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.

No looking back

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I never used to cook much when I lived with my parents. After marriage, it was just me and my husband living together in Mumbai. My in-laws lived in a different state. So, there was no fear in my mind as such to get up early and prepare the tiffin on daily basis. 

One day, my mum gave me strict instructions over the phone. “Get up early. Take a bath. Say your prayers and ring the bell in the temple (present in the house). And then start cooking,” she said. The time was set. The lunch-box had to be ready by 8 AM as that’s when he left for work.

So, there I was, up at 5.30 AM, hell-bent on doing exactly what my mother asked me to do. I entered my kitchen only after doing all the three tasks. Rang the bell in my makeshift temple (felt heavenly). Washed my hands, and went near the basin to pick up the spinach leaves I kept the previous night to cook. The best part was, I did everything on time. Presently, the time was 6 AM sharp. And I saw an ant attack on my spinach leaves! The tiny warriors ran on the plate and I didn’t know what to do. So, I sat on my kitchen floor, and carefully, started separating the ants from the huge bunch of leaves.

I was extremely precise in separating them both ants and leaves. Slowly and steadily, I reached a level where my plate started weighing a bit lighter. Sometime, in between, my husband entered the kitchen and made himself a glass of Bournvita. “That’s okay, baby. I’m leaving for work,” he said. I, on the other hand, was in state of horror to push the million ants away from my spinach leaves. “I’m sorry. It’s such a mess here,” I responded, irritably.

And guess what? When he returned home in the evening around 6 or 7PM, I was still cleaning the same bunch of spinach leaves!

The following day, after the spinach and ant episode, I woke up in the last minute and prepared the lunch in my night-suit, gave the lunch-box to him and went back to complete sleep, while my husband went off to work. And that became my routine.

Well, now you would have guessed my speed when I started out working in the kitchen. I was damn slow. Things just registered late in my mind. Month after month, you could see my experiments with measurements going haywire, and I had to learn a lot from my mistakes. 

I have a passion for reading magazines, and it was in Marie Claire India magazine (discontinued now), in which I spotted the recipe of Amritsary Choley. The magazine used to carry beautiful photo essays, and I tore this particular page that comprised a chef’s recipe of it. In the big photo on that page, there was the holy Golden Temple, and in a small shot, you could see a bowl of Amritsary Choley. It was written in a simple language, and it just clicked to me that the recipe could be the path breaker for me as a home chef.

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So, I tried the recipe on one of the weekends, and loved it to the hilt. It’s rare when you make something that looks similar to the recipe’s original photo. And I was happy!

When I went to Amritsar, after a few years, I realised the flavours of the city’s local food items are not just magical, but inspiring as well. You start believing in good food, and good life. And when you can create an enchanting recipe at home, it does feel special.

And when it comes to my kitchen skills, I’d say, there is still a lot of scope of improvement. But, hey, it doesn’t matter more than one’s love for good food. Right? 

Recipe: Amritsary Chole with Ajwain Atte ki Poori

Ingredients

¾ cup – chickpeas (soaked overnight)
1 onion – finely chopped
1½ tomato – grind into paste
1 tsp – ginger and garlic paste
2-3 – dried red chillies
1 tsp – carom seeds (star of the dish)
1 tsp – cumin seeds
2 tsp – coriander powder
½ tsp – turmeric powder
1 tsp – red chilli powder (totally depends on your preference)
salt to taste
1½ tbsp – ghee
1½ tsp – chana masala (store-bought)
a few pinches – garam masala
a few pinches – anardana (for sour taste) OR tamarind pulp
For garnish

Coriander leaves – chopped
Ginger – finely cut, length-wise
Green chillies – as per your wish

Method

  1. Soak the chana or chickpeas overnight.
    2. Take the chana in a pressure cooker, add water, a tsp of ghee and turmeric powder, and close the lid. Give this 5 whistles, and then keep checking if the chickpeas have cooked properly or not. Keep the boiled chickpeas aside. Make sure there isn’t too much water, because we want a thick consistency, and not a runny one.
    3. I use a cast iron skillet to make my choley dark. So, in a cast iron skillet or kadai, add the ghee, turmeric powder, carom and cumin seeds, red chillies, and let it crackle for a few seconds. Now, dump in the chopped onion and ginger-garlic paste and start sautéing it.
    4. Now, add in the tomato paste, the spices, salt and sauté for a few minutes. You want the paste to become thick, but make sure that it doesn’t stick.
    5. Once the mixture is cooked well, add in the boiled chickpeas.
    6. Add some water, and let it boil for 10-15 minutes on low flame. Cover it with a lid, but keep checking in between.
    7. Once done, serve it with hot and fluffy pooris, and don’t forget to garnish. You can also serve some sliced raw onions, green chillies and lemon wedge to go with the dish.

Note: The last time I added anardana in this dish, I could take its hard texture in my choley. So, make sure you don’t add too much of it.

Recipe: Ajwain Atte ki Poori

Ingredients

whole wheat flour
2-3 pinches of salt
1 tsp carom seeds
1 tsp oil

Method

Mix all the ingredients, and make a tight dough. Make small balls, roll a ball into a small round shape, and fry it in oil. As you dip one in the oil, press it with the frying ladle from all sides to allow the poori to puff up. Make sure the flame is medium to high, and not low.