Aloo Potol er Niramish Danla ~ Bengali Recipe for Potato & Pointed Gourd Curry

Let me start with a confession. I hated potol/parwal/pointed gourds as a child. Imagine eating this not too interesting green veggie with a soft flesh and soft seeds from early March till the fag end of September and sometimes even October for either lunch or dinner, and sometimes even breakfast, for almost every day. Urghhh... Of course my mother served it in various ways ~ sometimes fried, some days in stir-fries, often in danla (Bengali curry with semi dried gravy) or a patla jhol (a runny curry of sorts with veggies and sometimes fish), occasionally stuffed when guests came visiting (Bengalis have taken up the Greek art of stuffing veggies and preparing dolma dishes, they love stuffing pointed gourds with fish, meat, chana/paneer and making potol er dolma). Heck as if the savoury dishes were not enough, Bengalis even make a dessert with it called potol er mishti. But whichever way she served this veggie in, it was still potol at the end of the day. And I still had to eat it. And I hated it with all my being. Ah the endless sulks, tantrums, arguments, scoldings during mealtimes. I used to fiercely promise myself that once I have grown up, I will never eat this horrible vegetable, ever again. 
And all this hatred was for the veggie at it's prime, don't even get me started on what it tasted like when the gourd matured and the flesh and the seeds inside turned yellow and softer. 

Eventually I did grow up and leave home. I was happily oblivious to this humble tropical veggie, it had no space in my ever expanding culinary horizon. Then middle age came and during one of my shopping expeditions to the Indian grocery store in London, I saw a basket full of parwals. Sitting smug in their oval shaped green glory. A familiar sight of my childhood, trying to shed it's tropical exotic-ness and fit right in with the red peppers and the zucchinis. I should have just steered clear of that section, but I approached it and tentatively took a closer look. Yes they were potol alright. "Run now" instructed my brain, but almost by reflex I reached out for a plastic bag and filled it with potols. I could hardly believe what I was doing. This veggie was my childhood arch enemy, I used to define boredom = eating potol everyday. And here I was buying the vegetable, without coercion, all on my own independent, free will. It was like the middle aged me was severely betraying the younger, greener me. At the counter the girl said it's 500 grams of potol, I panicked for a second. OMG what will I do with so many freaking potols? But by then she had already rung up the total and there was no way I could return the veggie without pissing off the steadily growing queue behind me. I finished my shopping almost in a daze and the minute I reached home, called up my mother. Imagine her surprise. The vegetable and the daughter who both gave her nightmares, were finally, at long last getting together. Had it been some other soul she might have turned bitter and accused me of treachery. But my mother, bless her sense of humour, after a minute or so of stunned silence, started laughing. So much so that my father who was in another room, came to check on her. And when she told him the story I could hear them both cracking up. Imagine my mortification! Oceans away, yet I could hear their laughter mock me. And how! Every childhood tantrum flashed before my eyes in true Bollywood flashback style. 
After my mother had sufficiently controlled her mirth, she asked me what I intend to do with the potols. I asked for the niramish aloo potol er danla ar recipe. Dear blog readers I am not kidding when I tell you that that dinner that evening was the most satisfying meal we have had in a long time. Both husband and me, we finished our dinner and sat back with a contended sigh. Our Bong souls were in peace. 
I am still not sure whether I would be able to consume this veggie every day, but during summer I do make this maybe once a month. And in case you are wondering, my parents nah my father does still tease me about my volte-face with regards to potol, my mother is just plain relieved at this new found acceptance & almost grudging admiration on my part and kind of feels proud like she has brought about this magical transformation! I happily give her that satisfaction every time I inform her that I am cooking potol for dinner.
If you had the patience to read this rambling, you definitely deserve the recipe for aloo potol er niramish danla, makha makha/semi dry.

(Serves two hungry souls)
1. 10 to 12 pointed gourds
2. 2 medium potatoes
3. 1 big or 2 medium tomatoes
4. 1 teaspoon of ginger paste
5. Half a teaspoon of cumin seeds
6. Whole garam masalas ~ 2/3 cardamom pods, half an inch of cinnamon, 2/3 cloves and either 1 big or 2 medium bay leaves)
7. 1 teaspoon of hold/haldi/turmeric & half a teaspoon of flour/maida
8. 1 teaspoon of each cumin & coriander powder, each
9. 3/4 green chillies, depending upon your heat tolerance and how hot they are
10. Salt to taste
11. 1 tea spoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder for colour
12. Half a teaspoon of sugar
13. 2 tablespoons of vegetable or sunflower oil
14. 1 tablespoon of ghee (optional)
15. A generous pinch of Bengali garam masala (lightly dry roast cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and grind them into a semi course paste)

Now let's get cooking
1. Give the pointed gourds a good wash, trim the edges and cut each gourd into half lengthwise and each length into 2 to 3 pieces depending upon how long each gourd is
2. Peel the potatoes and get 8 cubes from each potato
3. Quarter the tomatoes
4. In a korai/kadai/wok heat the oil till it reaches smoking point, reduce the heat, wait for a couple of minutes to let the oil cool down slightly (this ensures that the masalas do not burn) then add the cumin seeds and the whole garam masalas after lightly bashing them (this releases the oils & the aromas of the whole masalas), let them splutter for a couple of minutes
5. Now add the potatoes to the oil, fry for 5 to 6 minutes till the potatoes start turning light brown around the edges
6. Next goes the ginger paste, continue frying for 2 to 3 minutes
7. Time now to add the masala powders ~ turmeric, Kashmiri red chilli, cumin and coriander and the maida, mix everything well and fry for 3 to 4 minutes till the raw smell of the flour evaporates. The maida is added to thicken the gravy
8. Next in line are the pointed gourd pieces, mix everything once again, fry for a couple of minutes, by now masalas will start to stick to the bottom of the pan
9. Add the tomatoes, the green chillies snapped in half, the salt and the sugar and about half a cup of water, continue to mix everything together, make sure that the potato cubes are all submerged in water, if not add a bit more water
10. Cover the pan and let it cook on medium hight heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stir in between and check whether the potatoes are cooked
11. Once the potatoes pieces are cooked, switch off the heat, add the ghee and the garam masala powder and let the curry sit covered for 10 to 15 minutes
12. The aroma when you lift the lid will be awesome. Serve this hot with roti/luchi/porota (Indian breads) or make it a little runny and serve with rice. One of my Bihari colleagues in Delhi used to bring this for lunch with jeera rice, the combination was pretty good.

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