Alle Yakhyin – Bottle Gourd in Yoghurt.

So if you are not from Kashmir, and if you have been following my blog, then you know by now, hopefully,  that when I say Yakhni, (or Yakhyin in Kashmiri) I do not mean what most people in North India/ Pakistan mean when they use that word. The north Indian Yakhni is basically a broth. The Kashmiri Yakhni is a mild, creamy, yoghurt-y base, used mostly to make the always amazing lamb yakhni, but – and here’s where it’s beauty lies – you can make a Yakhni with pretty much anything. Alle, or doodhi, or bottle gourd is a Kashmiri favourite to do the Yakhni magic on. Aubergines too. But let’s stick with Alle for the time.

I must confess, this was the first time in many many years that I bought alle, because, well, at first sight it isn’t the kind of vegetable that screams out to your imagination, is it? Oh and I have lived through enough excruciating North Indian summers (first in Ludhiana, then Delhi) to develop a sort of an exasperation, for lack of a better word, for any of the lauki/tinde/doodhi family of vegetables. (For those of you who don’t know, the summers are so so hot that nothing grows, and the only fresh vegetables you get for what seems like months and months are these – so by the time monsoon brings its rainbow coloured bounty, everyone is thoroughly sick of tinde ki sabzi. Fact.)

But if I go a little further back than my time in the north Indian plains, back to my childhood in Srinagar, alle – on their own, as a yakhni, with lamb – were much loved in my mum’s kitchen, and so good too.

So anyway, the point is I’m going to hopefully start doing more with these beauties.

Should we begin with the Yakhni? Good.

Ingredients:

For the Yakhni:

500 gms of Natural Greek Yoghurt

For the Alle (Bottle Gourd)

2-3 medium sized bottle gourds – scrape the skin off, split them lengthwise, get rid of the fluffy seedy bit inside, and then cut in to chunks.

3 small shallots, finely sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Oil

Whole Spices:

1 teaspoon of cumin

1/2 inch of cassia stick

1-2 black cardamoms

2-3 green cardamoms

Ground Spices:

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional -I don’t use any turmeric in any Yakhni, but you could if you want to)

1/2 teaspoon of fennel powder (optional)

Method:

So you know how to get the yoghurt cooked down for our Yakhni, dont you? (You dont! You havent read my original Yakhni post? For shame! Click. Now.) So let’s assume our yoghurt is all cooked down, and ready.

What you need to do next, is fairly simple. Take a wide, thick bottomed pan, and put it on a high flame. When the pan is hot add a good glug of oil. And when that is hot, add your bottle gourd chunks. Fry them for a few minutes on the same high flame, stirring gently. Then sprinkle a bit of salt all over them, cover and bring the heat down to medium. What this will do is make the bottle gourd chunks sweat. Let them cook in their own juices till everything is almost dry. Do check from time to time to make sure your alle are not getting scorched – you might have to adjust the heat accordingly. Now once the vegetables are all dry and you can see oil in the pan again, what you do is let them fry for a couple of minutes – it’ll all be fairly soft by now, so be careful not to turn it in to a blooming mash!

Next take the bottle gourd chunks out of the pan, in to a bowl. In to the same pan, add 2 of your sliced shallots, and fry them, on a medium flame,  till they are translucent and soft. Then add the crushed garlic, and fry it all together for a minute or so. Next put all your whole spices in, and fry them for a minute or two. Once the spices are nice and fragrant add your turmeric and fennel powders, if using them. Stir everything together. Now return the fried bottle gourd chunks to the pan, and stir carefully making surely all your chunks are coated with all those lovely spices. Fry everything together for a minute or two. To this then add, say about a cup of water, maybe a bit more depending. Mix everything up and bring it to boil on a high flame.

At this stage all you need to do is add your prepared Yakhni yoghurt reduction, and stir everything together. Check for salt.

This last step here is optional but will take this up a significant notch. Or ten. In a small frying pan heat up a tablespoon of oil. Add your one remaining sliced shallot, and fry on a high flame till the shallots are completely caramelised and almost black. Take your pan off the heat, and pour this tempering all over your Yakhni.

Uff. The Beauty.

Garnish with dried or fresh mint.

That’s right, you are now officially in love with doodhi. I know.

