Karela Subzi with Kalonji
केल्याने देशाटन, पंडित मैत्री, सभेत संचार, मनुजा चातुर्य येत असे.
Wisdom comes from worldwide travels, association with scholars and proximity of peers.
The last 18 months have been one long tour of the world through food, photos and friends on Facebook. I have reconnected with long lost friends and family, learnt and laughed with and also found new buddies. Actively interacting with hundreds of likeminded people in dozens of groups, I have nurtured interests ranging from culinary arts, comedy, to classical music.
And that’s what this Marathi maxim is all about.
Facebook has become almost a whole-of-life experience for so many. The food groups on Facebook in particular have been a fun-n-learn experience. We read and try out so many new recipes. It’s good to feel validated when others cook like us or like what we cook. We learn so much about ingredients and processes and exchange notes and tips. We give in to the juggernauts; the fad Chinese tangzhong bread or the laadi pav that sees a groundswell, or the epidemic of idlis that smites the pages.
Such inspiration and impetus, chatting and plotting, lauding and ribbing…
I joined a Facebook food group on impulse, without receiving any caveat that I would be hooked for life. In the beginning, I only saw updates on my newsfeed, and contributed my two cents once or twice. But I was largely at the receiving end.
Once I recovered from my disdain of mustard oil (and how much of it!) and got used to discounting and re-calibrating the 10-15 green chillies, a tablespoon of Kuti Lal, plus a few dried red chillies in the recipe, I began this tryst and trials with new tastes, textures and techniques.
How else would I have learnt about how timur (a Himalayan cousin of the Szechuan pepper) tingles the tongue! Would I have dared boil a can of condensed milk in water for over 2 hours for the Dulce De Leche, or bake a Chrissy cake for 4 hours without fear of setting off the sprinklers in the apartment! And the knowledge geek in me was hugely happy to discover that Banarasi kalonji baingan gets its name courtesy the masala with the five-spice tempering called panch- foran, and not just the one, the kalonji!
The dish I am presenting today was inspired by my friend Atul Sikand, progenitor of the phenomenal Facebook group (yes, the first one I joined) Sikandalous Cuisine. Atul had made a Bharwan Karela (stuffed bitter melon) with kalonji (nigella) seeds. I had never really had known the use of kalonji, having eaten the fragrant black seeds only on occasional peshawari naans, and maybe a dish here and there previously.
The unassuming little black seed takes the dish to new heights of savouriness with the perfect blend of bitter, sweet, salty, sour and the onion like taste lends the umami – and activates the 10,000 odd taste buds on your tongue in the process -indeed a whole-of-life experience in itself!
I would say wisdom comes from worldwide travels, association with scholars and proximity of peers... and karela subzi with kalonji.
Karela Kalonji Sabji
2 cups of karela, seeds removed if they are hard and cut into an inch squares (the karelas in Oz are not very bitter at all, so I don’t remove its juice…)
½ cup chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon tamarind paste or amchur powder or lemon juice as per taste
1 teaspoon kalonji seeds
1 tablespoon gur (or more)
1 teaspoon chilly powder (or more)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric
A pinch of hing
2 tablespoons oil (or more)
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add turmeric and hing the sliced karela and sauté for a few minutes until tender. Add the spice powders, chilly powder and the kalonji seeds. Add a little water and cover and cook until almost cooked. Now add the tomatoes and cook further till they become soft and saucy and add gur, tamarind/amchur/lemon juice, salt to taste and cook until all the tastes come together.
Switch off the heat and serve hot. This subzi dish goes well with rice or rotis/jowar rotis or phulkas. Tastes better the next day when all the flavours deepen!