First, a little about some of the ingredients I used to make the Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal. The recipe I finally firmed up after browsing the internet and the few cookbooks I could find, needed kokum as well as terphal, a species related to the Himalayan Sichuan Pepper (which seems to be variously known as teppal, tefla etc). I consulted my daughter Mridula as to what the ‘tefla’ in the recipe was (I thought it was a kind of fish!) I could have tried sourcing the kokum and terphal in one of the many Mangalorean stores dotted around Bangalore, but then opted to buy them online from amazon as I was not sure I would be able to get the terphal spice elsewhere. The rest of the ingredients were ones I already had at home. Bitter gourd or karela is a favourite on my dining table. If you hesitate to take karela because of the bitterness, then do try it in this dish – the jaggery, the kokum and the spice all go to reduce the bitterness and in fact enhance the taste of the bitter gourd. And you know it is chock full of nutrition and health benefits, right?
A brief note here on how to use the terphal or Sichuan Pepper. Pound a few (I used 6) in a mortar and pestle, in a small quantity of water. The spice is not pleasant if you happen to bite into it, so its best to pound it gently without breaking it to bits, and to be able to pick the spice and discard it while eating. Do not add it to the coconut while making the coconut paste, as it will overpower the flavours of the dal and believe, me you won’t like it! Also, the terphal has a numbing effect on the tongue, so don’t try tasting it directly! The spice (with the water it is pounded in) is best added to the dal at the end of the cooking process, and to let it boil along with the dal for 5 minutes before taking the Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal off the stove. I learnt that terphal makes sweet dishes sweeter and enhances the saltiness of a salty dish and so very little salt is to be added while pressure cooking the dal and while boiling it with the coconut paste, and more should be added only after stirring the terphal in, right at the end. I came across 2 interesting references to this spice, and here are the links if you would like to read about them: Teppal Ambat and Himalayan Spice .
With the coconut paste and towar dhal, the Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal felt while making it, like a sambar, more specifically the Pahakkai Pitlai we make in Tamilnadu, but it did not taste like one. It was very different and refreshing and had it for lunch with rice and then again with roti for dinner. The terphal peppercorns did not taste of pepper but added a unique flavour to the dal. The kokum gave it a bit of tanginess, but not as much as tamarind would do.
I’m a member of the Facebook group, Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge and we have been trying out recipes from each Indian State’s cuisine. The theme for Feb 2018 was Goan cuisine which I have not ventured into earlier. Rafeeda, my charming partner for the month, gave me as the secret ingredients, towar dal (pigeon pea lentils) and kokum. Each of us posts a picture of the dish we have made for that month, and the remaining members of the group try to guess which 2 ingredients were the ‘secret’ ones used in the recipe. Its interesting, and fun too!
Rafeeda A R, who as I said earlier, was my partner for Feb 2018, blogs as The Big Sweet Tooth! Please do check the blog for her Goan recipe, Caril De Galinha -Goan Chicken Curry. I suggested coconut and peppercorns as her secret ingredients, both being favourites in Goan cuisine, and she turned out this delicious looking Chicken Curry, which she describes as “a beautifully spiced and spiked chicken curry that will have you literally drinking the curry”.
Rafeeda’s blog is interesting – she has a lovely set of recipes, more than a 1000 of them, including from Malabar and the Emirati Cuisines. Her baked goodies are mouth watering too! Do visit her blog, it will be worth your time!
In order to make this Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal, I searched for various recipes for making an authentic Goan dal. I also bought a copy of Potpuja by Usha Vaman Bale. This cook book had a number of interesting dals, each with a different vegetable added to it. This recipe below is an adaptation of the Dal Bitter Gourd Curry from the PotPuja Cookbook, mixed and matched with another recipe from the same book, Dal Ridge Gourd Curry. I hope to try out several of the other Vegetable dals in this book, they sound nutritious and I have a packet of kokum and one of terphal to use up too!
Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal
To cook the lentils and bitter gourd
- ½ cup Thowar dal / Red gram lentils - arhar dal / pigeon pea lentils
- ½ cup bitter gourd slices - sliced into thin rounds or diced into 2 cm pieces
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 tablespoon jaggery - powdered
- a pinch salt
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder
For grinding coconut paste
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 2-4 dry red chilies - as per taste
- 1 teaspoon Coriander seeds
- 5 - 6 Black peppercorns
- ½ cup grated coconut
For making the Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum dal
- 2 kokum shells
- 6 terphal or Sichuan Pepper - See the blog post above on how to use this spice
- 1- 2 tablespoon water - as per preferred consistency
- salt - to taste
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon Mustard seeds - rai
- a pinch Hing - Asofoetida
- a few curry leaves - shredded
To Cook the dal and karela (bitter gourd0
- Rinse the thowar dal. Slice the bitter gourd into rounds or dice them into small pieces, about 2 cm in length. I have not scraped the peel of the karela as I don't mind the bitterness, and also as the kokum, jaggery and terphal reduce the bitter flavours of the gourd.
- Pressure cook the thowar dal (arhar dal) and the slices of bitter gourd, with the turmeric powder, jaggery and a pinch of salt, in 1½ cups of water. You may cook the gourd slices separately instead of with the dal, so that they don't become too soggy. If cooking them separately, add a pinch of salt and a pinch of turmeric powder to the slices. Cook for 2-3 whistles till the dal becomes soft.
To make the Coconut paste
- While the dal is cooking, get all the ingredients in place for the coconut paste as per the ingredients list above. Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, add the red chillies (after removing the stalks), sauté for a few seconds, turning the chilies so that all sides fry evenly without becoming black. Add the coriander seeds and the black pepper corns. Sauté for 10 seconds and remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the contents to a small bowl to cool.
- Grind the coriander, pepper and chillies along with the grated coconut and a little water, to a chutney or paste. Set aside till required.
To Make Goan Bitter Gourd Dal
- Mash the cooked dal. Warm a pan and add the cooked dal and bitter gourd and stir. Add the coconut paste and the slices of kokum. Stir well add a little salt (lesser than you would normally use, as the terphal spice can enhance the saltiness) and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the dal for 5 minutes. This dal is meant to be thick, but if you prefer, add a little water, one table spoon at a time and stir it in till you get the desired consistency.
- Toast the terphal (Sichuan peppercorn) lightly on a hot pan, for just a few seconds. Gently pound the terphal in a spoonful of water, in a mortar and pestle. Please read the instructions in the post above on how to prepare the terphal and why you shouldn't pound it too small or try to taste it raw.
- Add the slightly pounded terphal spice to the dal. Stir, and let it cook on low flame for a few minutes. Taste and add more salt if required. The terphal has the property of making a sweet dish sweeter and a salty dish saltier, so add less salt while cooking the dal and taste for salt after stirring the terphal in. Take the dal off the stove and proceed to temper it.
To Temper the dhal
- Heat coconut oil in a small pan (I used the same pan with left over coconut oil from sautéing the chillies and coriander seeds for the coconut paste). Add mustard seeds and once they crackle, add hing and then shredded curry leaves. (I always shred the curry leaves as they are nutritious but usually get discarded while eating. Shredding helps to get your family to eat at least some of these leaves!) Pour the tempering onto the prepared dal, and serve hot, with rice and a dry subzi.