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The bitter palette

By Shawkat Osman

Come Baishakh, households in rural Bangladesh serve 'teeta' (bitter dishes) for lunch. It is said that the bitterness of the food cleanses the blood of all germs that affects people during the scorching, summer heat.

We indulge in a bitter treat this week as we present, for your dining pleasure, Shawkat Osman's bitter recipes -- korola (bitter gourd) and neem leaves.

Bitter gourd-vegetable stir-fry
(Korola-shobji bhaji)
The combination of bitter gourd and sweet potato is a taste formulated in the heavens. Once you have mastered the basics of cooking, take a recipe only as a theme, which with your good judgment you can play with each time you cook to get a variant. You may replace the sweet potato with any vegetable you may fancy.

Ingredients:
½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp onions, sliced
5 green chillies, slit
250 g bitter gourd, sliced
250 g sweet potato, sliced very thin, then cut into fine julienne
1 tsp salt

Method:
Heat oil in a wok/korai; lob in sliced onions and green chilli, sauté until onion turns transparent and soft. Chuck in the sweet potato julienne, sauté stirring frequently until the pieces turn sweet and translucent. Add bitter gourd and salt; mix up and sauté for 2 minutes, turning frequently. The bitter gourd will turn brilliant green in colour, slightly tender and remain crunchy to the bite. Serve immediately.

Bitter gourd spicy-mash
(Uchchey Bhorta)
This gourd is one of the most commonly eaten of the forty-two or more species of the genus Momordica. Obviously, the 'teeta korola (Karela, Uchchey) is a vegetable whose various names refer to the high concentrations of bitter (teeta) constituents. The fruits vary in size, shape, colour, texture, and degree of bitterness.

Ingredients:
½ tbsp mustard oil
½ tsp salt
250g bitter gourd, sliced
2 onions
4 dry red chillies

Method:
Slice onions into halves. Place the halves, cut side facing down. With the tip of a knife cut the onion into several lengthwise incisions. Next slice the onion, keeping the blade of the knife parallel to the chopping board; slice from the bottom of the piece to the tip. Make two such slits. Now slice the onion at right angles to the lengthwise slits to get chopped (diced) onions. Dry roast the red chillies or scorch them slightly over an open flame, and roughly crush them in a mortar. Reserve the crushed chillies.

Heat oil in a wok/korai; toss in the salt and stir to dissolve. Chuck in the sliced bitter gourd and sauté for 2 minutes. Transfer bitter gourds to a mixing bowl and let cool. When the bitter gourd is cool enough to touch, add onion and crushed chilli. Blend all the ingredients with your fingers, breaking some of the gourd pieces into smaller morsels. However, do not pulverise them too fine. The gourd pieces should be broken into smaller pieces and at the same time remain crunchy.

Make 'bhorta' in a similar process with the following items: pumpkin, tesol gourd (kakrol), long beans (borboti), green French beans (sheem), vegetable peels, shrimp, and deep fried small fish (cooked to potato chip crunchiness).

Bitter gourd with daal
(Korola daal)
To break the monotony of the bitter starter, cooks usually make delightful variations to the basic bitter dish. We get reference of one such variation from posterity: 'aubergine and bitter neem leaves cooked in pungent mustard oil', revealed by Mukundaram Chakravarti in his Chandimangala (AD 1589).

Ingredients:
250 g bitter gourd, sliced
½ cup red lentils (mosur daal), soaked for 2 hrs
2 tbsp mustard oil
2 onions, sliced
6 green chilli, slit
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp salt

Method:
Heat the oil in wok/korai to a smoking point. Lob in onions and green chillies. Sauté for a minute. Pour in the lentils (daal), dust with turmeric powder, mix and cook until lentils are soft. The lentils should be soft but not mushy. Stir in the bitter-gourd, sprinkle with salt, mix and cook over very high flame, until the bitter gourd is tender but still crunchy. This preparation does not have any gravy. Serve as a starter with rice.

