is a foodie turned diabetic. Over the years, Ma tried her best to help him savor different dishes made out of the vegetables prescribed for him.  He likes a few and accepts the rest without a protest. He loves what I innovate for him in food. A Dad’s love for his girl is eternal – forever and always!  

I have been thinking of him a lot today. I cooked something he would have much relished – but I will get to feed it to him only this spring when I’ll visit him in India. In the meantime, here’s the recipe that we relished at supper. I made a delightfully roasted bottle gourd biryani with a heavenly smoky aroma — and to top the “Aha”, we ate it with an amazing side of Smoked ‘n’ Roasted Onions. I used some of these “peyaj pora” in my Biryani too. Dry roasting renders a happy-deliciousness to this otherwise “mushy-when-cooked” veggie! 🙂 

P.S: In the pictures is a biryani that resulted when I lazily supplemented yogurt with a medium tomato. They say it’s a sacrilege to do. And though I am not a follower of stringent ground rules for most part in cooking, I agree the tomatoes did not do much good. So, I’d recommend using yogurt here. I’ll let these pics hang on, till I can get better replacements. In the meantime, please do try this dish, dig in and be happy!

Pora Lau-er Biryani -- Dry roasted Bottle gourd (Calabash) in spiced Pilaf

 Ingredients:

 Serves: 3-4

  • Whole Spices ⇒ 1 black cardamom, 2 green cardamoms, 2 sticks of 1″ cinnamon, 1 star anise, 1 large bay leaf, 10-12 cloves, 1 tsp shajeera or black cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion 
  • 1 regular/medium size Calabash or bottle gourd (Lauki) 
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves 
  • 1.5 inch (thumb size) fresh ginger root 
  • 2-3 hot green Indian chilies (or adjusted to your heat tolerance)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp paprika or Red chilli powder 
  • 1/4 US cup (60 ml) plain yogurt
  • 2 cups Basmati rice (about 400 grams)
  • A handful of fresh cilantro, to finish
  • Salt per taste
  • 4 tbsp Ghee (clarified butter)
  • About 2 US cups of Water (≅ 475 ml) to cook rice 

 Preparation:

  • Peel and wash the onion – divide into halves and cut thin slices, lengthwise. 
  • Peel, wash and grate/mince ginger.
  • Peel garlic cloves, wash and grate/mince them. 
  • Peel, wash and cut the calabash or bottle gourd into 1/2 inch thick roundels.
  • De-stem and wash the green chilies. Slit them length-wise
  • Rinse cilantro to get rid of sticking soil particles. Shred.
  • Rinse the Basmati rice in a colander.
  • In a small mixing bowl, add yogurt. Whisk, so there aren’t any lumps. Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) water. Add the grated/minced ginger and garlic. Mix together with a spoon. 

5Cooking Instructions: 

  1. Heat a clean dry non-stick pan over high heat. Place as many slices possible in a single layer and dry roast them for about 1 minute each side or till slightly smoky and scorched (see pic). Take off the roasted roundels on a clean dry plate. This step generates smoke, so please turn your kitchen vent fans on. Dry roast all bottle gourd slices similarly, in batches.
  2. In the same pan, over high heat, now add the onion slices and dry roast for about 3 to 4 minutes till the onion slices are nicely roasted, smoky and done. They would have attained a light to rich caramel color too. Take off from heat. Transfer the roasted onions in a clean dry plate for use later. Yet again, keep the kitchen vent fan on during this step.
  3. Once slightly cooled, quarter (divide into 4) the larger bottle gourd roundels and slice the smaller ones into halves. (If you prefer smaller pieces of bottle gourd in your biryani, roughly chop them further.)
  4. In a dutch oven, over medium heat, heat 3 tbsp of ghee. Add in the whole spices (add the green cardamoms after cracking them). And just as they splutter (in a couple seconds), add the rinsed Basmati and give a quick hearty mix, so the rice grains are coated in ghee.
  5. Now add the yogurt mixture, turmeric, paprika, green chillies, dry roasted onions and bottle gourd pieces. Gently mix them together once.
  6. Pour 2 cups of water (≅ 475 ml) into the dutch oven and add salt. Cover cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The water on the surface of rice should’ve all been consumed by now. Open and quickly, yet gently fluff the dutch oven contents once. Place the lid back on. (At this stage if you feel the rice is too dry and needs more moisture, sprinkle some water before placing the lid back.)
  7. Switch the stove to low heat and let cover cook for another 6 to 7 minutes. Switch off the heat and let the covered dutch oven rest on stove top for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the rrice is perfectly “just done”.
  8. Open the lid, finish with 1 tbsp of ghee and shredded cilantro. Gently fluff again and serve immediately.
  9. Relish the Briyani with this divine Smoky Roasted Onions (the more the merrier!), some yogurt on the side and fresh garden salad 🙂

 Tips:

  1. If you think the onions or bottle gourd slices might stick and burn on your pan during dry roasting, please spray or grease with minimal light cooking oil before proceeding with the step
  2. Depending on how much heat you’d like in your rice, feel free to omit or add more chilies and paprika. 
  3. Do not add more water (unless absolutely required), since bottle gourd does release some water during cooking and that should work good just enough to nicely do the Biryani. 
  4. I do not like to overwhelm this dish with a spice load. However, if it suits your taste, you add additionally add some biryani masala (during step-5), to pep up the spice levels.
  5. To reduce some calories, you could substitute 3 tbsp ghee with light olive oil to crackle the whole spices.
  6. For added fragrance, you may optionally use a few drops of kewra essence in the end.

Variations:

  1. You may use Brown rice (in place of Basmati rice) to make this Biryani. You would have to slightly adjust the water for cooking brown rice though. 
  2. You may use Zucchini in place of Bottle Gourd
  3. Use Jeera or whole cumin seeds, if the shajeera isn’t readily available at hand.
  4. If you are running out of time, you can skip dry roasting the bottle gourd and onions. In which case, directly add onion slices right after the whole spices splutter. Saute them till translucent/done. Omit step-3. Add chopped bottle gourd pieces directly to the dutch oven after the onions are sauteed. Stir fry the bottle gourd with the spice mixture for a minute, before adding rice and following the remaining part of the recipe.
  5. Alternatively, if you or your family aren’t a big fan of bottle gourd chunks, you may grate the bottle gourd and strain out excess water that it exudes. Mix 1 tbsp of Garam Masala or powdered mixed spices to the grated veggie and add it to the dutch oven in step-4. Saute for about 1-2 minutes before you add rice and continue following the rest of the recipe. 
  6. Addition of shrimps gives this dish a nice happy twist and they pair roasted bottle gourds well. For this, you may need to add about 8-10 shelled medium shrimps — either fresh (peeled, de-veined and washed/cleaned) or frozen (thawed and washed). Marinate the shrimps with 1 tsp of turmeric powder and salt (per taste) for 10 minutes. Heat about 1-2 tbsp of light olive/canola oil in a frying pan and fry the shrimps for about 5 minutes or until the shrimps attain a lovely reddish brown color. Add shrimps to the rice along with the chopped roasted bottle gourd pieces and cook till finish! 🙂
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