If you’ve ever been to an Indian grocery, no doubt you’ve noticed the enormous, pale-green squash. It’s variously called bottle gourd, lauki, long melon, opo squash, and calabash squash. It’s more similar to summer squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck) than winter squash (butternut, acorn), with a thin skin easy to pierce and a light, delicate, sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavor. It’s easy to chop and fast and easy to cook. Despite this, I rarely see it on the menu at Indian restaurants – although I did order it at a restaurant once in Hounslow, London.
There are many ways you can cook this squash. Typically, I make it North Indian style with lots of garlic, ginger, and tomatoes (and I’ll share that recipe with you later). However, lately I’ve been a bit garlic-ed and ginger-ed out. So, I’ve been making this simpler preparation which really allows the taste of the squash to shine.
Lauki is said to be very easy on the digestive system and is often recommended in Ayurvedic medicine. Here I’ve paired it with one of my latest obsessions – asafoetida, also known as “hing” or sometimes “devil’s dung” because of its …. shall we say, unique smell. Once cooked, however, hing has a savory taste that reminds me of mild garlic and leeks. Hing is said to aid in digestion and is often used in lentils and beans to prevent gassiness. Combined with lauki, this results in a tasty dish very easy on the digestive system (as long as you don’t use more chili peppers than you can handle!)
This is a “dry” curry, which means there isn’t a sauce or gravy, and is therefore best served with a bread like roti, rather than rice.
Ingredients for Lauki ki Sabzi
1 Lauki (Bottle Gourd) Squash
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
Pinch Asafoetida (hing)
1 Medium Onion, diced
1 – 2 Green Chilis, finely diced
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 Teaspoon Coriander
1-2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
Fresh Cilantro for garnishing (optional)
Directions for Lauki ki Sabzi
Peel and chop the squash into cubes. Smaller cubes will cook more quickly, and are somewhat easier to eat with roti. The most important thing is to keep the cubes roughly the same size, so they will cook evenly. Set aside.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to splutter and pop.
Add onions and green chilis. Add a pinch of hing (maybe 1/8 – 1/4 a teaspoon?) – I just sprinkle some in the pan. Stir to coat the onions with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes or until the onions start turning translucent. Always watch to make sure they don’t burn – add a little more oil, if necessary.
Add the squash, the turmeric, and the coriander.
Stir gently so the spices are evenly distributed. Cover the skillet and cook approximately 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You shouldn’t need to add water, as the squash will release a lot of moisture as it cooks.)
When squash is beginning to get tender, add the salt and garam masala. Stir again. Cook another 5 minutes or so until the squash is tender to your liking. (Times are approximate, as each squash tends to be a bit different – and the size of your cubes can also affect cooking time.) If the squash seems too watery, cook without the lid to allow some moisture to evaporate.
Serve with roti and unsweetened yogurt as a main course, or as a side.
Now, I know people will be asking, “I don’t have an Indian grocery in my town and I don’t think I can find this delicious, huge squash, could I use another squash?”
I’ve been curious about that myself! I always thought lauki tasted like summer squash so I recently experimented and did a similar preparation with zucchini. Only, I find the zucchini squash to be a little less tasty and therefore did the full shebang with tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. I’ll be sharing that recipe next!
Also, always keep vegan food in mind when you’re traveling. If you live in a small town without ethnic markets and visit a bigger city, check out the stores and take some food back home with you! Of course, think of non-perishables – all the spices and spice blends that may be hard to find – but some of the sturdier vegetables, like this bottle gourd, can keep up to a week unrefrigerated. (That being said, I usually refrigerate mine – just in case I get busy or lazy!)