My uncle and aunt visited us after a very long time, and the recap of all the events in our families were exchanged with great enthusiasm and gusto. We sat around the huge dining table for a grand dinner spread, chatting and passing the dishes to one another. Uncle then told us that his son-in-law attended a Vipassana Meditation session. The Vipassana Meditation technique is taught over a 10-day period, where attendees follow a very stringent code of discipline, including not speaking, avoiding any kind of entertainment and so on. Attendees could only eat the simple vegetarian food provided. Podalangai or Snake Gourd, he said, was served very often, as it was believed to expand ones Gnana or Knowledge. As we listened in solemn attention, my brother suddenly took the moment to a lighter vein with a “Pass me some of that Gnana Koottu”. Laughter broke out at the spontaneous new name given to the Podalangai Koottu (Snake Gourd Gravy) that was prepared by my sister-in-law. The name turned out to be all the more apt, as the koottu happened to be a rather unusual ‘Pal Koottu’ or Milk based Koottu, and Uncle remembered the following story.
The sthala poorana (literally means history of the place) at SIRGAZHI in Tanjore district, states that Goddess Parvathi breast fed an infant who lay crying at the temple pond with ‘Gnana Pal’ or the 'milk of knowledge'! Eventually the child became none other than the child saint Thiru Gnana Sambhandar.
Well Gnanam or Agnanam (opposite of Gnanam), like any other native vegetable, snake gourd too possesses great medicinal properties!
Here is the recipe for the white Gnana Koottu or Podalangai Pal Koottu.
INGREDIENTS:Snake gourd – 1 large (2 cups when chopped)
Whole black pepper -. ½ tsp
Cumin seeds – ¼ tsp
Salt – ½ tsp
Milk – 1 tea cup
Rice flour – 1 tsp
Cooking oil – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – a few
1.Chop off the ends of the snake gourd and slit it lengthwise. Scrape off and discard the fibre and seeds from the center. Chop the snake gourd into pieces.
2. Heat oil and add coarsely crushed pepper and cumin.
3. When the pepper is fried, add curry leaves and the snake gourd.
4. Stir in only a pinch of salt, cover with a lid and cook on low fire. This ensures that the lovely green colour of snake gourd is retained.
5. The vegetable must be cooked but still remain a bit crunchy.
6. Mix the rice flour into the milk, and add to the snake gourd .
7. Let it boil for a minute, and then blend in the remaining salt.