“Beerakai? You mean there a vegetable which gives out beer? Hahaha! ” Which Telugu hasn’t heard this hoary old one when a non-Telugu hears the word “beerakai” for the first time? But just last week there was an article in the Hindu with liquor consumption statistics across India and among the bigger states, AP (the undivided one) tops the list by far with 34.5 litres per head per year, far outstripping Kerala which was undisputed liquor king for years!!
At a population of 50 million, that works out to 1.75 billion litres a year which is many times the amount of milk consumed by all of India in a year! (I tried doing the maths – so many metric tonnes of milk to litres of beer but somewhere along the way, the numbers – and the milk – got curdled!) Hmmm…wondering whether there is something to the beer and beerakai naming after all???
Wow, we Telugus take our beer and our beerakais seriously!
This staple – cheap and best- vegetable – is what has helped millions of homemakers tide over the end-of-the-month-pocket-is-empty-what-to-put-on-the-table blues for generations.
Okay, to put the rest of you out of your misery, beerakai is the Telugu name for what is called a ribbed or ridged gourd – one of those you have to bribe your kids to eat. See photo above by scrolling.
Like the coconut in Kerala, there is no part of this super-‘umble veggie that is not used. You make a tonic to darken your hair – did you know that???! Bet you’re regretting saying ‘yuck’ to beerakai pappu for the nth time when you were a kid, right? The fibrous part that is peeled away is used to make loofahs to scrub yourself free of all the ‘yucks’! The thrifty Telugu housewife uses even the peel of this vegetable to make the most delicious “thokku” or chutney.
Wash and peel two large beerakais. Reserve the beerakais for use later. Just now, we’ll make only the chutney with the peel.
Chana dal – (Bengal gram dal) – 2 tbsp
Urad dal – 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida- 1 small pinkie-nail sized lump
Red chilies – 5
Green chilies – 3
Tamarind – small marble -sized ball
Jaggery – 1.5 tbsp
Coconut – 1/2 cup
Sesame oil – 2tbsp
Salt – about 3/4 tsp
Heat the oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds and wait till they crackle. Add chana dal and roast till golden brown. Add urad dal and chilies and stir for a couple of minutes more. Add the peel and stir for 3-4 minutes till they shrink slightly. Add the coconut and stir again for a couple of minutes. Add the tamarind, jaggery and salt and switch off. Let cool and grind to a rough chutney adding a little water.
This chutney goes with most everything – rice, rotis, idlis, dosas, plain!