Beauty is variable, ugliness is constant - Douglas Horton
Familiar with things that don't deserve a second glance but you discover are actually truly good? Things we decide are definitely difficult even before we give it a try? People who don't make it to your most loved people list even before you get to know them? Places you dislike even before you visit? (hot, humid places in my case). Cuisine you don't care to try as it doesn't sound appealing? (Am really really unadventurous here, yeah, boring simply put). Fruits and vegetables you don't care to even buy before you know what it tastes like?
And then there are surprises - the ugliness turns out to be insignificant. You take to that 'difficult' thing like a fish takes to water. Those 'ho-hum' people go on to be your best buddies. That boring cuisine or dish becomes your default order (you won't believe, strangely I disliked Gopi Manjuri, oops, Gobhi Manchurian when I first ate it). 'That' vegetable which sends your eye-brow to your hairline becomes a favorite and you start recommending it to anyone who cares to listen.
Like bottle gourd in my case. Though I take pride in eating almost all common vegetables (sea weed and the kind don't classify here I guess, no, I believe - firmly!) bottle gourd has somehow not made it to my veggie bag. No, I have nothing against the poor vegetable, my Mom never did cook it extensively (kiddos, now you see why I play Dictaress when I buy vegetables), hubby never noticed that I haven't cooked this veggie in all the dozen years of marriage (well, he hasn't even noticed that I have not cooked banana blossom and banana stem either, am too lazy for that and he is a non-fussy-eater). Well, to cut it short, if this veggie graces the rows of a vegetable stall, I just don't see it. Its like it just does not exist - simple!
I have always considered bottle gourd as a vegetable to be eaten (or not cared to be eaten ) as a vegetable, not as dessert. Till I decided to give making Bottle Gourd Halwa a try. This is a fairly common dessert in northern parts of India, whereas the more common avatar hereabouts is with carrots and pumpkin. I made the halwa a low fat one, with low fat khoya, very little ghee - and absolutely loved it! Its easy, its quick and delicious. And healthy too! If you have been shying away from this vegetable or looking for a quick and healthy dessert, you must try this. Don't go by the dreary look of the halwa, agreed it really does not look like the most inviting dessert on earth. But tastes great without any doubt. It may not be a gourmet class dessert, but nevertheless a very tasty one and a low fat one at that, so this has to be on my blog. As if the halwa being not-pretty is not bad enough, it had to be really really cloudy the last 2 times I made it, adding to my infamous bad pictures.
Hoping you won't let the dreary look of the halwa lead you away and you will still give it a try, let me tell you how I made it.
Bottle gourd, peeled and grated - 3 cups (about 2 large ones)
Milk - 3/4 cup
Sugar - 1/2 cup (plus 2-3 tablespoons more if you like sweeter)
Low Fat Khoya - 1 - 1 1/4 cup
Ghee / Clarified Butter - 2 tablespoons (or more as desired)
Cardamom powder - 1 teaspoon or to taste
Saffron strands - a few
Cashew nuts - 3 tablespoons
Green food coloring - Optional, did not help really! Dunno if any other color works better.
Procedure : If planning to use low fat khoya, you must of course start with making it first. Set aside. You could of course use regular unsweetened khoya in its place but then its fat laden halwa :)
Rub the saffron strands in 1 tablespoon warm milk. Set aside. Heat 2 teaspoons ghee in a pressure pan. On low heat, saute the cashew nuts till a light golden brown. Remove, reserve. Add the grated bottle gourd, saute on low heat for a couple of minutes. In goes the milk. Pressure cook for 2 whistles. Turn off. Once the pressure is released, add the sugar. Gleefully tip in the low fat khoya. All of the 1 1/4 cup, don't hold back! Cook for about 5 -10 minutes, till the sugar dissolves completely and the halwa comes together. If there is any milk left in the pan, cook on low heat till it evaporates. Mix in the saffron, cardamom powder, a tablespoon of ghee (or more). Mix in food coloring if using, but go easy, too much may make it taste funny and look even scary! Turn off the heat. Garnish with the nuts.
Serve warm or at room temperature. And don't bother with very modest servings!
I had sent some of this halwa to my reed slim, health conscious, sweet-toothed neighbor and she messaged me later saying she loved it. I messaged back, ' no guilt, low fat and very little ghee'. Her surprised 'Oh! But its SO tasty!' made me so happy!
A note on the low fat khoya : This tastes pretty tasteless on its own (unlike regular khoya), so don't judge on this basis. But when mixed with the rest of the ingredients, the taste and texture is almost identical to the normal khoya, sans the in-the-face-richness. Please don't take my word for this, try it out yourself and let me know how you liked it..
Here are other desserts I have tried with low fat khoya.