Potoler Dolma (Stuffed pointed gourd)
What is it about stuffed vegetables that not only are the scrumptious but are so filling and delightful. Well truth be told while I was living in Calcutta I thought pointed gourd was one of the only Indian vegetables which can be stuffed. Oh ignorant me did not know that almost all vegetables can be stuffed which I learnt during my brief stay in two other cities. So aubergine, bitter gourd, tomatoes , you name it and everyone stuffs it but delicious they all are. I did try my hands at the famous eastern European and Roman stuffed bell peppers and was bowled over by its superb taste but this was Bhai Phota 2013. I had taken the mammoth project (mammoth for me because never before had I taken up the duty of a lunch and dinner party for a total of 13 people plus 5 extra servings for the family members for both lunch and dinner so while I was nervously excited yet delightfully and boldly confident.
I started my work way ahead to ensure things run on perfect and the first step was to decide on the menu. It was easy Bhetki fry check, Plain rice with cinnamon fragrance check , Murgh e Shalimar check. I cannot really enjoy a lovely rich dish with rich pulao :) Mooger Dal (the famous Bengali one with coconut ) check , jheeri jheeri aloo bhaja (Grated fried potatoes) to go with the dal check, Kaju barfi made a day ahead check, so I was only left with one item which was a vegetarian item that was a must. With a looming deadline and a party of people I was prancing , dancing and typing (for work of course :) ) Now since my baba (father, how interesting that people in Afghanistan call their fathers baba as well ) has had his spinal operation the task of going to the market falls on me and so armed with bags and our dear John uncle to carry them I headd off to the market. Stocked and locked I cam back yet to decide on the vegetarian item, had made chanar dalna ( Homemade blocks of pressed cottage cheese in a mild yet beautiful light gravy ) too many times and wanted to challenge myself to a new dish.
Well, I did do a dry run on stuffed pointed gourd but that had a fishy stuffing. So wasting no more time I called up my trusted M and asked on the stuffing. She gave the tips on what not to do etc but This was exact her answer, for the stuffing( Eto bochor ranna korecho sei kobe theke nijer interest e korcho, bhaloi koro , nije koro thik bhalo hobe dekhbi osubidhe hobe na) "You have cooked for too long a time to not know how to create a good stuffing. trust yourself and it shall come out well" Having jotted down the important points I quickly decided on the stuffing, coconut and homemade cottage cheese . later decided on adding (chana dal/cholar dal ) since I felt at the time that homemade cottage cheese from 1 litre of milk and 1 coconut grated finely was too less for 23 pointed gourds. Did do a recheck on my stuffing and when met with a very encouraging approval went ahead to get things ready. So well the biggest of utensils were taken down from the store room and with everybody's good wishes I entered the kitchen the previous day.
See when you are planning a big dinner party all by yourself it is always best to plan and do more than half of your work the previous day to make sure things run smoothly else there would be a crazed you, screaming members and well a disaster.
Now there might be different ways of doing this but here is my version. This dish can both be served in a gravy or just fried. I chose gravy.
What you need
For the cottage cheese
- 1 litre of milk
- Juice of 1.5 lemon . Keep the juice of another lemon ready for usage because the size dictates a lot of things.
So start a day ahead and make your cottage cheese by bringing the litre of milk to boil and adding the juice of 1 lemon. Keep the juice of another lemon and till the water becomes greenish and you see the cottage cheese floating separately keep adding 1 tsp of lemon if required. Once done put a lid and wait for 7 minutes or so and then transfer the cottage cheese in a muslin cloth and hang it for the cottage cheese. preserve water for later use.
The main ingredients
- 23 fat sized pointed gourd. It is difficult for me to pin point the size of pointed gourds but if large it helps hold stuffing.
