My mother sent me this recipe almost exactly 17 years ago, at a time when in my early-mid 30s I’d finally begun to eat a wider variety of vegetables. I must have asked her for recipes for pumpkin for the subject line of her email reads “kumro” (Bengali for pumpkin) and the body contains two recipes along with the headnote, “this is your father’s favourite vegetable”. The second recipe is one I’ve posted a version of before; that one I remember my mother making when I was young. This one, on the other hand, I have no memory of seeing on our dining table; but memory is unreliable and in any case I barely ate any vegetables when I was a kid. It is, however, an excellent recipe and a very simple one as long as you have a food processor with a grater attachment. In case you’re tempted to say that the texture of pumpkin grated with a food processor is inferior to that of pumpkin grated by hand, this is also a reminder that recipes like this can only originate in locations/times where kitchen labour is either cheap (via underpaid servants) or free (via women’s unpaid domestic labour). Kitchen gadgets may free some of us from these associations but it’s important to resist romanticizing traditional cooking practices or letting technology obscure their less savoury origins.
- 1 lb or so pumpkin/squash of choice, peeled (if necessary) and grated
- 1 tspn kalo jire/kalonji/nigella
- 1 tblspn fresh garlic paste
- 1/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1-2 Thai chillies, minced
- 1/2 tspn hot red chilli powder
- 1 tspn sugar
- 3 tblspns oil, preferably mustard oil
- Heat the mustard oil till just smoking, reduce the heat to medium, and send the kalo jire/kaloni for a brief swim—30 seconds tops. (Of course, if you’re not using mustard oil don’t heat your oil till it’s smoking.)
- Add the garlic paste and stir.
- As soon as the garlic shows a hint of browning add the grated pumpkin/squash and mix in thoroughly. Saute for 5 minutes or so, making sure it doesn’t stick at the bottom.
- Add all the other ingredients, reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring often till the pumpkin/squash gives up all its moisture and dries up completely—in my mother’s words, “it should look like bharta”.
- Take off the heat and serve with dal and rice.
- You can make this with any kind of red squash but I prefer to use a moister variety such as butternut or ambercup (ambercup—as I always say—has the added virtue of not needing to be peeled).
- You can make this pretty hot if you like—up either the number of green chillies or the amount of red chilli powder.
- There are very few ingredients in this recipe but they’re all important. So if you don’t have kalonji, don’t make this till you’ve bought some—from either the closest desi grocery or Amazon (affiliate link)