The humble pumpkin

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At home, back in Surat, we never had pumpkin in our household. As I have mentioned several times in my earlier posts as well, my parents grew up in the deserts of Jaiselmer (Rajasthan) and they never had loads of vegetables in their kitchens anyway. Those were barren lands then unlike the present times. My aunt (my masi/mum’s elder sister) actually once told me, how they almost always had Kadi (a spiced buttermilk dish) in the kitchen. Even green chillies (leeli mirchi in our language) were special back then, she added. “So, when it was leeli mirchi with kadi, it was special!” she said, with an innocent smile.

And, it continued almost in the similar way in Surat (Gujarat) as well. Things like paneer (cottage cheese), pumpkin and colocasia root (arbi) have never been part of my childhood. Slowly, we did start including local ingredients in our dishes, but it’s still not too much.

So, when I taste the different yet local vegetables here in Delhi NCR, it takes me some time to get used to it. But, there have been a couple of instances, when I tried something in the office, and it totally blew my mind. And one of the instances has been the combination of Pethe ki sabzi (pumpkin) and Pooris.

In my last workplace, it was in that congested room where we all colleagues used to sit down and eat our lunch, happily. A workmate, who originally belonged to Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh), asked me to taste his lunch. As usual, it was overloaded with stuff; his mother always gave him extra portions for us all. And I asked him what it was, but he asked me to taste it anyway. It was the first time I tasted pumpkin. And it blew my mind!

The sweetness of the whole-wheat Pooris with the sweet and tangy pumpkin sabzi was a mouth-watering combination. It just melted in my mouth, and I couldn’t believe the heavenly taste of it. I could recognize the taste of fenugreek in it, with a bit of mango powder and sugar. Every element of the dish, in fact, stood out. I couldn’t help but wonder, how can such a simple combination as this one be so delicious. After a few bites, we exchanged our lunch boxes. I had to.

You know, it takes time for someone in her 30s to appreciate something she hasn’t tasted before. At least when it comes to the veggies. And I truly loved the pumpkin curry that my workmate’s aunt made for him. I could sense his background, and suddenly, I was also curious to explore the food of Uttar Pradesh. I’ve certainly missed out, I thought to myself.

So, dear reader, go ahead and try this combination at home. That is, if you’re like me, someone who’s obsessed with simple, regional food. Don’t be ashamed of something you haven’t had till now. Most pumpkins available in the market are too big, but I always end up finding a small one with which I can make this sabzi at least twice a month. And, guess what, I made this for my husband’s lunch box this Valentine’s Day. Not a fancy dish, eh? Too rustic? Well, wish I cared.

Recipe: Pethe ki khatti meethi sabzi (pumpkin/yellow squash)

I would like to thank one of my favourite YouTubers, Nisha Madhulika for this recipe. It’s always a delight to watch her videos. This dish turned out to be just what I tasted in my office cubical. Words fall short when one has to describe Nisha ji’s cooking skills.

Ingredients

Yellow pumpkin – 1½ cup (chopped; also, remove the seeds and soft pulp)
oil – 1 tbsp
turmeric powder – 1 tsp
coriander powder – 2 tsp
red chilli powder – ½ tsp
ginger paste – ½ tsp
green chilli – 1 (chopped)
salt to taste
juice of half a lemon (you could use mango powder if you want)
fenugreek seeds – 2 pinches
sugar – 1 tbsp
coriander leaves (chopped)
garam masala – ½ tsp
cumin seeds – ½ tsp
asafoetida – 1 pinch

Method

Pumpkin is almost like potato, but I believe it takes a little less time to cook. If not paid attention, it can go utterly soft.

1. Peel and chop the pumpkin. Make sure you remove the seeds and the soft part that’s there in the middle.
2. Take a kadai or wok, heat some oil in it. Once hot, add the asafoetida, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds. After a few seconds, add the ginger and the green chilli, followed by the turmeric powder and red chilli powder.
3. Next, add in the coriander powder and salt. Now is the time to soften the pumpkin. So, add in about a cup of water, and close the vessel with a lid.
4. Keep checking, and once the veggie has turned soft, add garam masala, sugar and the lemon juice. Finish it with a good sprinkle of chopped coriander leaves.

I always serve it with fried whole-wheat pooris, exactly what I tasted for the first time. I really don’t want to change my memory of it.

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