No, my kitchen hasn't been invaded by tiny cucumbers from outer space. (But pardon my grubby fingernails -- I took that picture early on a Saturday.)
Cruising the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market recently, I spotted a pile of vegetables labeled tindora. Even though I found them at a stand that mostly has Mexican produce, I eventually learned tindora is more common in Indian cooking. It comes from a plant that is sometimes called ivy gourd (if you plant it, be careful - it can be invasive).
Trolling around in Indian cookbooks and on Web sites, I turned up a number of dishes that use it, mostly dals and curries. But I wanted something simpler, more like a side dish.
So I called on Monica Bhide. A national blogger and author of the fabulous book "Modern Spice," Bhide specializes in bringing the ingredients and flavors of her native India to her American kitchen. She knew tindora and gave me some great tips on cooking it and other vegetables.
First, wash the tindora well and pull off the dried-up stems if necessary. Cut it half lengthwise and in half again, cutting it into wedges like french fries.
Next, heat some vegetable oil in a skillet and add what Bhide calls "the holy trinity of Indian food - garlic, cumin and onion." I cut about half an onion into slices and cooked it over medium heat, stirring often, until it was starting to soften, then added cumin and minced garlic. I used ground cumin because it was what I had handy, but cumin seed would probably be good. Or maybe even a combination of both, so you get plenty of cumin flavor and a little crunch from the seeds.
Add the tindora and saute, raising the heat at little if you need to, and stir occasionally, breaking the tindora up into wedges. Cook until the wedges start to brown in spots and are getting tender.
Just before you finish cooking it, add a little salt, crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of turmeric for color.
"Tindora by itself is a bland vegetable," Bhide told me. "This is very aromatic and you get the toasty flavor of cumin."
Even cooked through, the tindora retain a little crunchiness from the skin and it makes a terrific side dish. Bhide said she uses that method for a lot of vegetables, like cauliflower or zucchini.
"It serves really well, particularly with grilling season. Everybody’s like, 'what can I serve with roasted chicken or steak?' This gives you something with a little personality, but not enough to overshadow the meat.”
One thing on preparing tindora: When you cut it open, it usually has white or very pale yellow seeds. Sometimes riper ones will have red seeds. There are reports floating around on the Internet that you shouldn't eat tindora with red seeds, supposedly because of something called "brain fever." My batch had one with red seeds and I ate it anyway. No brain fever so far, although I found the texture was slimier, a tiny bit like okra, and I didn't like it as much as the crunchier ones. Up to you.