This recipe is part of that tradition in Bengali cooking which makes use of vegetable parts that would otherwise have been thrown away—in this case, lau’er khosha or the peels of bottle gourd. Bengal has been unfortunate to witness a number of travesties throughout its history—two very major famines, the Partition, and a number of instances of large-scale migration. Even though the region has been blessed with agricultural abundance, these events, especially the famines, forced cooks to think of alternative means of sustenance. They turned to scraps, not-so-fresh vegetable rejects at the bazaar, and tough, fibrous parts of plants that no one thought to eat previously. The shrewd skills of the cooks, mainly the women, were called upon to make these throwaway items delectable. Several such recipes have survived to the modern day. Times may not be so tough, but the fact that we still actively seek out and prepare such dishes is testament to the sheer genius and excellent taste of our foremothers.
- 175 g lauer khosha (peels of lau, bottle gourd)
- 15 g mustard oil (for frying)
- 1 dried red chilli
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp kaalo jeere (nigella seeds)
- 4 pcs dal’er bori
- 6 g grated coconut
- 1 green chilli (slit)
- 3 g salt
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 6 g sugar
- 4 g coriander leaves (finely chopped)
- Wash the lau (bottle gourd) and divide it up in sections of 6 cm each.
- Now, using a sharp knife, start peeling the lau, keeping the peels as thin as possible, but making sure not to break the strips of the peel.
- Reserve the vegetable for use in another dish; for this recipe, we just need the peels.
- Take each peel, one by one, and start cutting it in 2mm-wide matchsticks. Basically, you thinly sliced 6cm-long sections of the lau peel and further julienned them in 2mm-wide matchsticks. Take you time with the cutting, as this will determine the texture of the finished product.
- Place the cut peels in a saucepan and cover them with water.
- Steam them with the lid on for 5 minutes. We don’t want to cook the peels at this stage, just parboil them.
- Strain over a colander and set aside.
- Heat 15 g mustard oil in a kadai till lightly smoking.
- Add the dal’er bori and fry them for about 20 seconds, till they are golden. Remove from the pan, roughly break them with your fingers into small shards, and set aside.
- Now, temper the same oil with a dried red chilli, bay leaf, and kaalo jeere.
- Add the parboiled peels and stir-fry them for 5 minutes.
- Add in the grated coconut and a slit green chilli, and stir-fry again for a minute.
- Next, introduce the salt and turmeric powder. Cover and cook on low heat for about 6 minutes. Stir every so often to prevent the peels from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Mix in the sugar, and cook again for a couple of minutes.
- Finally, sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves and shards of fried bori. Mix them in, and cover for 2 minutes to allow all the flavours to mingle together, before serving.