Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bitter Better Uchche


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I have always talked about how Bengalis love bitterness, not in life but definitely in their food. A traditional Bengali lunch will almost always begin with some bitter preparation of Bitter Gourd or bitter tender Neem leaves. This is in sync with Ayurveda, with the concept of cleansing your palate before you delve into more complex and rich food.

Of all the bitter foods that we Bengalis are subjected to since childhood, I would say Bitter Gourd or Uchche is the meekest. After years of being subjected to chirotar jal ( chirota, a plant whose leaves were soaked in water to make a bitter concoction), first thing in the morning on weekends you do start appreciating uchche. Even thinking of chirotar ras gives me the shudders and makes me glad that I grew up and have enough liberty to declare a chirota free house.

And then there was Kalmegh, the nightmare. See the name, KalMegh loosely translates to Dark Cloud. How could something that sounded so ominous be pleasant ? As a child if my nature at any times turned from sunny to irate or my tantrums over exceeded the usual quota my Ma attributed the behavior to worms in my tummy rather than behavioral dysfunction(??). Backed with my Dida's support she treated me to kalmegh er bori (crushed leaves of the dreaded kalmegh shaped into pellets) or kalmegh er ros(juice of kalmegh leaves) which were supposed to be potent enough to get rid of worms. Actually she even got a bottle of Kalmegh extract for S which of course I did not dare to use on the unsuspecting child

Truth be told these herbs/medicinal plants did work wonders for the system and my Ma went through a lot of effort to prepare such concoctions. If only I drank them religiously instead of pouring them on the Tulsi in our balcony, I would have flourished today instead of the "still growing strong" Tulsi


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Though I have got over those bitter plants, bitter gourd or uchche is a staple on the menu at my home almost every other week. D loves it(yewww !!) and S eats it dipping it in a bowl of yogurt.

Uchche bhaate or Bitter gourd boiled/steamed and then mashed with potatoes, drizzled with mustard oil and salt is the most common thing on the menu. Though we don't add the potatoes any more and serve it just with little mustard oil and salt

Uchche Bhaja or Fried bittergourd is another simple preparation where you chop the bitter gourd in thin slices, smear them with little turmeric and salt and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. You then fry them in smoking mustard oil(any other white oil works) till they are crisp. I usually shallow fry and so mine are not as crispy as my Mom's

Next is the Uchche Begun which is a dry preparation of Bitter Gourd and soft velvety eggplants. Cooked with minimum spices, the eggplant complements the bitter gourd beautifully and yet does not undermine it. When had with steaming rice it is a beautiful starter preparing your palate for better things to come

Read more...







Uchche Begun/ Bitter Gourd and tender eggplants



Prep: Wash and chop two medium sized bitter gourd to small pieces. Wash and chop two medium sized Japanese eggplants, the long slender ones, in small cubes

Start Cooking:

Heat Oil(preferably Mustard Oil but others work fine) in a Kadhai/Frying pan

Fry the eggplants with 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder till they are soft and lightly browned. Do NOT deep fry as in begun bhaja

Remove and keep aside

Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp of Kalonji/Nigella seeds and 5-6 slit hot Indian Green Chillies

Add the bitter gourd, sprinkle a little turmeric and saute till they are soft. Usually I cover and stir in between with a sprinkle of water to hasten the process and not to make the bitter gourd crunchy

Once they are soft, add the eggplants

Add salt, mix all nicely together and cook till both the veggies are done

The end result is a bitter medley of eggplant and bitter gourd. Standard way of eating is mixed with white rice



Other dishes with bitter gourd:


Uchche Posto Jhuri


Shukto

31 comments:

  1. Never heard of the other bitter dishes, but the gourd was force fed to me too, to fight the worms, eeoww. Never liked it then. But I tried it out a few times after coming here, and its bearable now. I usually bake them into thin chips. I used to feed our garden bournvita and boost :D

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  2. We get bittergourd chips here, liberally doused in chilli powder and a bit of besan. They're nice. I like my bitter gourd with jaggery!

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  3. I always hated bittergourd, mom forced us to eat them when we were little.

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  4. Bitter gourd and eggplants a combination to be tried for sure.

    Do you have neem trees growing in Bengal? (pardon my ignorance) I suspect not otherwise you would have been subjected to a taste of that concoction as well I bet.

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  5. Indo we do have neem tress, lots of them, I did mention in the first para :)

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  6. I add bitter mellon only with patatos ...but this need to be tried.
    different recipe.

