I grew up in an apartment or condominium as you’d like to say. And my father’s house is still the same, since almost 29 years. Now, in our building, we’ve had many people coming in and going out. But a few of them have been living there since the start, including us and a Jain family. Almost a decade ago, when I was in my teens, a new member joined this Jain family. The woman happens to be one of the most inspiring people I have met in life till now, and we connected the moment we sat to chat.
When I first met Pooja, whom I call Pooja bhabhi, I got to sense what simplicity is all about. Pooja likes to live her life extremely simple, though she herself is a strong-headed woman. There are no frills or nothing fake about her. Her reactions are almost straightforward, and she is one of those women who will advise what’s right, and not what you want to hear all the time. So, when she smiles, you know she means it. What I also like about her is that she is a spiritual person, and believes in karma. In spite of being married to an affluent family, she never shows that every human being should have so much money, unlike most of the people like her, with whom I only feel suffocating.
Pooja came to Surat from Jaisingpur, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra. And I love her cooking. What was common between us was the hobbies we had, be it singing, seeking inspiration from the common people around us, cooking, and not to forget dancing in the rains. Pooja had to manage a huge kitchen as a newlywed daughter-in-law, but when she glanced the first pour of the season, she couldn’t control her feet. She had to rush to the terrace and enjoy the rains like a child. And I liked it too. So, I used to be back from school, and we happened to eat lunch or an evening snack together, and suddenly, we saw rains. Or, it would be a lazy Sunday morning, when we finished our breakfast together, and we saw the rains. And we knew, we had to dance in the rains at least once in the entire season.
After enjoying our singing and dancing session in the beautiful rains, we came back, changed, and met again to enjoy a sweet dish called Dudhi ka halwa (bottle gourd pudding). Now, I didn’t know that such a simple vegetable could be turned into a yum sweet dish. But, Pooja bhabhi did a brilliant job at it. She used to grate some bottle gourd, and make a quick halwa, and believe me, its satiny texture blew my mind with every morsel that I took from the hot bowl in which she served me this freshly prepared dish.
Dudhi ka halwa is very different from other halwas that are made of almond or wheat flour or semolina. Its texture is the winner for me, and the other thing that I love about it is the fact that it has minimal sugar. Yes, it still does taste sweet, but it hardly has any sugar in it.
So, the next time you see rains pouring, do go out, drench in the beautiful showers, and come back home and prepare this sweet dish. It’s only then will you be able to enjoy the smallest yet the most beautiful things about life. And just like me, you will find hope. Just don’t burn your tongue.
Recipe: Dudhi ka halwa (lauki/bottle gourd pudding)
1 small- or medium-sized fresh bottle gourd
4 tbsp clarified butter
½ cup malai or fresh cream (I take the first layer of the fresh milk that I boil and keep in the fridge)
3 tbsp sugar or less
1 or 2 cups milk (depending on the quantity of the grated bottle gourd)
2 pinch of cardamom powder, completely optional
- Peel the bottle gourd and grate it.
2. Heat the ghee in a steel skillet on low flame. Meanwhile, press the grated bottle gourd between your palms and remove all the water from it. Remember, you don’t want to make this grated vegetable go dark brown. So, always be on your toes, and rush a bit faster. This way, you will always find the grated veggie white and fresh-looking.
3. Once the ghee is hot, add the grated bottle gourd in it. Now, stir it continuously.
4. The deal here is to get rid of the raw taste of the bottle gourd. I usually turn the heat to medium at this stage; me being impatient. After about 12 minutes of stirring, you will see that the quantity will go down slightly, and the veggie will throw out its natural aromas. This is when you know that the cooking process has begun.
5. Now, add the fresh malai. I break all the rules here and add as much as I like.
6. Stir the malai in, and now, you will have to solidify this malai into a khoya-style texture. So, keep stirring, and after about 15 minutes you’ll see that the malai has turned into tiny solid cream-coloured pieces.
7. Add in the milk. I usually add milk till it covers the content in the skillet nicely. Let the boiling process begin. Also, you don’t need to cover it with a lid. It’s better to stir every minute then to let it burn under a closed lid.
8. Once, all the milk evaporates, the halwa will leave out all the ghee from the corners. This is when I add my sugar. I take about 2 or 3 spoon sugar. You could add more if you want to.
9. Let the sugar melt, and you can shut the flame.
Note: When you taste the halwa when it’s still in the skillet, you might find it a tad bit feeka or sugarless. This is because when it cools down, it gets its sweetness. In short, less is more, when it comes to sugar in Dudhi ka halwa.