Food
From more kozhambu to pulissery, in how many ways can one love the humble dosakkaya?
Navin Sigamany

“Do you know dosakkaya?” came the cryptic question. I was rather puzzled, as much by the unexpectedness of the question as by the ordinariness of the subject of the query. Dosakkaya is fairly uncommon in Tamil Nadu, where I spent my childhood. In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, it is a household name, a common vegetable that is turned into an amazing array of pulusus, pachadis, vepudus and kooras on a daily basis without the batting of eyelids.

Growing up, we had only two kinds of cucumber. The first was the domestic small dark green variety which was quite flavourful. Bought in kilos, kept in the fridge and eaten with table salt and red chilli powder, often without adult supervision and in immoderate quantities.

The second was the larger, lighter green ones that were exclusively available on our visits to our maternal grandparents’ home in Bengaluru. Going to the Cox Town market with my grandfather, watching him carefully select the best cucumbers, waiting with barely-contained excitement as he peeled and cut it into precise slices, lightly sprinkling salt on a plate of slices and then getting to eat them one slice at a time - this was a regular summer holiday activity we would look forward to every year.

Neither type of cucumber was eaten cooked, and never had we heard of the dosakkaya. Fast forward to more recent times, when I was older, fatter and had less hair, and I moved to Hyderabad. There was dosakkaya-this and dosakkaya-that encountered at every turn. Before soon, it was a favourite in its myriad forms. My most favourite was its more kozhambu avatar. Having been a big fan of ash gourd more kozhambu since childhood, I can safely say that when it is made with dosakkaya, there’s a whole flavour profile that is added, rather like the latest update of Windows 10. Or Android Pie. YMMV.

And so, when I was asked if I knew dosakkaya, I found it was quite a larger part of my life than I would have cared to admit. In fact it was only a couple of days ago that I had eaten with relish a dish called kodhdhale - a coconutty dosakkaya curry that left you wanting more, more and more. A signature dish of Mangaluru Konkanis, it had somehow managed to escape my attentions till now. Nevertheless, it has now replaced more kozhambu as my favorite dosakkaya dish. Rather like CSK replacing Team India as the cricket team of reference and preference.

Looking back, it is amazing that we grew up with almost no knowledge of the dosakkaya, which is nothing but the younger brother of the cucumber, and which is apparently grown in profusion in the dry river beds of Tamil Nadu as well. I know this from my paternal grandparents’ house in Vellore (which had no dearth of dry river bed, given that the local Palar river is famous for never having water), which we used to visit when I was a really small boy. The only things I remember are the colourful and atrociously noisy peacocks that used to hang out at the mighty-gopuramed temple next door, and the large vellari pazhams the vegetable seller would bring home and try to sell to my grandparents. I was fascinated by her weighing apparatus, which had just one pan. I still don’t know how it worked.

Image courtesy: Navin Sigamany

But, I digress - the point of this rambling reminiscence was my brief exposure to the vellari pazham, which was almost but not quite the dosakkaya that is the hero of this piece. I recall neither seeing it bought (in spite to the tenacity of the vegetable selling woman) nor tasting it, either raw or cooked. As I looked around for more information on this humble vegetable, I stumbled on its other, sometimes more exotic, names.

The most exotic of them, IMHO, is the Malabar Cucumber. Adding Malabar to any name makes it immediately exotic. Ask the Malabar Pit Viper. Or watch Malabar Police. Either way, the pulissery they make in Kerala with this is quite the delicacy. The Konkani name for it is moggain - the name conjures up exotic visions of a Middle Earth feast, and would not be out of place on Beorn’s table.

Dosakkaya itself is the Telugu name for it - I’m still undecided on its suitability. On the one hand, it seems to promise dosai-like goodness, but doesn’t deliver. On the other hand, this is the homeland of making delicious things with dosakkaya, all of which I wholeheartedly love to eat. The most boring name it has is Yellow Cucumber. It’s boring as well as inexact - any cucumber left unplucked will eventually turn yellow, and is not specific to this vegetable.

At this point, I will be remiss if I do not mention the results of the social survey I conducted with people who had grown up with dosakkaya as part of their diet. The respondents universally reacted with “Ew” when asked for their feelings towards it. It looks like the amount of positive popular sentiment is something that is inversely proportional to the variety of dishes cooked with it! Since this is at odds with my own liking for it, I will choose to roundly ignore it and proceed with my paean to this most undeservedly underappreciated staple of south Indian cuisine.

While it seems silly to comment on the looks of something you cut up and cook, the striking appearance of the dosakkaya is definitely something that appeals to me. It has me immediately reaching for my camera and lights to set up a photoshoot. The bright yellow with orange or dark green highlights combined with its rounded shape give it the look of dragon’s eggs - Danaerys would unhesitatingly set Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion on our rythu bazaars if she saw them! So the next time you see a dosakkaya, or have a dosakkaya pulusu, consider for a second the awesomeness of what you are eating, and watch out for the dragons!