Indian Home Cooking Week kicked off yesterday with a recipe for chholar dal; here today is a recipe for a vegetable dish to eat with it: mishti kumro. “Mishti” means sweet in Bengali, and for those of you know Bengali food it may seem redundant for a Bengali dish to be qualified thus. My people have a renowned sweet tooth (though we can’t compare to most Gujaratis) and often add a bit of sugar to a lot of savoury dishes as well. The “mishti” in the name of this dish, however, is a qualifier of the second word “kumro”, which means pumpkin, and means only that the dish features sweet pumpkin—the dish itself is not particularly sweet. I’m not really sure which of the bewildering multiplicity of pumpkins and squashes available in the US is closest to the Bengali pumpkin. If I had to guess, I’d go with buttercup, but really I use whatever I have at hand: butternut, buttercup, kabocha, delicata, or in this case ambercup.
Ambercup squash has many virtues but the chief among them may be that its peel is edible. This means you’re spared the annoying labour of peeling a large hard squash and that’s no small thing. It’s also very tasty and as it’s not dry (like say, kabocha) it’s perfect for this dish. Pumpkin is a very popular vegetable among Bengalis (and elsewhere in India too) and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that most Bengali homes probably cook some version of this recipe.
- Squash: 500 gms (about 18 oz); peeled if necessary and cut into cubes
- Potatoes: 100 gms (a little more than 3 oz); cut into cubes
- Onion: 1 medium red
- Garlic: 1 fat clove
- Ginger: About as much as the garlic
- Turmeric: 1/2 tspn
- Red chilli powder: 1/2-1 tspn
- Tomatoes: 2, cut up
- Sugar: 1 tspn
- Salt: to taste
- Oil: 2-3 tblspns (preferably mustard oil)
- Garam masala
Preparation (see illustrated guide below):
- Grind the onion, ginger and garlic to a paste in a blender.
- Heat 2 tblspns of the oil in a large pan and fry the cubed squash and potatoes for a few minutes over medium-high heat, turning frequently. Remove to a plate.
- Add some more oil to the pan and fry the onion-ginger-garlic paste, stirring frequently. You need to cook this thoroughly to get rid of the raw onion smell, but be careful not to let the paste scorch or else it will turn bitter.
- Add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt and fry the paste for another minute or two, stirring all the while.
- Add the tomatoes and sugar and cook till the tomatoes have cooked down and the oil separates.
- Return the fried squash and potatoes to the pan, add two cups of water and mix gently.
- Bring everything to a boil and then reduce to a mild simmer. Cook till the gravy has thickened and the squash and potato are fully cooked but not falling apart.
- Garnish with a pinch of garam masala and serve with rice or chapatis or parathas.
- The most important thing in recipes that involve onion pastes is to cook the bitterness out of the paste. Doing this without scorching the paste requires care. Many years ago I was given a tip that helps with red onions available in the US: microwave the onion for a minute before making your paste.
- Again, you can reduce the amount of tomatoes; as I noted yesterday, traditionally tomatoes aren’t used much in Bengali savoury cooking. I use them a lot following my mother who probably picked up the habit living elsewhere in India most of her life.
- While I say to garnish with garam masala, in Bengali kitchens it would actually be “bhaja moshla” or “fried masala” that would be used. This is not commercially available though you could probably make your own (mine is not the same each time but I could probably post an approximation if you like). Or you could use garam masala and not fret about it too much.
- Serve this with rice, yesterday’s chholar dal and a tart pickle and you have yourself a very nice vegetarian meal.
Enjoy! And come back tomorrow for a recipe for “masala fish”.