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  7. I must have some Bong blood in me, as I am a sucker for anything bitter. Though, coming to think of it, bitter gourd is the most bitter thing I have ever eaten, so if you say that is the meekest, I am not so sure how I will handle the other dishes you mention here.
    Oh and I love that second picture! :)

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  8. Kalmegh was indeed a nightmare. I love bitter till neem pata. uchey begun onek kaal korini.. next week i korbo. alu uchey bhaja chara ar kichu khaye na. this is going to be only enjoying it.:-)

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  9. I remembered those days when my mom used to feed me eggs to develop some immunity. Without my moms knowledge I used to throw it to the plants and watch them grow strong.
    We are used to bitter gourd at home, but not Neem. Adding eggplant and bittergourd is new combination.Looks good.

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  10. Can you believe, I actually like uchhe and neem in all forms? Yes, I like it :-)


    Now I find when we have uchhe bhaja, my 4 year old keeps coming and asking for more!!

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  11. Lovely posts.I make bitter gourds by chopping them fine and deep frying them.Then fry lots of tomatoes for 5 min add bitter gourd,turmeric and chilli powder and salt and partially cover and cook till oil floats.Best done in a heavy kadai.This recipe is in return for all your great posts!!

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  12. My goodness! I remember my mother telling me horror stories of having to drink bitter concoctions to rid them of worms... Oh, the things I am thankful I don't have to face! I absolutely adore bittergourd. Thanks for the new ways to try making it! :)

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  13. You made me remember a neem leave concoction. My Grandma would grind some neem leaves with a garlic pod alongwith some pepper and jeera and make us drink just after an oil bath during the weekdays. We never went through any deworming medication those days and this concoction was sure enough to replace it. I used the same methd to my kids too (daring) and avoided all nasty deworming syrups. Bitter guard with brinjal is new to me. Amma makes a lovely tangy fry with them and I love eating it with rice.

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  14. I hate bittergourd...BUT...i would drink 1/4 cup of raw bittergourd juice everyday in my early 20's coz i heard that it was great for ur skin and boy! was i obsessed to have a clear glowing skin...now if i have good skin..cool..otherwise..whatever!!..
    the drive and obsession about having a clear blemish free face is just gone....

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  15. i luuurve karela. in any form. will try your versions. thanks!

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  16. Never liked Tetho but once i left home after marraige ,crave for them.Hated fish too but today feel like having it at times,exactly the way it was made by our cook.Yesterday made Puthi 'n Telapia,loved it.

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  17. You know you had me wrinkling my nose at thsi whole post? I have a cousin who loved ucchchhe and we thought she was built differently. :)

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  18. I suffer from bitter gourd phobia:) but my daughter loves it!

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  19. I love bittergourd but its that we dont getta cook that often!!! I just learned about the bengali way of having bitter food as a part of their daily menu!!! its looks very tasty and you brought abt the drive to make them now!!! gotta grocery shop now!!!

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  20. Uchchhe & Neem were a staple diet in our home, more so in the summer. My Maa used to make Uchchhe Begun, Neem Begun and Teto Dal (Moong Dal with Bitter gourd) with regularity. I used to hate uchchhe in my childhood, but as I grew up I started to appreciate it. Today my Maa is no more, but I have continued her tradition of 'Teto' in our home.

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  21. I love bitter gourd and so does DH - I know inherited my love from my parents who used to drool over it like it was some exotic delicacy...

    wasnt subjected to any of those other concoctions you have mentioned! not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing! ;)

    The eggplant karela combination is very different ...should try it.

    Miri

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  22. Ok so I see 2 distinct groups here, the bitter gourd lovers and the bitter gourd haters. Thanks for all the sweet comments on the bitter post :)

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  23. Sandeepa, your post has made me crave for shukto, even though I am not much of a korola fan, but can's stop drooling at your shukto picture and the associated memory.

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  24. oops I meant ucche begun..not shukto. Also I have never made ucche bhate.

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  25. Chirota was a nightmare ... ar chotobelaye kaancha papayar ros khawato ... liver bhalo hobe bole ... se je ki bhoyonkor jinish jani na jano ki na. :-)
    Uchhe bhalobashi ... tobe begun diye korini kokhono. ;-)

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  26. Mystic
    Uchche bhaste emniy seddho, amar khub baje lage but D loves it

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  27. Sandeepa....you did it!! You made a ucche hater (me) cook ucche !...first time ever :). I thought I'll try with baby steps so started with the Shukto (your recipe), and I loved it...and so did the hubby! Porer baare tomar begun ucche....you have got power, lady! You made a ucche-hater cook ucche!

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  28. Any other white oil might work, but will it taste the same! Mustard oil rules! :D

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  29. I love bittergourd and your recipes is so different...loved the combo of bittergourd and eggplant ,never tried this combo before..

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  30. Uchchey with kumro..jhiri cut and made into chawchori..simlilar to uchchey begoon.Also interesting stuffed karela that my Mom's Punjabi friend made. The karela had to be scraped and the inside taken out and then stuffed with very spicy keema.Yum.I happen to be pro bitter.Others thought it was a waste of keema.

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