Friday, October 28, 2005

Bengali Pumpkin and Coconut

I'm not sure why the first book I pulled from my cookbook shelf was Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals by Chitrita Banerji. I was looking for ideas for the second half of a pumpkin for Elise's Great Pumpkin Carve Up Cook Off (the first half was used in Pumpkin baked with onions, tomato and tomatillo-chipotle salsa). The book has very few recipes, with the bulk of it being a detailed, impressionistic description of how culture, weather and geography have influenced the cuisine of the Bengal region. It includes only about 20 recipes, and fortunately for this project, one of them features pumpkin.

Banerji writes that the pumpkin is such a common vegetable during the rainy season that many Bengalis consider it an indigenous vegetable. Although some gourds are endemic to South Asia, this is not the case for the pumpkin (member of the Cucurbitaceae family), which is indigenous to the Americas. It was probably introduced to Bengal by Portuguese traders in the 17th century. Other gourds, however, have been in India for so long that "...many carry Sanskrit names of considerable antiquity, which is probably explained, not necessarily by human intervention, but by the ability of these dried gourds to float across the seas from continent to continent without losing seed viability." [quote from A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, by K.T. Achaya]

If you have a food processor to grate the pumpkin and a good source for high quality coconut (or the patience to peel and grate it yourself), the recipe is quite easy to prepare. As food from the Indian subcontinent goes, this dish is mild and subtle. It goes nicely with plain rice and something with a lot more spice and heat.

Coincidentally, I have recently clicked into two other recent mentions of pumpkin in Indian cuisine. The first was as part of an interview about the Portuguese influence on the Goa region of India which included a link to a recipe for pumpkin and channa dal on an EatFeed podcast called A Culinary Passage to India. Over at One Hot Stove, Nupur presents a recipe for gharge (sweet pumpkin puris) in the letter G installment of her incredible series "The A-Z of Marathi food."

Update (11/6): Another Indian use of pumpkin or squash is ericheri from My Dhaba.

Pumpkin and coconut with spices

Adapted from Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals by Chitrita Banerji

2 lb. of pumpkin
1 1/2 cups grated coconut (high quality fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
3-4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garam masala

Peel the pumpkin, then grate it (a food processor is nearly essential here).

Mix the coriander, cumin, red pepper, bay leaves and sugar with the milk. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok at medium-high heat, then add the pumpkin. Cook, stirring often, until the pumpkin is half-cooked, then add the coconut. When the coconut and pumpkin turn a few shades darker (light brown for the coconut, bits of brown on the pumpkin), add the milk mixture. Stir until the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. Add the garam masala and salt to taste.

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Nupur said...

The pumpkin recipe looks gorgeous, Marc! And thanks for linking to my post :) I really appreciate it.

Salil said...

Good to know Pumpkin is not Indian but we have adopted it in a big was and don't make it into a pie. But this a great recipe to try.