Come monsoon, and you’ll see this vegetable occupying the shelves at grocery stores. I have grown up knowing them as Bhat-karela (in Assamese) and believed that they existed only in the eastern part of India until recently when I spotted them here in Bangalore. While I noticed buyers filling their carts with the inevitable tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflowers and the like, there were only a few who picked this seasonal vegetable to take home. Enjoying the priviledge of a secluded section for the first time in a chaotic supermarket, I took my time to pick the best from the lot of spiny gourds, also called because of its coarse exterior. The dark green ones are sought after for its flavour, slightly bitter with a meaty texture.
Teasel gourd has many Indian monikers such as kantola in Hindi, kakrul in Bengali, aa-kakara-kaya in Telegu, kankoda in Gujrati, and phaagla in Konkani. Found mostly in the wild, usually at higher altitudes, it is prepared in a number of ways across the country.
In Assam, the recipes highlight the bitter flavour. In one preparation, the teasel gourds and potatoes are boiled and then mashed together with chopped onions, chillies, few spoons of mustard oil and garnished with fresh, chopped, coriander leaves. In another recipe, the gourds, potatoes and onions are thinly sliced, length-wise, and sauteed in a kadai with only salt and turmeric as taste enhancers.
In Bengal, the preparation of the vegetable is slightly elaborate. The surface of the gourds are first smoothened using a knife, cut into halves and is blanched in hot water. The centre is scooped out and filled with a paste made of mustard seeds, poppy seeds, and chillies; dipped in rice flour batter and deep fried in a kadai. Modern variations of the traditional recipe showcases innovative fillings, including meat.
Down South, the recipes mainly involve slow roasting teasel gourd in a number of spices to enhance the flavour. Such as the Andhra dish, Aakakarakaya Vepudu, which is spicy and served with rice and Pappu Pulusu (lentil stew). In the konkan region, there’s a dish called Phaagla Saasam where the gourds are cooked in a spicy coconut and tamarind gravy along with mustard seeds. Another popular preparation seen across the country is deep frying the gourds using rava (semolina), chickpea or rice flour as the batter, or adapting the western method of crumb-fry.
So next time you are at the supermarket, keep an eye out for these spiny gourds available only during the monsoons.