Bitter Gourd - Menaskai

In the South Kanara of my memories, time moves at an unhurried pace. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. The rice fields are green and lush, the earth warm and fertile. Conjures up images of non-confrontational idlis, mellow tove (dal) and gentle anna-mosuru (yoghurt-rice).

Menaskai is a whole ‘nother story! Tart and sweet, it will flirt with your palate! Menaskai is like the saucy belle that drives everyone to distraction. How could we resist!

The list of ingredients in menaskai is living proof of South Kanara’s epic love affair with coconut and spices. Even a vegetable as formidable as bitter gourd will be paired with some ground spices and simmered with fresh grated coconut. Tamarind and jaggery play fairy godmother. Give them some alone time to get to know each other and the end result will be delightful!

Truly, it’s a happy marriage. Robust coconut turns into a smooth, comforting companion. Jaggery adds its mellow sweetness, tamarind adds a piquant tartness and the spices make everything interesting. Most surprising of all, instead of being overwhelmingly bitter, the taste of the bitter gourd adds a spunky bite to the menaskai… kinda like Cindy Crawford who made a beauty spot out of a wart!

This is also my entry for January’s JFI hosted by Ashwini of Food for Thought. I have often called my parents and asked for a recipe for something sweet, something wholesome, something festive, something interesting and so on and coconut invariably shows up on the list of ingredients! Doubting Thomas that I am, I have asked, ”What makes it fluffy? What keeps it from sticking? What makes it light and airy?” My consultants were unwavering. Fortunately, I come from a long line of South Kanara cooks whose faith in coconut is quite unshakeable!

Recipe resources:
I came across a couple recipes for hagalkai (kannada word for bitter gourd) gojju. Find them here and here. I used a recipe provided by my ajji (grandmother) - Many thanks ajji, I know you're reading this :-)

Heres what I did:
- Dry roasted 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. In a spot of oil, roasted 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin and a red chili. Ground it all with about a third cup fresh grated coconut. Added a tsp of tamarind concentrate or pea sized ball of tamarind soaked in warm water. Got rid of the ridges on the gourd and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. Cooked the bitter gourd in a tsp of oil with salt and jaggery. Added the ground coconut-and-spice paste and bring to a boil. Simmered briefly (the menaskai, not me!). The only modification I made was to temper the menaskai with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

There you have it!

1. Good friend and super-good cook V wrote and mentioned that she'd made menaskai with pineapple (gasp!) How festive - Thank You for sharing!
2. Do not miss the JFI Coconut round up! Its only a click away :-D


Ashwini said...

I raise a toast to this marriage :-)
Thanks so much for participating in JFI. We have a similar curry called randaai and it has this whole complex taste going on as well - bitter, tart, sweet etc.
See you at the round up. Happy holidays

burekaboy — said...

interesting post, smita. do you think the bitter gourd is an acquired taste? i HATE (shudder) bitter things so i have always shyed away from trying it. i can't stand rapini and things like that. not to sound stupid, are there haters of this vegetable who are indian? i doubt everyone loves it.

nice that your are using your grandmother's recipe. :) looks good in spite of my distate for all things not sweet.

ServesYouRight said...

Thanks Ashwini - looking forward to the round-up!

BB - You're probably right, bitter gourd needs some toning down AND some getting used to. The good news is that most of the kids and probably quite a few adults in India are on your side :-) You've probably seen Indira's post on Mahanandi - an over-ripe gourd is likely to taste bitter.

Priya S&S said...

Wishing peace, health, and happiness in 2007 and always. Happy New year to you and your family !

Sandeepa said...

hi Smita
Very very nice writing. Impressed :)

mandira said...

Smita, this looks delicious. Bitter with a touch of sweet sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.

ServesYouRight said...

Priya, Sandeepa and Mandira - Thank You for visiting and for the kind words!

Mandira - we're practically neighbors!

sra said...

Hi Smita, very nicely written post, came over from the round-up. Pic looks good too!

Anonymous said...

karela seems yumm....hai na?