Truth to be told, the past three months never saw a day with fresh coconut. We never bought one here. The Indian store we shop at barely stocks one or two sad looking coconuts, often sleeping on the verge of their expiry bed. The packaged grated coconut is a bigger risk to buy. What if it tuned out to be rancid? After all, with no packaging date on it whatsoever, I wonder for how long it has been sitting there. The brand new blender I bought, advertised it could churn blocks of ice to granita in seconds. It broke out within days with a nasty burnt smell while attempting a simple fruit-date smoothie. That, enough was a hint for me. It could not stand the heavy duty grinding of Indian spices and coconut.
Coconut chutney, tambli, gojju, paladhya, menskai did not feature in our menus. Otherwise the usual course of tip-toeing and balancing myself between Northern and Southern cooking, here I was, survived mostly by chopping copious batches of onions, brewing gallons of tomatoes to broth, throwing mounts of red chillies and garam masalas in almost every fare I made, cooking basic Northern dishes much to my husband's delight and satisfaction. I did make occasional saar that didn't call for coconuts, served dosas with coconut-less-chutneys and palyas that went without the mellowed sweetness from the much-desired-generous-garnish of fresh coconut. The pre-packed coconut I had bought long ago assuming would be good for curries was so sweetened, that it was consumed in desserts and occasionally bitter-gourd stews.
The little Southerner in me craved for the real deal.
So it had to be. A day I called for huli. Made the way my mother makes it, smashing whole tondekayi (known as tindora in hindi / ivy gourd in English) and tossing them in a delicate coconut based curry infused with garlic tempering. Little toiling and more satisfaction of finally accomplishing it - done, served and relished. In feeling of worth and delirious joy like none other. Of clinching rice between fingers, mashing them through huli and drawing morsel by morsel of it with fingers to satisfy the insatiable desire of being home. Of savoring comfort food that reminds me of my mother. Of swaddling in spices that brings aromas of her kitchen into mine. Deep satisfaction. Simple joys.
TonDekayi MeNasina HuLi | Ivy Gourd in Spiced Coconut Curry
20-24 ivy gourds( also known as tondekayi/ tindla/ tindora)
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Grind to Paste:
1 cup grated fresh coconut
1 tbsp. thick tamarind pulp
5-6 red chillies
1 tsp. jaggery
2 tsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
3-4 garlic pods, smashed
A twig of curry leaves
Wash the ivy gourds in running water and clean them on a kitchen towel. Snip off the tips at both the ends (as shown in the pic above). Using the wide bladed knife, smash the ivy gourd down against the blade, putting just enough pressure using the palms of your hand to smash it. We generally use a pestle to do this. A heavy rolling pin works fine too. What you get is a rough smash of ivy gourds that is still in tact and not broken apart. Transfer the smashed ivy gourds into a pressure cooker along with turmeric powder and salt and just enough water to cover the vegetable. Pressure cook it for 2-3 whistles. Meanwhile, while ivy gourds are being cooked, proceed to making the coconut curry.
Grind to paste the grated fresh coconut along with tamarind pulp, red chillies, jaggery. Add little water to enable smooth grinding. Set aside.
Release the pressure off the cooker and transfer the cooked ivy gourds along with the water into a steel vessel. Add the ground coconut paste, stir well and bring to a rolling boil. Adjust salt and more water depending on your preferred consistency. Simmer and let it boil for 5-7 mins for the spices to be absorbed.
Prepare the tempering by heating coconut oil in a small kadhai / wok. Add mustard seeds to it. As it begins to splutter, add smashed garlic and curry leaves. Fry them till the garlic turns golden brown. Add this to the prepared huLi. Serve hot with steamed rice.