Lunch at New Delhi was traditionally rice with a combination of vegetables and kozhumbus and our favourite was usually urulakayangu kari (aloo roast) with kutti vengaya(small onions) sambhar.
Kovakkai (the tamil name) or kundru (hindi variant) we tolerated and ate our mandatory shares of. We rarely fought over the last serving or tried to get a ladleful more on our plate. Over potatoes we fought and tried to pull the advantage of rank to get a larger serving than the sibling lower in the pecking order.
So possibly the good thing about the kundru was that it did not excite or inflame the passions and allowed for the peaceful ingestion of meals. Only when I ran my own kitchen and began reading up different ways to cook vegetables did I stumble on to the fact that there were many ways of making the kundru and that it had many health benefits.
I read a recipe for the kundru which involved cutting it along its length into tiny roundels, stirring in salt, chilli powder and asafoetida and drying it in the sun, to be stored as crisps, which could be eventually eaten deep fried, much in the manner of wadis with rice and daal. Apparently this was the way housewives in maharashtra dealt with the tindori as they called it. While it was delicious, the time spent in waiting for the vegetable to dry and the subsequent high oil submersion to bring it back on the food platter seemed excessive, so I experimented with the offered recipe further.
Greasing the tindori with oil and chilli powder and asafoetida and then spreading out the little circlets on a greased baking dish was my first attempt. This trick seemed to work and crisp kundru vegetable bits were obtained with far less oil, and were readily devoured, although the potato continued to occupy first place in the preferential vegetable list.
Eventually I settled for making the tindori on a shallow iron griddle. They could be cut into roundels or simply smashed whole, after being set aside for half an hour with chilli powder, asafoetida and salt. Next , a small tadka in gingelly oil and mustard seeds provided the base onto which the whole or diced kundru could be dropped. Slow cooking on the griddle for twenty minutes allowed for delectable kundru. Occasionally, a garnish of freshly grated coconut before serving made for a memorable meal, but even without, the kundru has a delicious enough flavour. It is also a great store house of nutritional benefits. Kundru seems to have been created in nature as a scrouge for the debilitating ailment of diabetes that modern lifestyles have begun to steadily incorporate. Regular consumption of Kundru is credited with the lowering of blood sugar and supplementing the beta-carotene stores in the body . My mom recalls using the seedy gel like insides of the kundru to wipe down slates (personal black boards) that were a mandatory everyday part of their early schooling. This versatile vegetable from the gourd family, referred to as the ivy gourd is also quixotically identified as "gentlemen's toes". This name possibly compensates for the okra being known as ladies' finger in English parlance. It must be acknowledged that there are many reasons why the kundru deserves special mention in all our kitchen affairs.