Thursday, May 19, 2011

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash...Whatever You Are. A Tale of Ancient Squash

   Last week I went on one of my regular shopping runs to Santa Rosa. I needed to do a "Big Shop," a 50 mile round trip type shop. TP,  paper towels and  dish soap from Costco and a whirl through my favorite Asian markets on Petaluma Hill Road. The Markets in Santa Rosa aren't Indian markets. Not by a long shot. They're Thai and Cambodian. There is only one Indian Market in all of Sonoma County and that's located in Cotati, conveniently next to the girls of Sift, winners of last year's Cupcake Wars.
   I have to watch my step in that neighborhood. Too much temptation all around. Between homemade gulab jamuns at the market and tequila blueberry cupcakes and Whoopie Pies as big as my head at Sift, once I'm in these places I'm a goner. So the Thai and Cambodian markets are on my regular run. They don't have everything I need for Indian cooking but they have most of it, and there are no cupcake joints anywhere near them. So there's that.
  Just as I was about to step out the door, I tweeted that I was going on a bottle gourd, bitter melon run and a couple of seconds later Paula Wolfert tweeted back to ask if I'd  also pick her up a pound of bottle gourd for a tagine dish she was working on. This started me thinking. Ever since I'd started cooking Indian food 20 plus years ago, I'd been cooking vegetables that I'd thought of as strictly Indian. So what was Paula wanting with bottle gourd for Moroccan food? Turns out bottle gourd gets around.
   First of all, it's got a lot of aliases. It's known as Opo, opu, doodhi, jicaro, calabash, long melon, boo thee, cucuzza, lauki, ghiya, lau and quara. Paging Interpol. Secondly, it's got a lot of uses. Everything from soup to bongs. Yes, in Jamaica the calabash gourd is used by Rastafarians for just that. Dude. Thirdly, this thing's been around a looooooong time. In fact some scientists believe that bottle gourd was being cultivated in America about 8000 years ago, and grown for an equally long time all over the world.
   So why isn't it better known on the current American table? It depends on who you ask. As I mentioned above, bottle gourd gets around. It's known in many places and under many names.
 When I made my bottle gourd hand-off to Paula at the bakery this morning, Pina, a local woman who hails from Sicily said, "Oh, That's a cucuzza! Where did you get it?"
   As I said it all depends on who you ask. Right now I have a fridge full of bottle gourd, among other things.
You can too if you visit your local Asian market. If you can't get bottle gourd, something tells me this recipe for squash in a tomatoey sauce with spices and peas would work equally well with zucchini, or chayote squash.

Indian Squash Stew

Here's what to do:
In a small bowl mix together:
 2 Tbs of tomato paste
 1/2 cup of water
 1/2 cup of whipping cream
 Set it aside.
 Peel and chop 1 lb of bottle gourd (or whatever squash you have) into 1/2 inch chunks.
Set the chopped squash aside.
If you are using frozen peas, defrost them and set them aside.
Mix together a spice blend of:
 4 whole cloves
 1/4 tsp of fennel pollen ( or ground fennel)
 1/2 tsp of garam masala
 1 Tbs of ground coriander
 1 tsp of turmeric
 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
 1/4 tsp of kashmiri chili or 1/8 tsp of cayenne 1/8 tsp of paprika
  6 curry leaves
  3 medium size tomatoes seeded and chopped or 1 can of chopped tomatoes.
1 Tbs of melted unsalted butter
  1 whole green serrano chili
Mix all of these ingredients in a large skillet or kadhai (except the peas) on medium heat.
Put a lid on it, lower the heat and simmer the whole shebang for about 30 to 40 minutes until the squash is tender.
Keep an eye on it. Check it every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking. Add a bit of water if needed.
When the squash is tender, add in the peas.
 Stir them a bit to warm them up.
Take out the cloves and the whole green chili, garnish with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro and mint and serve it up.
   This is squash at its' best, spicy with cinnamon and cloves and a bit of heat. The vegetable is soft and buttery and yet unlike the more common zucchini, it holds it's shape and firmness after cooking. This is what bottle gourd is all about. If you have any way of getting ahold of it, try. You won't regret it.
   Coming up next what happens when that same bottle gourd puts on her heels gets tarted up and goes to town? Just call her Sweetstuff. This isn't your Grandmas' zucchini cupcakes. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


  1. Oh NICE - whatever you want to call this - the flavors are simply perfect!

  2. Thats a delicious way to dress up the humble bottle gourd! And we can't wait for Sweetstuff to make her debut! Would she like a Mango gentleman friend? Please hop on over to our blog to pick up your Versatile Blogger award! :)

  3. Hi Kathi, I was glad to find your blog after reading your comments in the Moroccan Cooking Facebook group. I love Indian food, and your recipe sounds fantastic. In my area (northwest Los Angeles) it's very easy to get Indian ingredients. I have some opo squash right now and am tempted to try your dish but maybe I'll finish it with yogurt instead of using cream (I know it won't be as yummy but with the spices it will still be good). Is fennel pollen a common ingredient in Indian cooking, or is it specific to a certain region? Kashmiri chili sounds like Aleppo pepper, for which I also substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika when I don't have it (a tip I learned from Paula Wolfert).

  4. @Faye Levy,
    hi, one thing I miss about living in LA was the easy access to all things Indian. Every time we're down there on business I load up the car with supplies . Paula Wolfert gave me the fennel pollen and I use it instead of ground fennel. It's lighter and you need very little as it's intense a little goes a long way. Actually the recipe called for ground fennel but I do like that fennel pollen. Kashmiri chili is not quite like Aleppo pepper, Paula brought some back for me on her last trip to Morocco it's a bit hotter but you probably could substitute it. I imagine yogurt or half and half wold work as well, it's just the creamy taste. I have a piece I just wrote on ridged gourd wghich I'll be posting soon that uses coconut milk instead of any dairy it's excellent.

  5. This looks so delicious and flavorful! Wonderful dish. Thanks for sharing. :) You have a lovely blog and I'm so glad to have found it!

  6. So, just out of would one use the bottle gourd as a bong. It isn't hollow. Just asking for a "friend".

  7. So that's what they are... I've seen bottle squash around from time to time but never knew what to make of (or with) them. Thanks!

    Loved the Jimmy Durante clip. Yep, I'm old enough to remember him (in re-runs, I hasten to add!) But who was Mrs. Kalabash, anyway?

  8. @Janis,
    well my dear..this is what I found for your "friend";wap2

  9. Hi Kathy,

    I apologize for misspelling your name last night--it was late and I was so happy to find your blog that I wrote my comment too quickly.

    Do you have a favorite Indian market when you go to LA, and do you think they carry Kashmiri chili?

    I look forward to seeing your post on ridged gourd.



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