Bottle gourd, also known as dudhi in India, is a very versatile vegetable. Although it’s classed as exotic produce in the UK, it has become a common find in Indian grocery stores across the UK. A long pale green bottle gourd with delicate white flesh inside dotted with soft edible seeds is rather delicious (and nutritious) no matter whether you cook it as a dessert or savoury dish. I ate a lot of bottle gourd growing up in a Maharashtrian household but it has found its way into most Indian kitchens irrespective of the region or state.
Growing up within the bounds of an Air Force Station in Pune where food was invariably influenced by a myriad of cultures from across India, I vividly recall bottle gourd making a regular appearance on the dinner table at home. Whether it was bought to cook a mildly spicy ‘lauki ki subzi’ with a subtle Maharashtrian twist or to simply lift the flavour of a humble sambar my Mum was cooking that day – bottle gourd was always a part of our diet. But the most requested dudhi bhopla dish was undoubtedly ‘bhoplyache thalipeeth’. My Mum’s well-stocked pantry almost always had millet flours of various sorts – homegrown and locally milled jowar (sorghum) and bajra (pearl millet) were always stashed away in her carefully organised and well-preened steel and brass storage drums, sat on the kitchen shelf. I would always watch her as she made thalipeeth. A wet dough prepared by mixing the said millet, wheat and gram flour along with herbs and spices, would be patted over a damp cloth. The cloth carrying the patted thalipeeth would be flipped onto a hot tawa to roast. The little helper in me would take great delight in drizzling oil over the carefully made holes in each thalipeeth, as they cooked. But I digress. The bottle gourd thalipeeth recipe will be on this blog soon… another day.
These days though, in my endeavours to minimise food waste, especially with something as exotic as bottle gourd to a UK resident, I also like to put its peel to good use. The quintessential Maharashtrian thecha gets a makeover whenever I have leftover bottle gourd peel. Bottle gourd skin is grated, then thoroughly shallow fried with a ground (or rather pounded) mixture of coriander, green chillies and garlic until crisp and browned, before adding sesame and the mandatory roasted and ground peanut powder. And there you have it, a zero-waste dudhi bhoplyachya salancha thecha.
What’s a thecha?
Thecha is a spicy condiment in Maharashtra, traditionally prepared by pounding a few green chillies, garlic and peanuts in a pestle and mortar. It can be wet or dry. Often the herbs and spices are shallow fried before pounding. And though several variations of this recipe exist, including the one I am about to share, the key ingredients and the fundamental principle remain the same.
How is the bottle gourd peel thecha prepared?
In this zero-waste bottle gourd thecha, I chose to grate the peel of the vegetable rather than pounding it simply because I wanted to give it a crispy dry texture rather than a soggy mush. I fry the grated peels first. Then I make the spicy paste of green chillies, garlic and coriander which is typical of any kind of Maharashtrian thecha. This paste is fried with tempering spices like mustard to release its flavour into the cooking oil. A touch of seasoning spices is added to lift the flavours yet further, before finally tossing roasted peanut and coconut into the pan.
What’s the benefit of frying the peel and tempering this thecha?
The benefits of frying and tempering this thecha are three-fold. First, frying the bottle gourd peel helps remove the inherent bitterness, then tempering it in mild spices imparts a lovely aroma and umami to the dish. Thirdly, frying also adds a lovely crispy texture to this condiment aside from increasing its shelf life. A well-toasted condiment is bound to last longer even at room temperature. I will have this thecha no other way.
How to preserve this thecha?
As with all condiments, this dry thecha needs to be stored in a moisture-free airtight jar, ideally in the fridge to increase its shelf life. It keeps well, for up to a month in the fridge and for a couple of weeks at room temperature
I haven’t tried freezing this condiment as such delicacies are best enjoyed when eaten within the stipulated time frames. And freezing may alter the texture.
How to enjoy this condiment?
My favourite way to enjoy it is with un-tempered dal and rice. On busy days, sprinkling this thecha on a plain boiled mushy dal & rice, drizzled with a glug of ghee, offers comforting succour to my soul. This thecha becomes my saviour when I don’t have time to cook a side dish or subzi to go with dal & rice – it’s a match for any tadka. And so, thecha in general, is a quintessential part of a Maharashtrian thali, as seen here.
Other than adding uplifting umami to a plain meal, I also enjoy it on a slice of fresh seeded brown bread or sourdough, smothered with melted butter. A generous lashing of this flavourfully spicy bottle gourd peel thecha on toast for breakfast has the potential to kickstart your day with gusto.
The possibilities are endless for what you can do with this condiment. Use it to liven up your sandwiches and wraps. Or simply sprinkle a little on top of any bland dish and you’ll thank me for this recipe. Needless to say, I am hooked on its lovely nutty, warm and mildly spicy flavours.
Bottle gourd peel thecha / Bhoplyachya salancha thechaCourse: CondimentCuisine: Maharashtrian, IndianDifficulty: Easy
50g bottle gourd peel (grated)
4 green chillies
20g or ½ a bunch of fresh coriander
4 cloves of garlic
5 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
¼ tsp turmeric powder
⅛ tsp asafoetida
¼ tsp amchoor powder (dried mango powder)
2 tbsp roasted and ground peanut powder
2 tbsp grated dry coconut
1 tsp caster sugar (optional)
Salt to taste
- Roast the grated bottle gourd in two tablespoons of oil in a kadhai over a medium flame stirring continually. Remove and set aside once it turns a light golden brown.
- Grind the coriander, green chillies and garlic to a coarse paste.
- In the same kadhai, heat the remaining oil over a medium flame and splutter the mustard seeds. Tip in the ground paste (from step 2). Roast the paste until the garlic and chillies appear cooked whilst stirring continually. This may take 2-4 minutes.
- Add the sesame and roast for another couple of minutes. Add an extra tablespoon of oil if needed.
- Follow with the asafoetida, turmeric and amchoor powder before tipping in the roasted bottle gourd (from step1) and the grated coconut. Cook everything together until light brown.ther until light brown.
- Finally, add the roasted and ground peanut powder. Season with salt (and sugar) to taste. Continue cooking until the coconut and bottle gourd turn crisp and golden brown. This could take a couple of minutes.
- Store in a dry airtight jar.
- Take a whole bottle gourd and grate the peel off, taking care not to remove the flesh which is retained for another dish. Also, use a grater with bigger holes for a better texture of the finished condiment.
- This thecha keeps well for a couple of weeks in a dry airtight jar at room temperature. To prolong its shelf life to a month, keep the jar in the fridge.
- This recipe may seem to use an awful lot of oil. However, rest assured the oil gets quickly absorbed by the bottle gourd peel and dry ingredients.
- Enjoy this thecha as a savoury accompaniment in a thali or even with varan bhat.
- For extra crispness, finish off in a microwave on a medium setting for up to 30 seconds.
- You’re welcome to adjust the number of green chillies to your taste. However, traditionally this condiment is supposed to be at least a little spicy.
- Once the bottle gourd peel has been put to good use, simply use the flesh of the bottle gourd to make sambar, dal, curry or dessert. The bottle gourd without peel keeps well in the fridge for up to a day.