All the Halloween hoopla in the city, thanks to an alarming population of expats has suddenly made the pumpkin look cool, unlike earlier when it was relegated to the status of an adulterant in tomato ketchup (remember those ads on telly that screamed that your ketchup is not real unless it has tomatoes in it, and for all you know, you might be getting pumpkin?)
I really felt sorry for the yellow pumpkin (kaddu) when they did that, even though I didn’t even like it much back then. Who would, when it was served up as a messy accompaniment with sambar, sweetened and garnished beyond your palate and generally didn’t appeal to the aesthete in you? Those were the days when you boycotted your vegetables and asked for chips. And your mother yielded, because she knew nothing else would work really.
Some days, it also made an appearance in your sambar, chatting up the lady fingers and the drumsticks, but that was largely okay. But on days that my father made a matthan pachadi, I would declare it my favourite vegetable in the whole world. I didn’t quite imagine its gargantuan proportions till one day, when I saw dad cutting a yellow pumpkin and realised it was actually such a monster, and took so much work cleaning. I still remember, he would carefully collect the slimy seeds from the surface, wash them clean, dry them, so we could skin the seeds and eat them later. But invariably, they would be poached by crows or other such species, and we never got our pumpkin seeds. But recently, I saw them packaged and sold at Foodland under the Conscious Foods label by Kavita Mukhi, and it made me happy.
He did relent into giving me the recipe for the pachadi, years later, but I am sure he is holding something back, because try as I might, it never tastes the same when I make it. But then dad’s like that.
The mother of course is the other extreme. Trust her to turn anything into a halwa or even a barfi and then play this ‘guess what vegetable it is?’ game with us. She did the same with pumpkin (it was something she didn’t even have to artificially colour) and many a pumpkin barfi or halwa has been consumed by us innocently while we were going through our phase of ‘I hate pumpkin’
I of course, made my peace with it years later, firstly when I discovered the joys of pumpkin soup and how versatile it was and how it could blend with almost any other vegetable that could be souped. Second, when I revisited olan, something that was a total comfort food in my adolescence, and made it for myself.
Half kilo of yellow pumpkin, skinned, and cut into pieces
Two cloves garlic
Crushed black pepper
Basil or celery for the garnish
(Tip: you can also add boiled and blended carrots, beetroot, tomato, potato or peas to make the broth more flavorful, but I prefer the minimal approach)
Clean and skin the pumpkin, cut into large pieces. Pressure cook for two whistles along with two cloves of garlic.
Cool, puree, add salt, pepper and bring to a boil.
Add a dollop of butter or cream, chopped walnuts and garnish with a stalk of celery or basil and serve with garlic bread or baguettes.
¼ kilo yellow pumpkin
A small bunch of green chowli beans, cut into two inch pieces
Two green chillies
Coconut milk (half a tetrapack)
Salt to taste
Skin the yellow pumpkin, taking care to remove all the green parts, and then slice thinly into 2”X2” pieces.
In a vessel, transfer the pumpkin, add salt, a cup of water, one or two slit and mashed green chillies, the chowli and bring to boil on a slow flame, after mixing well.
When the pumpkin and the chowli are nearly done add a tablespoon of coconut milk, mixing gently.
When it comes to a boil, switch off the gas.
Serve hot with chapatis or sambar rice