Revisiting a childhood reject – the pumpkin

I wonder if this happens with everyone else too. A vegetable or dish you shunned as a child and threw a tantrum every time it was cooked, becomes one of your favourites when you grow up. Or if not a favourite, at least you eat it without feeling like you are being punished. I can list several such dishes from memory which I absolutely hated as a kid. Today while I eat some of them because ‘they are good for health’, there are some I actually relish and wonder what made me dislike that very vegetable or dal as a child.

One such vegetable which I learnt to love when I used to eat its roasted variety available in shops selling grilled food items in Sydney, is the pumpkin. Yes, that orangey thing which finds its way into sambhar and stir fries or in gravy dishes served with puris. The sweetness of the pumpkin with the smokey, roasted flavour which I would enhance with a squeeze of lime was a filling and healthy snack. But since I don’t have a grill at home, I dug into my childhood memory and recalled a pumpkin dish that my aunt used to make. She had gotten the recipe from a Marwari lady so it would essentially qualify as a Rajasthani dish. Then I had a taste of something similar a colleague brought for lunch.

Bored eating the same old beans and cabbage and greens etc., one fine day I decided to bring home a pumpkin and cook it. I didn’t have any particular recipe but I remembered the sweet and sour taste of both versions — that of my aunt’s and my colleague’s. After a couple of tries where I had to struggle with peeling its thick skin off, I hit upon a formula that not only helps me peel the pumpkin quickly but also cooks it much faster. I roast the vegetable on the flame directly till its skin is completely charred. This achieves two things — 1: it is easy to peel it off and 2: the roasting semi-cooks the pumpkin so when it is mixed with other ingredients and cooked in a pan, it doesn’t take very long to prepare. Without the roasting, from my past experiences I know it takes much longer to cook, even covered. And pressure cooking it makes it a gooey mass by the time it is done so you don’t really enjoy it. This way, by roasting it, you can control how soft you want the vegetable to be.

What is also good about this dish is that it can be eaten cold or hot so works as a side dish or even as a cooked salad. And for those of you who want an option on a day that you are fasting, this dish is perfect because it has no onion or garlic. But keep in mind that one of the main ingredients in this dish — coriander seeds — are a must. The entire crunch and kick in the taste comes from biting into them —  they make all the difference to the taste of the dish. Also, when deseeding the pumpkin, I leave the thread like bits that the seeds are attached to, intact. They give a nice texture to the dish and taste just like the pumpkin.

I have written out the recipe below. Just a note to warn you: Since I tweaked this recipe and created it based only on the memory of how it tastes, there are no fixed quantities for some of the ingredients. You have to adjust them to suit your taste as you go. All the spice quantities can be increased too depending on the size of the pumpkin.

Sweet and Sour Pumpkin 

Ingredients:

1 pumpkin whole or a big piece as sold in supermarkets

1 tsp peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp saunf [aniseed]

A pinch of asafoetida [hing]

A few curry leaves

3-4 dry red chillies, broken into pieces

Tamarind paste as required

Jaggery as required

Salt to taste

Red chilli powder as required

2-3 tbsps oil

Coriander leaves for garnishing

Grated coconut for garnishing [optional]

Method:

Dry roast the pumpkin on the flame till the skin is charred. Peel when it cools and cut into one-inch sized pieces.

Then heat the oil and throw in the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, aniseed and curry leaves. When they crackle and start to go brown, add dry red chilli and asafoetida. Mix them up and add the pumpkin pieces. Add salt and red chilli powder to taste. Toss well, coand cook for a few minutes on a low flame. You don’t usually need to add water as the pumpkin will release some and cook in the steam. But if you haven’t roasted it, then add a little water to the pan.

When the pumpkin begins to go soft, add the tamarind paste and a piece of jaggery. Mix well and cook for a few minutes. Taste to check if it is too sweet or too sour. Adjust the taste accordingly and once cooked, remove from heat. Garnish with coriander leaves and grated coconut and serve with rotis or rice or just as it is — hot or cold.

PS: My sister adds spices like cinnamon and cloves but I found that changes the taste and I prefer it the way I have written it above. You can however, experiment with the spices you like to include when you cook.

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