Recently, my wife gave me a vegetable on a Friday evening and called it a gift. I smiled partly because I had never received a vegetable as a gift before, but mostly because I was considering a vegetable skin recipe from India. Ridge gourd (Luffa acutangula) or peerkangai as it is called in tamil, is a popular vegetable in Tamil Nadu, India. I was thinking about it because a friend who is working on a project to reduce food waste asked me to suggest an Indian recipe that would suit her goal.
Here’s a recipe for peerkangai thol thogayal or ridge gourd skin paste:
Ridge gourd: available at international markets
Tamarind extract or lemon juice
Split black gram
Split red gram
Dried red chillies
Clean the ridge gourd thoroughly and peel the dark green skin using a vegetable peeler (the skinless vegetable can be used in any number of ways including simply sautéing in some butter). Add some oil to a skillet on medium heat and roast the dry ingredients (a tablespoon or less of each per ridge gourd) for a few minutes; add the coconut (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) and roast for another minute or so and then keep aside to cool. Using the same skillet, heat a little oil and sauté the peeled ridge gourd skin; cook covered with a lid for a few minutes or until the skin is tender; once done, keep aside to cool. Using a stone-on-stone mortar and pestle or grinder, pound the dry ingredients first followed by the cooked ridge gourd skin into a coarse paste. Add some water or oil to adjust the consistency and season with lemon juice or tamarind extract before serving.
Growing up in Chennai, South India, as much as I was aware of the popularity of ridge gourd, the vegetable, I had never heard, much less tasted a savory paste made from its skin. It is not common in south India, it seems, as evidenced by its absence in many contemporary South Indian cookbooks including those dedicated to vegetarian recipes. I heard of it for the first time when I was in the US as a graduate student and my aunt’s family mentioned it as a favorite of my grand-uncle who was visiting from India.
When does a culture begin to use commonly discarded parts of food to make new dishes? How do these recipes sustain themselves over time?