A fragrance-filled vegetal orchard always brings back the memories of childhood days I spent with my mother. Her love for nature and cows was legendary; we swayed and merged tastefully with plants and vegetables every time we visited our vegetable garden in the mornings.
She taught me tenderness and mellifluousness as we interacted with every little thing around us. Without knowing its flavour, I loved karela (bitter gourd) for its colour, texture and eventually for its crunchy bitterness.
Dr Sanand Thekkayil, an Ayurvedic doctor from Calicut, talked about the goodness of karela recently and he advised people to consume it daily. Thekkayil said, “Bitter gourd is low in calories but dense with precious nutrients. It’s rich in iron and vitamins like B1, B2, B3, C, magnesium and high on dietary fibre. Its juice is supposed to be good for liver cleansing, eyesight and constipation problems.” It is known mostly as a food for diabetic patients to help lower sugar levels.
Appreciating all those qualities, many years ago I tried to promote a bitter gourd dish on Rasa in London. During his visit, Antony Bourdain specially complimented a bitter gourd dish made with spinach and crushed black pepper at our family dinner in Kerala. I have heard many recipes where people try very hard to change its bitter taste by mixing sugar or washing it countless times.
Rasa W1 in Dering Street draws many tourists in summertime from around the world. I met some great people over the years and shared many food stories. Last Friday, I met Tamanna, a girl from Dubai, and her parents. We met again the next day for dinner with my friends. We shared many stories and she told us about her dog Marley. In the middle of dinner Akhila, Tamanna’s mother, mentioned about her everyday diet and her love for bitter gourd. I was surprised to believe that a nine-year-old girl can say, “ I like bitter gourd in any form”. I asked, “Shall I make a karela dish for you tomorrow, just like my mother used to make?” Her instant response was, “Sure, I love to eat a karela dish in London.” We promised to meet for lunch the next day at 1 pm.
After a long time I had a sleepless night, simple yet exciting to make a bitter gourd dish for this girl who I couldn’t believe would eat a spicy bitter dish like a pudding. I drove along Baker Street, passed Park Royal, then off to Wembley’s late night vegetable shop and got some lovely bitter gourds for Tamanna.
Absorbed in feelings of my mother and all sweet memories, I cooked with more vigour that day. I made the dish for little princess Tamanna. I couldn’t wait for the exact time we agreed to meet; I called them and she answered, “We are coming!”
You won’t believe my nervousness while serving but she shocked me with her momentous verdict sensing the aroma and declaring, “I love it”. That split second was too beautiful and I can’t describe my happiness. Tamanna really inspired me to cook more and understand people’s feelings for unique taste. I watched her eat in excitement like my mother used to do.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants