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A Sponge for Flavor: The Bottlegourd or Upo

Mung Beans and Bottlegourd

This spicy, easy recipe with new flavors came to us last week on a visit to Sagari's Indian Cooking website. She combines quick-cooking mung beans (no soaking needed) and a ridge gourd with spices to produce a memorable one-dish meal. Served with rotis or other flatbread (we had whole wheat tortillas), this simple dal is great cool weather comfort food and a nice change of pace from soup. I usually use mung beans to make a Filipino soup with pork, greens and fish sauce, so this was a nice alternative to our old stand-by.

We didn't have ridge gourd, but had picked up a nice young bottle gourd, or
upo, over the weekend. When choosing a gourd, I look for something heavy for its size as older gourds begin to lose water and become fibrous. So fibrous, in fact, that when fully dried they become a bath sponge, the loofah (derived from its Latin genus Luffa). My mom used to supply me with bath loofahs from her backyard garden on Guam when the occasional one escaped her notice until past its edible prime. Upo and other gourds of its ilk are mildly sweet on their own, but readily absorb flavors from their cooking medium. Usually I use upo in soups like Chicken Tinola or even a regular chicken soup, in place of zucchini or other squash. With the mung beans in this dish, it added a nice textural element to the soupy dal.
Upo, or bottlegourdLoofah bath sponge

Sagari's recipe is made using a pressure cooker, so I've adapted it here to cook in a regular saucepan.

MUNG BEAN & UPO STEW
(adapted from
Indian Cooking)
4 tbs oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. musturd seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 cup tomato ( chopped)
2 TBL. cilantro
2 dry red chilies
3/4 cup dried mung beans, rinsed well
1 medium upo (about 1.5 lb total weight), seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (peeling is optional for smaller gourds)
1.5 tsp. salt
2 cups water

Preheat 3-quart or larger saucepan over medium high heat, then add oil, cumin and mustard seeds and chilies. When seeds begin to pop, immediately add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add turmeric, coriander, chili powder, and cook for about 1 minute. Add tomato and cilantro leaves, and whole chilies and cook until tomatoes soften.

Add mung beans, upo, salt and water, and cover. Cook over medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes, or until beans are soft and thicken broth.

Garnish with cilantro, and serve with flatbreads. This will thicken as it sits and cools, and was equally delicious the next day cold, topping thick sliced toast. Thanks to Sagari for a new way to look at mung beans and gourds!

Mung dal with upo