Lau Pata Bata (Spicy Bottle Gourd leaves Paste) and foraging6:33 AM
Foraging, an ancient art to gather food from nature. Its an age old way to live off mother Earth by gathering or harvesting wild foods. From time immemorial people have depended on this process, either by hunting, fishing or collecting food which is not cultivated formally. Think of the beginning of Human civilisation, people depending on nature, living off a diet of the fruits they picked and the animals they hunted. They raiding the jungle and the fertile shores to look for edible grains, digging up the soil for sweet root vegetables and at the evening goes home and using minimal tool known to them creates a meal for their loved ones.
Though its not the same anymore but somehow foraging stayed on with us. Especially in India or other developing countries where economically backward people still depend on nature to survive. For me the most vivid and beautiful picture of foraging was penned down by Tagore himself when he wrote "...Bagdi buri chupri bhore nie, shaak tulche pukur pare ese..."In these two lines he painted a beautiful picture of the society at that point of time. Bagdi's being a low cast poor people in Bengal depended mainly on menial services and hence a formidable share of their daily meal came from the ways of foraging. Most often just before meal time you will find people wandering around the field or in the Marshland to collect tiny shrimps, mussels or some wild greens like morning glory, hingche or gime.
Long back I have written about how the farmers use Bamboo fish traps to collect small fish from the paddy field during monsoon. Just before their noon break they will collect whatever fish or other food items they could collect. Chiti Kankra a very small variety of crabs are often harvested from the paddy field as well and as kids we had great fun chasing those tiny crabs around. On reaching home they would deposit the day's find to their wives amd just between the time they bath in the pond the women will quickly cook these with minimal spices and serve a piping hot meal to all.
Thanks to my exposure to a simple life in the countryside, which made me eperience it in more ways than one. I have seen my Grand mother going to the pond to collect Shushuni shak growing wild around the water body or bitter gime shaak from the field. I can still recall the earthy smell of the soil around its roots, the tantalising sour taste of fresh shushuni on my tongue. More often then not during season we were send off with small baskets to gather tamarind flowers for a special tauk with shrimps, ridge gourd flowers growing in profusion on the fence were collected by us for a special kind of paturi with mustard paste. I still remember the day when I went to pick drumstick flowers for my most favourite charchari and accidentally touched those bugs leaving on the tree. The whole day I was in pain but never missed to enjoy that curry.
My family was quite well off compared to the regular village standard yet still they loved using these ingredients in their daily meals. The reason is not only that most forage-able ingredients are not cultivated formally and you need to actually go out and look for them to have them but also because those were the days when people understood the value of nature and respected the ingredients. They did not care where it came from as long as it had some nutrition to offer.
Though now a days Foraging is becoming more mainstream for many reasons but it still needs some more knowledge sharing to identify and use the bounty we have at our disposal.
The recipe that I am sharing today is not something of foraged greens but all of you will agree with me how gourd vines grow from the seeds that we throw away. If you have a gourd plant at your garden or growing wild somewhere go and collect the leaves and make this spicy paste. With piping hot rice this tastes divine. and am so happy that this time even my five year old son agreed whole heartedly and finished his share of rice just with this.
I should not give you any measurement just use this as a guideline and add how much your taste buds want.
Lau pata bata
Lau pata/ Bottle gourd leaves: 4 cups, loosely packed
Garlic: 2 tsp chopped
nigella seeds: 12/ tsp
Green chilies: 2 or as per taste
Oil: 1 tbsp
Wash the leaves thoroughly with hot water for several times. You can also steam them for a minute to make them little soft.
In a grinder jar take the first 5 ingredients. Grind till a coarse paste is achieved.
Adjust salt as per your taste.
Heat the oil and on low flame cook the paste with turmeric for 10-12 minutes or till you see oil is bubbling up at the sides.
Serve hot with more mustard oil drizzled on top (optional but it tastes awesome.)
A Homemaker's notes:
You can also use pumpkin leaves, bottle gourd peel or ash gourd leaves.
Adjust the amount of shrimps or garlic as per your taste.
I always use mustard oil but any odourless white oil could be used for this.
To keep the green colour, do not cover the dish while cooking.
To store, take the cool paste in an air tight container and cover the top with some oil to prevent it from drying out.