Yes, it's decorative gourd season and all that, but gourds don't just have to be decorative. There's a reason they first started popping up on fall tables — you’re supposed to eat them. Both gourds and squash belong to the Cucurbita genus, and the differences between the species within that genus account for what we call squash or gourd or melon or other things. It’s all terribly boring, and for any non-botanist's purposes, squash and gourd are just those savory things with thick, sometimes bumpy skin that taste really good roasted.
How to buy a good gourd
Indian cuisine is a fantastic place to show off the flavors and textures of squash and gourd, according to Chitra Agrawal of the ABCD's of Cooking and Brooklyn Delhi. When buying squash, there are differences with what to look for depending on the season. For summer squash, "I look for a firm feel and a bright, glossy skin with as few bruises as possible," says Agrawal. "For winter squash, I lean toward the heavier-set ones that have a deep matte color, with as few nicks and cracks as possible." She also learned a trick for picking good bottle gourd (or calabash) from her father — slightly scrape the skin, and if it’s green underneath, it’s ready to buy, and if it’s white, it’s too ripe. Just don’t let anyone catch you doing this.
Roast your way to the perfect squash
Most squash and gourd are pretty mild in flavor, so they benefit from heavy spicing or caramelizing. "Sometimes I just puree squash with coconut milk and season it with my homemade rasam powder or a thai curry paste" that it's roasted winter squash specifically," says Agrawal, or she just roasts them and spreads them on pizza or toast. The easiest way is to halve the squash or gourd and roast it meat-side down in the oven. Summer squash is far more delicate than the winter varietals, and thus is often subject to overcooking. "I tend to just watch the progress of the squash carefully as it fries, boils, or steams to get to a texture that is nice and juicy but still with shape."
Spices are your friends
There are plenty of Indian recipes that utilize squash and gourd, especially as a rich component to a vegetarian curry or stir fry. "I tend to pair [summer squash] with fresh herbs like cilantro and mint and green chili peppers and have it play a starring role in coconut- and yogurt-based curries and soups," says Agrawal. "Winter squashes pair well with earthy, warm flavors like cinnamon, clove, ginger, and brown sugar. Red chili powder can also be a nice contrast to the sweetness of the squash, as well as adding a sour, tangy element like goat cheese, yogurt, or lemon." Agrawal also makes this bottle gourd coconut chutney, with the consistency of a loose hummus, which can be spread on just about anything.
Bottle Gourd Coconut Chutney
- 1 bottle gourd, peeled, cut into cubes (2 cups)
- 1 tbsp oil
- 2 pinches of hing or asafetida
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp urad dal (white without black skin)
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 5 small green chillies or 1 jalapeño, stems removed (or to taste as chillies can vary in heat)
- 2 strands of curry leaves + 3 curry leaves
- 2 tbsp roasted chana dal
- half bunch of cilantro with some stalk
- 1/2 cup of frozen grated fresh coconut
- 1 tsp tamarind concentrate (depending on concentration) or 2 tbsp tamarind pulp with no seeds or stems
- salt to taste
- water for blending
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil under medium heat with 1 pinch of hing or asafetida, 1 tsp of black mustard seeds, and 1 tbsp of urad dal. When the black mustard seeds start to pop and the urad dal starts to brown, turn the heat to medium low and add in the fenugreek seeds. When they start to turn golden brown (few seconds), add in the green chillies and the 2 strands of curry leaves. Let them sputter for a seconds and get coated in oil. Add in the chopped bottle gourd and mix well. Cook the squash and salt to taste under a low flame with the lid on for 30 minutes or until soft. Cool the bottle gourd.
- In a blender, first put in 2 tbsp of roasted chana dal and blend to a powder. Add to the blender the cilantro, coconut, tamarind, and cooked bottle gourd for blending. You may need to add a little water or stuff the contents of the blender down with a spoon periodically to get it blending. You want to have a consistency of a loose hummus and the flavor to have some heat from the chillies, sour from the tamarind and sweet from the coconut and bottle gourd.
- Transfer the chutney to a bowl.
- In a small frying pan under medium heat, add 1 tsp of oil, pinch of hing, 1 tsp of mustards seeds, 1/2 tsp of urad dal. When the mustard seeds start to pop and the urad dal starts to brown, add in 3 curry leaves. Coat the leaves with oil and immediately pour over the chutney in the bowl. Add salt to taste.