We live in topsy turvy times: for the first time the rich are thin & scrawny, pay a premium for in-season farmers’ market produce and hanker for bitter over sweet, while for the entire history of humankind, it was the poor and supressed who were saddled with these. Today even the bitter gourd is considered a super food.
In fact at a seder, I learnt about the use of bitter in the ceremonial meal of Passover as a token reminder of the hardships the Jewish people endured in Egypt. So when my friend asked me to create a recipe symbolic of Passover “that should have lots of meat”; I came up with this that uses kosher Merguez, in-season cabbage, and a gourd that lends a hint of bitterness. Turned out delicious. Even the following day, when the flavors had melded and the bitterness further mellowed.
It is quite possible that if you serve this at your seder, the children may never speak to you again while the adults may never leave your table.
[Postscript: None of my Jewish circle had ever considered the bittergourd in their Passover repertoire. Staunchly observant Chaya told me that she impressed her parents with this unusual bitter dish at her last family seder.]
- Stuffing: 2 Merguez + 2 cups of shredded cabbage + 2 tsps garbanzo flour (besan)
- Shells: 4 medium sized bitter gourds
- salt to taste
- 3 tbsps oil for shallow frying (in the pot-sticker technique)
- Butcher’s string
Stuffing: Heat a large skillet. Remove the skin of the sausage and saute the meat on the skillet for a few minutes, breaking up the chunks. Add the finely shredded cabbage and mix in well. Cover and let cook for 3-4 minutes until the cabbage has softened. Mix in besan and salt to taste. Let cook the besan for a minute or so. Set aside.
Shells: Wash and dry the gourds. Slice off the edges. Using a peeler, gently remove the bumpy ridges, but dont peel any deeper. Place the four gourds on a platter and microwave on high for 3 minutes to make it pliable. Let cool.
Stuffing the shells: Use a knife to make a slit while the gourd continues to be intact. With a spoon remove the interior seeds. Lightly salt the interior. Spoon filling into the slit and use your finger to push the stuffing in. Secure neatly with butcher’s twine. Lightly salt the exterior, cover with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator for one hour or more.
The pot-sticker technique: In a skillet, add the oil and about 1/2 cup water. Slide in the tied-up gourds (no need to cut the twine now). Cover and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and let it cook in medium-low. In five minutes or so the water dries up and the gourd softens. If not soft enough to your liking, add a little more water, cover and continue to cook. After all the water is dried up, let the gourd brown lightly in the residual oil.
Let cool, cut off the strings and slice the gourds. Serve warm.
Notes, hints, tips:
- It is easier to use a food processor with a shredder for the cabbage.
- The garbanzo flour helps hold the stuffing together and adds a bit of nutty flavor. But if you are not permitted to use it for Passover, you can skip it, wihtout major loss.
- Don’t be in a rush for this one. Plan to stuff the gourds in the morning and refrigerate. Go about your life and then cook them later in the day when their form holds up well. But if you do not have the time, you can cook them as soon as you stuff them and that is fine too– you may have to be a little gentle with them.
- Although the stuffing is well flavored with Merguez, you could add 1 tsp of cumin powder + 1/2 tsp of chilli powder.
If you like your stuffing more meaty, you can halve the shredded cabbage to just 1 cup in the recipe.
For a fully vegetarian version, use only the cabbage and the flavoring spices of above.
- If you know how to tie a roast; use that technique here. Much less ad hoc.
- If dietary restrictions permit –certainly not for Passover–, you could also use Chorizo instead of Merguez.
- An alternative way to cook the gourds in the Milanese Breading Style: Once the stuffing and the gourd is set, cut the the string. Roll in flour (the kind permitted), dip the gourd in egg whites and roll in matzah crumbs (or breadcrumbs, if no restrictions apply); spray a little oil and bake on a wire rack at 350 F for 30 minutes or until done. Or, for a more luxurious version, deep fry in oil.
The seeds of the gourd can be dry-toasted on a skillet. Lightly salted, it makes a delicious, crunchy snack (see rightmost picture above)