Friday, March 16, 2012

Daily Dinner (12): Simplicious Yakhni Lauki

When I was in bed sick last year,  friends around us took care of feeding me and my family for a very long time.  Although I was on restricted diet, A got a taste sampler from all over India.  After the first week of liquids only, when I could eat semi-solid foods, a friend called and told A that she was going to bring me some kadhi, and Yakhni in the evening.  

 "Yakhni? Why didn't you remind her we're vegetarians?" 

"She must know- mustn't she? We've met at so many socials and broadcasted this fact to everyone.
Do you even know what Yakhni is?"- A retorted.

" Of course I know what that is- Yakhni is a Kashmiri meat dish. They even make it during Shraadh ceremonies (ancestor worship ceremonies that are very strictly satvik in my place- which meat is definitely considered not). And even the Kashmiri pundits (priests) eat it. She's Kashmiri- maybe she thinks that if pundits eat it,  we'll eat it too. I don't think Kashmiris really get what we mean by being vegetarians"

"All right, don't fret it", A said. "When they come, we'll ask her again."

But fret I did...till they arrived after work that evening and I got a taste of what she had for me. Yakhni Lauki. Not only did I fall in love with this new (for me) taste of lauki ( ghiya, bottle gourd), but I also  learned that Yakhni is not a dish, but a method of preparation.  You can basically marinate anything in the Yakhni sauce- which essentially is plain yogurt, chillies and roasted fennel powder. For something as neutral in taste as a bottle gourd, this is a great way to add some extra flavor.

Yakhni Lauki
(Bottle gourd in a yogurt sauce)

One medium sized lauki/ bottle gourd cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Plain yogurt 1/2 cup (I used home-made dahi)
Red chilli powder 1tsp
Turmeric 1/4 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp
Fennel/saunf powder 1 Tbsp
Garam masala 1tsp
Jeera/ Cumin seeds a generous pinch
Oil 3/4 Tbsp
Water a few Tbsp (as needed)

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed, saucepan and splutter the cumin seeds in it. Add all the spices, and a splash of water. Cook on low-medium heat till the oil separates and a spicy aroma arises.
  2. Add the lauki now, with 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and let cook till el dente (about 10 min.) Do stir in between- you don't want to burn the spices.  I usually don't add any water as the gourd leaves liquid as it cooks- and I find that's usually enough for how I like my vegetable to be cooked. However, you may add water as needed to cook it through.
  3. Whisk the yogurt with 1/2 tsp salt to a buttermilk/ mathaa consistency. Once the vegetable is cooked, add this to the pan and simmer on low, uncovered for 3-5 min. I like to reduce it till the sauce is almost non-existent and I just have lauki coated in yogurt. You may simmer it for less time, if you'd like to have extra sauce for pouring over food. 
My two cents: This is best served with Indian flatbreads like roti or parathaYakhni is now my preferred method of preparing the lauki. Never knew that fennel could impart that strong a flavor to things, and I think that what makes this dish stand out. Add as much fennel powder as you want- I don't think you can go wrong with that. Plus the yogurt is an excellent marinade this otherwise bland vegetable.  Anya and Baby P are also pretty good about this eating lauki, so the spices here are pretty mild. I personally feel that a little more chill powder won't hurt- but that's probably for when I'm cooking for myself.  A traditional Kashmiri Yakhni marinade would have Kashmiri gram masala,  deghi mirth powder for that characteristic fiery red color, a hint of saffron and fresh roasted fennel seed powder.  Having tasted both the authentic Kashmiri version that my friend brought, and the copycat that I make it with my store-bought spices, the verdict is that the original is definitely better....but the copycat isn't bad either. So if you don't have the real deal, don't shy away from making a Yakhni with what you do have. You won't be disappointed.