Ash gourd or winter melon or wax gourd or white pumpkin, call it what you will, is pretty common in South India but now I find them here a lot too. They require the warmer southern climate to grow.
The best thing about them is that they can be stored for a really long time when left uncut. In my in-laws and at my grandmother's they store them in the pantry for weeks. This is because the waxy ash-like covering on the gourd prevents bacteria and other tiny organisms from invading and spoiling the vegetable.
They can grow to extremely large sizes. I still fondly remember a festival auction that I was inadvertently a witness to when doing my internship at a rural outpost; the sizes of the gourds were beyond imagination and couldn't help imagining the size of the family that ultimately won the bid! I prefer the smaller sizes; once cut they need to be consumed as soon as possible because the high water content of the gourd makes it very susceptible to spoilage.
Ash gourd is very low calorie. It contains a high level of moisture and is a good source of vitamin C, iron and calcium. There are so many Indian recipes that use this vegetables from sambars to ambats to just plain stews. It has a very distinct wild flavor which is not too strong but needs to be spiced up a little to enhance its taste.Even the peel of the vegetable can be added to dosa batters and to chutneys.In villages, very little of any vegetable is wasted.I admire that the most about them.
Bored with the normal recipes that I use it for, I decided to take a risk and try something new of it. I've anyway been on a soup spree, so this is just one more feather to my soup cap. The ingredients used are very few because I prefer the natural taste of vegetables I use.
This is how it went:
I cut up about 500 gm of ash gourd, peeling the slices and removing the seeded portion. I steamed this till tender along with four to five spinach leaves and allowed it to cool.
On my stovetop grill, I roasted one whole bulb of garlic. Since major portion of ash gourd is water and the taste of cooked ash gourd tends to be rather diluted, garlic lends more flavor. The taste of garlic roasted over the flame is very appetizing. The outer flaky skin covering the pods blackens but the pods become tender without getting charred. I peeled each pod and placed them in the blender.
Once the ash gourd was cool enough, I pureed this with the garlic and the spinach leaves. Spinach was added purely for the color. I love to add color to my food, natural color, and I always have homegrown spinach leaves at hand for just this purpose. Maybe next time, I might add a slice of beetroot for a gentle pink instead! :-)
I never strain soup because I dislike discarding vegetable fiber from my food unless absolutely necessary. Because of the moist nature of the vegetable, the soup takes on the consistency of a colloidal solution and the green of the spinach is evenly dispersed throughout the dish. I pour this into a pot and add some water to adjust the consistency, add requisite salt and pepper, and boil it for just a few minutes.
A garnish of chopped cilantro would be perfect. I didn't have it at the time and I just sprinkled some chilli flakes on it to give some contrast.
This is a light soup. Spicy well-stuffed grilled sandwiches would go wonderfully with this.