Ragout of Ridge Gourd or Snake Gourd

Turia Attva Parval Nu Sakh

I wonder how many people are aware that the loofahs they scrub themselves with are the fibrous skeleton of a really delicious vegetable, the sponge gourd that Parsis know as turia. And I wonder how many people who eat it as a vegetable know that it is the same plant they scrub themselves with. Turia is a Parsi favorite. Thanks to the panAsian markets all over the United States, sponge gourd is easy to find. The scientific name for turia is Luffa, and it comes in two guises: Luffa cylindrica, which is what loofahs are made from; and Luffa acutangula, the ridge gourd, sometimes called Chinese okra, though I don’t know why. Both can be cooked without peeling.

Every year brings something new to the Alemany farmers’ market where we go every single week. There’s always something to surprise or thrill. One of my big thrills came a few years ago when snake gourd, Trichosanthes cucumerina, made its appearance. In Bombay markets, snake gourds (parval) stretch on and on, sometimes curling in on themselves, and no vendor expects you to buy more than a foot or so, which will be obligingly cut off and weighed. Our local snake gourds come in well-behaved lengths, but they’re just as delicious.

The following recipe is a versatile one because it adapts itself well to either of these gourds, or to any other summer squash. You can serve it as it is, steam eggs on top of it to make turia par ida (see Eggs on Anything,), or add small shrimp to the mixture (see the variations).

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 green chiles, slit to the stem (optional)
  • 1 to 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Indian chilly powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 to 3 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons jaggery or brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon (or more) salt
  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds ridge gourd, snake gourd, or sponge gourd
  • Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves and stems, for garnish

Method

  • Heat the oil in a roomy skillet or wok over medium heat. If you’re adding green chiles, let them sizzle first before the onions go in to soften and turn golden. Add the paste, cayenne, and turmeric, stirring them together for a minute or two. The chopped tomatoes go in next, along with the jaggery. Let the mixture cook down until the tomatoes no longer seem watery. Add the salt, about ¾ teaspoon to start. Taste the mixture. It should be sweet, tart, and hot.
  • While the tomato base is cooking down, prepare the gourds. Young ridge gourds may not need peeling—just a gentle scraping, if that. Lightly peel the ribs off more mature specimens. Snake gourd and young sponge gourd do not need peeling. Cut gourds into ½-inch cubes and combine well with the tomato base. Pour in a splash of water to generate steam.
  • Raise the heat to boiling; reduce the heat, cover the pan, and leave to simmer until the gourd is cooked through and tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover for the last few minutes to let excess water evaporate.
  • Check the seasoning, adding more salt or sugar as needed. Serve sprinkled with the fresh coriander.
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