Opinion | A great bounty from the pumpkin patch
From delicious pies and halwas to savoury curries and stir fries, the pumpkin can be both the hero of a dish as well as one that adds heft
After a bumper harvest from the kitchen garden, I was left staring at a dozen pumpkins in various sizes. These were a speckled dark green on the outside with bright yellow to orange flesh, fragrant and mildly sweet. After giving away a few to neighbours and friends, we were still left with quite a few.
It was during this period that I experimented endlessly with pumpkin recipes. I also learnt something new. Left in a cool corner in the kitchen, a whole pumpkin could last one-three months without spoiling. It is easy to understand why this would have been one of the more popular vegetables to grow and use in daily cooking in the times before refrigeration and canned foods.
Pumpkin is one of the few vegetables that adapts to both sweet and savoury dishes. America has its pumpkin pie and in India, we have the petha and kasi halwa (both made using white pumpkin or ash gourd), among many other sweets and desserts made using the pumpkin varieties. Petha is probably the second most famous thing in Agra and Tamil wedding caterers have this obsession with kasi halwa that is served for morning tiffin (breakfast) along with idli, pongal, sambar, chutney, etc. The orange or yellow variety of the vegetable can also be used to prepare a sweet similar to gajar ka halwa when red carrots are not in season. My mum makes an irresistible kheer with ground almonds and pumpkin puree.
Indian regional cooking has innumerable savoury dishes using pumpkin. If I had to pick one cuisine that does full justice to this vegetable, it has to be the Bengali vegetarian cooking. Some of the dishes are jhal (spicy curry), chechki (stir fry, sometimes including the peels), bhorta (mash), ghonto (dry curry with a mix of vegetables), bhaja (fried) and bora (fritters). Peels, tender leaves as well as the blossoms find their way into many of their recipes. My first recipe using pumpkin is inspired by Bengali cuisine, with a tempering of kalonji (nigella seeds) in mustard oil.
Rasachandrika, the classic cook book for Saraswat cuisine, lists five different savoury preparations using pumpkin. Grated white pumpkin is used along with ground and fermented lentils in sun-dried preparations in Saraswat (vadyo in Konkani) and Tamil cooking (vadam). My recipe for pumpkin doddak is a take on one of the recipes in this cookbook. These pancakes make a delicious accompaniment to tea time, with flavours of sweet, salty and sour in each bite complemented by the heat from the green chillies.
While Indian cuisine has no dearth of pumpkin recipes, I use this versatile vegetable in somewhat unexpected dishes such as hummus, salads and as a secret ingredient in bakes. Adding pumpkin puree to cake or muffin batter, makes it moist and sweet, reducing the requirement of both fat and sugar.
Given that pumpkins are available for cheap almost round the year, they are often used as fillers in commercially prepared dishes. Cooked and mashed pumpkin is used to thicken the sambar prepared in hotels and for weddings, thereby reducing the requirement of the more expensive lentils. It was also widely used in condiments like tomato ketchup. You might also recall the catchy jingle in the Volfarm ketchup television commercial from the 1980s (“Thoda ketchup try karo/Ketchup hota kaddu bhara/Isme kaddu nahin zara”), which indicated that their tomato ketchup had no trace of pumpkin.
Pumpkin spinach dry curry
250g yellow pumpkin
100g spinach leaves
1 tbsp mustard oil
1 bay leaves
1 red chilli
1/4 tsp kalonji
2 green chillies, slit
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garam masala powder
Peel the skin and scrape out the seeds from the pumpkin wedge. Cut into thick slices and then each slice into small cubes, to get roughly 200g of diced pumpkin.
Wash and drain the spinach leaves. Place spinach in a pan with 1/4 cup water. Cover and steam-cook for 2-3 minutes. Plunge leaves in cold water and keep aside.
In a pan, heat the mustard oil. Fry the bay leaf and red chilli for a few seconds.
Add the kalonji and give it a stir. Add the pumpkin cubes, green chillies, ginger and salt. Toss on a high flame for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle water, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.
Squeeze out the blanched spinach, roughly chop and combine with the pumpkin.
Toss well. Sprinkle garam masala and give it a final stir.
Serve with steamed rice and dal.
Makes 10 2-inch pancakes
1 cup grated yellow pumpkin
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp powdered jaggery
1/2 cup rava (semolina)
3 tbsp grated coconut
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
3 tbsp yogurt (slightly sour)
3-4 tbsp water
1-2 tbsp ghee to cook the pancakes
Mix the grated pumpkin with salt and jaggery. Cover and keep aside for 10 minutes. This will drain some of the water content from the pumpkin.
Then combine the pumpkin with rava, coconut, green chillies and yogurt. Mix well and keep aside for 15 minutes. Thin with enough water until the batter has a dropping consistency.
Grease a tava with ghee.
Drop a tablespoonful of batter to prepare each pancake. Smoothen the surface but don’t spread it out. Make 4-5 pancakes at one time depending on the size of the pan. Flip over after cooking for 1 minute on a medium flame. Add few drops of ghee around each pancake and cook for 1 more minute. Take out the prepared doddak to a dish and make the next batch similarly.
These pancakes taste good on their own. You can also serve with a spicy chutney or honey.
Note: For a savoury-only version, skip the jaggery. Mix in some grated ginger, finely chopped coriander leaves and cumin seeds.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
She tweets at @saffrontrail