Roasted Bottle gourd Biryani (Calabash in spiced brown rice Pilaf)

Roasted Bottle gourd Biryani (Calabash in spiced brown rice 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. 1Its 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 limited 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. So, 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. Dry roasting renders a happy-deliciousness to this otherwise “mushy-when-cooked” veggie! 🙂 

 Ingredients:

 Serves: 3-4

  • Whole Spices ⇒ 1 black cardamom, 2 green cardamoms, 2 sticks of 1″ cinnamon, 1 star anise, 1 large bay leaf, 1 tbsp shajeera or black cumin seeds, 8-10 cloves2
  • 1 medium onion (preferably red)
  • 1 medium tomato 
  • 1 Calabash or bottle gourd (Lauki) 
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves 
  • 1 inch (thick thumb size) fresh ginger root 
  • 2 hot green Indian chilies (optional)
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp whipped plain yoghurt
  • 2 cups brown rice (about 400 grams)
  • A handful of fresh coriander leaves washed and chopped
  • Salt per taste
  • 2 tbsp light olive or canola oil
  • Water to cook rice 

 Preparation:

  • Peel and wash the onion – divide into halves and cut thin slices 
  • Wash the tomato and chop
  • Peel, wash and grate ginger
  • Peel garlic cloves, wash and cut them into thin slices or grate 
  • Peel, wash and cut the calabash or bottle gourd into 1/2 inch thick circular slices
  • De-stem and wash the green chilies. Slit them length-wise
  • Wash coriander leaves thoroughly and shred
  • Wash and strain brown rice

5Cooking Instructions: 

  • Heat a clean dry non-stick pan and dry roast bottle gourd slices in batches. Place as many slices possible in a single layer and roast them on medium-high heat. (because it may generate smoke, please turn on your kitchen vent fans on during this part of cooking.) Flip slices to the other side with a spatula and roast it too. Roasting for about 1-2 minutes each side should turn the slices, a little brownish-black and render a wonderful smoky aroma. Do not over-roast…intention here is to only partly roast (and “smoke”) bottle gourd on stove top and not cook them completely. When done, preserve the bottle gourd slices in a dry container and let them cool. 
  • Once cooled, cut each bottle gourd slices into four and keep aside for use later.
  • Heat about 2 tbsp of oil in a dutch oven and throw in the whole spices (add the green cardamoms after cracking them). And just as they splutter (avoid burning), add the onion slices and saute.
  • Once the onions are nicely done and turn translucent, add chopped tomatoes, grated ginger, garlic and turmeric powder (I call it sunshine!). Give a quick stir and fry for a minute.  
  • Add washed brown rice to the spice mixture. Mix them once together.
  • Add sufficient water to cook the rice, add slit green chilies (optional), yoghurt and salt. Cover and cook. (I generally add enough water to raise about half an inch above uncooked rice surface to cook until just done. However, different varieties of brown rice consume different amounts of water, so please use your judgement). 
  • When the rice is half done, add the chopped roasted bottle gourd pieces and stir mix. Cover cook again until the rice is perfectly “just done”. 
  • Once the Biryani is nicely done and ready, garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
  • Serve and enjoy your bottle gourd Briyani with the divine Smoky Roasted Onions 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. I have used chilies sparingly in this dish. The 2 that I used here, did not make the Biryani too spicy. Depending on how much heat you’d like in your rice, feel free to omit or add more chilies. 
  3. After you’ve added bottle-gourd to rice, do not add more water (unless required), since the veggie does release some water during cooking and that should work good just enough to nicely do the Biryani. 

Variations:

  1. You may use Basmati rice (in place of Brown rice) to make this Biryani, and Zucchini in place of Bottle Gourd. 
  2. If you are running out of time, you can skip dry roasting the bottle gourd and directly add chopped pieces right after the tomatoes are fried well. Stir fry the bottle gourd with the spice mixture for a minute, before adding rice and following the remaining part of the recipe.
  3. 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 after the tomatoes are done. Saute for about 1-2 minutes before you add rice and continue following the rest of the recipe. 
  4. 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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