WeekDay Daanival Korme Pulao

Okay, so this one’s been a long time coming, and isn’t so much a recipe as it is a weekday dinner improvisation. So what happened was that it was a Monday night, we had just come back from our weekend away in Paris, I had a box or two of DaanivalKorme in the freezer, and suddenly felt like the Universe was whispering in to my ear that magical word Kashmiris hear only once in a while — Pulao.  If you know anything about Kashmiris by now it is that we are big rice eaters. And that when we say rice, we mean rice – plain, cooked, white rice. No fancy shmancy pulaos and biryanis for us. Except on that rare occasion when the Universe whispers certain words in to our ears, you know.

Just to give you an idea of how down on our list of *things to do with rice* Pulao is – you know Wazwan, the definitive Kashmiri feast, a proper-sit-down-at-least 7 course meal, each course more refined, more spectacular than the one before – all of it served with plain white rice – in that feast of indulgence and excess Pulao is served as an accompaniment alongside an assortment of chutneys – and for a traami of 4 people there is just enough for each person to get one mouthful. Basically. And that’s it.

And Biryani, you say? I say, what?

Anyway, you get the point. It was a very unusual Monday night. I had no fresh meat to hand. But I had DaanivalKorme in the freezer. And I had rice, soaking, as usual. So here’s what I did.

(This makes 2-3 generous servings.)

Ingredients:

Around 250 gms of lamb, cooked – That’s your DaanivalKorma (Click for link to recipe, please!)

3-4 finely sliced shallots

1/2 cup of peas (Optional. Frozen or fresh. I used frozen)

2 cups of basmati (Rinsed thoroughly at least thrice. Then soaked for at least an hour. Make sure you get rid of the soaking water before cooking.)

Oil – I always use olive oil, but you could ghee, butter. (Remember vegetable oils are not as healthy as you might have thought. You are better off with butter than sunflower oil. Here.)

Spices:

Well, since your DaanivalKorme already has all the spices, all you need is:

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

2 green cardamoms

2-3 black pepper corns

1 clove

Method:

So take a deep, thick bottomed pan, and pour in a glug of oil – remember though, your Korma already has oil in it, so don’t over do it. Once the oil is hot add the cumin seeds, cardamoms, clove, and pepper corns. After about a minute or so add your sliced shallots. These you want to fry till they are completely caramelised and almost black. You’ll have to work quickly when you come to this stage because there’s a very fine line between perfectly done shallots and burnt shallots – I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there, but anyway.

Add your peas, and fry for a minute or two. In goes your frozen Korma. Add a bit of water, bring it to boil on a high flame, and then basically let it simmer till the korma has thawed and heated through. This will take about 10-15 mins.

What you do next is pour all of your korma out in to a bowl. Drain and rinse your rice, and put it in the same pan. To this add the pieces of meat – use a slotted spoon so that you don’t get any of the gravy in at this stage. Then measure the gravy out using the same cup that you used to measure the rice. I got about 2 cups of gravy. So I added those, and then 2 cups of water. You’re looking for a 1:2 ratio between rice and water here.

Mix everything up, gently – your rice has been soaking, if you aren’t gentle it will break and you wont get that lovely long grain effect. Check for salt. Then bring everything to boil on a high flame. Cook uncovered for about a minute. Then cover, simmer and cook till the liquid is all gone and the rice is tender – about 15-20 mins, but it pays to check.

That’s it, really. You’re done. You could add other vegetables – sliced carrots, beans, whatever you want – to the fried shallots, and turn this in to a real one-pot dinner, but hey rice, meat, maybe peas – the Kashmiri in me didn’t want to mess with that kind of perfection. Plus shallots ARE vegetables, aren’t they. Ahem.

And if you are really lucky, if you have been really good, then maybe you will get a bit of the *phoherr* too. What is that you ask? You really should learn Kashmiri, you guys. But anyway, phoherr is the layer of rice at the bottom of the pan, that basically gets overcooked, and in a *pulao situation*, ahem, fried to a lovely, crunchy crisp. You never serve that to your guests of course. Because, you know, it doesn’t look great, the perfectly cooked pulao, or indeed rice should have no phoherr, and because YOU WANT TO KEEP IT ALL FOR YOURSELF. Hah.

And you can see I ate mine with, ahem, tomato koftas (recipe here – what can I say, it’s your lucky day. Ahem). Because tomatoes are vegetables, or fruits, or whatever – and there is no such thing as too much meat. Clearly.  Oh and I also dotted mine with salted butter just before I served it. Because you know, ButterMakesBetter. Fact.

You’re welcome.