- Mustard Oil for frying
|The back of a fork helped me best get out all the flesh|
I started the previous evening by first taking the fine outer greenish layer off from the pointed gourds, do this with the blade of the knife because a peeler does not help. This helps get rid of that raw taste when cooking it. Take a hole on the top and scoop out the flesh. Put everything in a wet cloth and then store in refrigerator. this ensures that the vegetables do not dry up.
|Before it is cooked|
|The final 'pur' stuffing as we call it|
For the stuffing
- 1 large sized coconut grated finely
- Homemade cottage cheese from 1 litre of full cream milk (because the creamier the better)
- Cholar dal (chana dal) say about 300gm but could be a lot more than required so in that case if you are left with extra stuffing you can always use it later for making nice stuffed puris :)
- 1.1 tablespoonful of ghee
- 2.5 tsp of ginger green chili paste (I used 6 green chilies)
- Pinch of garam masala
- A good pinch of cumin powder
- Half a tsp of cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf , large size
- Water from cottage cheese
- Sugar as per taste
- salt as per taste
I always encourage people to use spices as per liking and instinct so if cinnamon is your best friend use it more than the other spices, if cumin is your love increase the amount for cumin and decrease the amount for other spices because only when you give your touch does it make the dish extra special. This is not baking so cooking here can make you really take the chance of not being precise , there is no precise in food like this but please refrain form using ingredients which the region usually does not use such as herbs, ajwain etc. In my opinion nigella seeds or panch photron (Bengali 5 spice made with mustard seeds, nigella seeds, saunf, radhuni and cumin seeds ) would also not be a very good choice but you can always try and maybe it will a hit hit hit :)
So start off by boiling the pulse with very little water so that by the time it is done it is thick boiled pulse without any water. I suggest using an open lid if you are doing it for the first time. I added about 1 cup less than the double amount of pulse and in-between added a bit of extra water whenever it was drying up. This resulted in the perfect consistency of pulse I wanted. Once the pulse is cool enough to handle mash it well with the palm of your hands.
Now heat ghee, add the bay leaf, add your coconut and homemade cottage cheese. Adding a bit of salt helps the salt at this moment helps spread the taste throughout the dish , fry till golden brown and add the pulse and then stir continuously and add spices, mix very well. Add more salt to make it suited as per your taste. finish off with 1 tsp of extra ghee.Once cool enough to handle mash this well with your hands.
The get your hands on the pointed gourd
Use mustard oil and fry them till thy are soft but not essentially crispy since you shall re-fry them. Then there is a trick of getting the extra oil out from the hollow gourds. Just put them on a plate up-side down and you will be shocked to see the amount of oil that actually comes out. wait about 15 minutes for all oil to come out.
At this point it is cool enough to handle the gourds and so stuff them well and then seal the mouth with a bit of dough to prevent the stuffing from coming out when re-frying. Once you use the dough press it with wet fingers this helps seal them better.
Next you have the big task of re- frying. re-fry carefully to make sure it is cooked well , when turning them be very careful else the stuffing which is aggressively trying to come out will simply succeed in doing so. I will share a little trick with you here. After I fried all for quite sometime I found that there still was a faint taste of rawness from the gourds so I popped them in the oven . It was a cheat's method where I microwave grilled it for about 7 to 10 minutes. Though not traditional it makes the dish a bit healthier than the original one.
For the gravy , depending on your taste you can leave little gravy or dry it to just coat the gourds. I like mine thick so :-
- 2 tsp ginger chili paste
- Cinnamon as per your instinct say 1.5 to 2 inches (Now dear readers what is more to me is less to somebody else, what is less to the somebody else might be too less of someone else so dry runt he recipe, expect it to fail if you are not confident enough else if you are confident your eyes will guide you )
- 5 to 6 green cardamom roughly pound
- 4 to 5 cloves
- 2 bay leaves , large sized ones
- Cashew paste 1 small cup
- Tomato puree (homemade) 1 small cup (again what I mean as small cup is different for different people and anyone who cooks Indian food will tell you to simply use instinct)
- 2 tablespoonful of ghee
- Good pinch of garam masala
- Salt sugar as per taste
Start by heating ghee adding crushed cinnamon , cardamom , cloves and then bay leaf this frying of spices gives a nice fragrance in my experience. Add ginger chili paste. Once cooked, again depends on your taste if you like it extra browned or just browned :) then the puree, water and tomato. Bring everything to boil , add salt and sugar and simmer , when gravy is thicker than before yet still thin in consistency add the gourds and then cover and cook for sometime. Do not worry about the stuffing coming out, mine did not. Check from time to time and when gravy reaches your suitable taste and desire turn off the heat and keep covered . Serve with plain rice or fragrant rice and watch your guests enjoy it and compliment you :)
P.S. I do not like taking anyone's help in the kitchen but for the grating did depend on somebody else wink wink