Monday, February 25, 2013

Gourds, various, for the eating of

My father once grew snake gourds in our backyard in the Singleton Army Camp, which is fairly challenging of him given that Singleton gets frost in winter and can bake in summer. The seeds, like many others at the time (the early 60's), were smuggled in by relative who shall remain anonymous (anyone know the statute of limitations on bringing in such contraband?)

When you grow them, it's usual to tie a small stone in a snood of string and attach it to the free end of the gourd so that as it grows it grows straight otherwise it curls in on itself. Dad had begun this process and was having particular success with one fruit when he was transferred back to Sydney from Singleton. A few weeks after we arrived in a Sydney an Army private turned up at our house bearing in outstretched hands the snake gourd. He was petrified as he had been told by dad's former work mates who had commandeered a regular run from Singleton to Sydney to pick up stores for the troops to bring the veg down to dad with the strict injunction to see that no damage came to the gourd as 'the Major' would go through the roof should it not arrive intact. Poor bugger!

Sri Lankans love our gourd curries. We use ridge gourds aka vatakolu, snake gourd aka pathola, bottle gourd aka diya labu, bitter gourd aka karawilla and cucumber aka pipinya.

The first three of these, ridge, snake and bottle, are best treated quite simply as per the recipe you will find on my Sri Lankan food site and also below. They are so delicate that they need the barest of flavouring, turmeric and dried fish (optional) undercutting the slight sweetness of the cooked flesh. You can use the recipe for chokos too. Interestingly they weren't a table vegetable in Sri Lanka when I was young; but the sweet preserved form aka chow chow is used in the traditional Sri Lankan Christmas cake - go figure.

We don't cook cucumber this way either, and we don't usually mix it with yoghurt as a raita. We make a fresh sambol from it with coconut milk and chilli and the inevitable dried fish. Done this way it is an essential ingredient of lumprais - the curries and rice cooked in banana leaf that is the apex of Sri Lankan cuisine. You'll find the recipe for this on the buthkuddeh site.

Bitter gourd is also best treated differently because as the name suggests it is not sweet as the other gourds are. I like it sliced thin, dusted liberally with salt and turmeric, left to stand for an hour or two while the salt draws out some liquid and bitterness, then deep fried and served up cooled mixed with thinly sliced onion, a little sugar and vinegar. You'll find the recipe for this on the buthkuddeh site.

Recently I took a punt on cooking fuzzy melon in the usual way with gourds and it was excellent. I haven't yet done it with winter melon but I think the basic recipe would work for this too.

I can also report now that the bitter gourd vines that had been flowering at the time of writing my last post have now been kind enough to put forth two gourds which are doing very well indeed, coyly growing under more shaded parts of the vine. See the attached picture. I am very much looking forward to continuing the family tradition of growing gourds but can assure all Army privates out there they have nothing to fear - no gourd will leaves these premises, their fate is to be featured at a future family feast.


For 8 portions
500 gm bottle gourd or ridge gourd or winter melon (peeled, pith removed and cut into bit size dice)
50 gm onion
½ tsp turmeric powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp crushed Maldive fish or dried prawns (optional)
enough thin coconut milk to just cover the bottle gourd pieces
a sprig of curry leaves (fresh if you can get them, otherwise 7 or 8 dried ones will be fine0
vegetable oil

First make up your coconut milk. You can use canned coconut milk and dilute it, say two or three tablespoons to 250 mls of water. OR use two or three tablespoons of powdered coconut milk.

Chop the onion small.

Saute the onion in the vegetable oil till it is soft, add turmeric, salt, curry leaves, Maldive fish and sauté two or three minutes more.

Add the bottle gourd and coconut milk. Bring to the boil and simmer till the gourd is al dente.

Taste. You can add more thick coconut milk if it isn’t creamy enough for your taste and also more salt if you like.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Edible cities and an update on our garden and foraging

A quick post to send you off to view a slightly earnest and boringly made video about the growing movement for urban agriculture from the point of view of landscape architects. Some 800 million people a year worldwide are practicing urban agriculture. In the US last year 38% of households some 41m people had a backyard vegie patch

Those of you who follow this blog will have read earlier postings re our efforts are growing some fruit and vegies in our yard on on our footpaths and also my urban foraging expeditions. 

Just to update you on that: the hot days we had in January were not good for the tomatoes so the crop was small but tasty enough and we have seeds now for next year. The chili bushes fared better and the hardier brassicas made it through and are being enjoyed now. The bitter gourd vine is climbing vigorously and putting out quite a few flower which I hope will set. The okra have given me the pleasure of a few pods with a few more to come, not heaps but enough to use as a sort of garnish in dhal, Two brinjal/aubergine.eggplants have appeared of their own accord possibly from the compost and are growing well but it's a bit late in the season for them to fruit I think and they are growing in a shadier spot than will be best for them - I am reluctant to move them though since they took the trouble to sprout up themselves. In the same side bed where the okra and brinjal are growing the watermelon vine is tendrilling its way healthily and the usual self seeded tom thumb/cherry tomatoes are going well.

Out on the footpath there is a mass of young dandelion plants that I will make use of in the next week and the lemon tree has decided to have another go at setting some flowers so fingers are crossed. 

Foraging wise I have had the pleasure of making Mangolorean green mango kasundi with fruit from the Kelly's magnificent Paddington backyard tree (and a few from a tree hanging over the footpath in a street nearby). The kasundi has been a big hit with two cafes I favour, being used as a seasonal addition to soups or as a side with cold meats.

The cherry guava up the road is fruiting again and I will collect the fruit as it ripens and store it till I have enough for this year's batch of guava jelly. I will also hopefully be in town to pick the guavas that are appearing on our tree in the front yard. No sign of olives this year.

I read recently about a growing interest in coffee leaf tea and am tempted to try to make some from the foliage of our two trees, I'll report on efforts later.