You may use other types of daals, and vary the consistency of the daal to your fancy.

Bitter gourd curry
(Korola torkari)
The bitter gourd's volatile components released during cooking enhance the flavour; the fruit is highly nutritious due to the iron and ascorbic acid content. Some forms have bright red seeds due to high lycopene content, use them for good health. While eating you may discard the hardened seed core.

Ingredients:
200 g split chickpeas (boot'er daal, chola)
½ tsp + 3 tsp turmeric powder
10 green chillies, slit
1 tsp + 1 tsp wild celery seeds (radhuni)
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 long aubergine, diced
200 g bitter gourd (korola)
100 g amaranths leaves (data shak)
1 'phali' (wedge of 100 g) pumpkin, peeled
100 g ridged gourd (jhingga)/pointed gourd (potol/parval)
100 g sweet potato, peeled
100 g green banana, peeled
100 g green beans (sheem/borboti)
1 tbsp + 2 tbsp mustard oil
2 bay leaves (tejpata)
2 red onions, sliced
2 tsp ginger paste
½ tsp + 3 tsp salt
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp ghee
Garlic cloves, crushed

Method:
Soak the split chickpeas (daal) for 4 hours. Rinse and boil split chickpeas (daal) in fresh water with ½ tsp turmeric powder and green chillies. Cook until they are al dente, but not mushy. Lob in the data-shak, sprinkle with ½ tsp salt and cook until data-shak is ready, set aside.

Heat a griddle (tawa), toss in the yellow mustard seeds. Roast them until fragrant. Transfer seeds to a grinder or a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Set mustard powder aside. In the same griddle (tawa), toss in 1 tsp radhuni. Roast them until fragrant. Transfer seeds to a grinder or a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Set powdered radhuni aside.

Slice the following: korola, pumpkin, jhingga/ potol, sheem/borboti, into bite size pieces. Chop the sweet potatoes into half the size of these pieces. Slice the vegetables directly over a bowl containing 1-liter water mixed with 3 tsp turmeric powder, let pieces fall directly into the water.

Heat 1 tbsp mustard oil in a wok/korai to a smoking point. Slide in the aubergine and sauté until tender. Set aubergine aside. Pour additional 2 tbsp oil to the wok/korai, toss in bay leaves and 1 tsp radhuni.

As soon as the bay leaves turn colour stir in the sliced onions and ginger and 3 tsp salt. Sauté stirring all the time until ginger releases its aroma. Drain the vegetables, and add them to the wok/korai. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are half-cooked.

To the vegetables add cooked dal-shak and powdered yellow mustard, powdered radhuni and sautéed aubergine and data-shak, rice flour and 2 cups water. Stir to mix, bring to a boil and simmer gently over low flame for 5 minutes. In a saucepan, heat the ghee, chuck in the garlic, sauté until they start getting brown at the edges, pour them et al over the vegetables, mix and serve.

Mixed vegetable with neem
(Neem-jhol)
Ingredients:
15 neem leaves
250 g green/French beans, dressed
250 g drumsticks - cut into 10 cm pieces
250 g potato, cubed
250 g aubergine, cubed
125 g 'bori'
2 tbsp mustard paste
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ghee
4 tbsp mustard oil
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp panch phoron

Method:
Heat 2 tbsp mustard oil until it starts smoking. Shallow fry the 'bori' and keep aside. Pour in 2 tbsp oil when smoking and then add beans, drumsticks and potato -- sauté the vegetables for 3 minutes. Mix the turmeric and mustard paste with 2 tbsp water and mix it with the cooking vegetables, and bring it to a boil.

Add aubergine, salt, coriander powder, sugar -- sauté until water released by the vegetables dry up and are well cooked. Mix in the 'bori' lower the heat and in the mean time, in a separate sauce pan, heat the ghee and sauté the neem leaves with the panch phoron. Be careful not to burn the leaves, cook until they turn crisp -- pour this 'phoron' into the cooking vegetables. Mix up and serve.


 

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