Prized Precious Pumpkins

When I make the pumpkin kofta dish, it takes me close to home, in India. These sentiments are enough to transport me back to girlhood. One particular childhood recollection of mine is inspired by the annual summer visits to my grandmother’s farmhouse.

Those wonderful afternoons spent in my grandma’s house eating her pumpkin koftas simmered in rustic leafy greens sauce and the pumpkin chewy bars made with Indian condensed milk bring back cheerful childhood memories.

When I visited my grandma’s farmhouse from the front door, I could see straight through to the back garden where the plump gourds were hanging. I would accompany and trail behind her when she was in the garden. Nestled between the walkway and a stone rimmed pond (in which the blue and pink lotuses floated, she called them the jewels of the pond), pumpkin galore rambled through the garden trailing along the fence and climbed up the arches and trellises. The moist earth smelled sweetly of hay. There were the miniature pumpkins that would fit into my palm, and others so large and heavy would certainly win a blue ribbon in a county fair. I would help grandma cut young pumpkin leaves with tender stems to turn into a greens-lentil stew. She would first offer the big gourd to the goddess.

Afterwards, she cracked it open with her sharp sickle and peeled the skin off with the help of a sharp knife with her fragile hands. The pumpkin meat was grated and turned into numerous culinary concoctions. Grandma entertained with cleverness and kindness.She loved nothing better than to be cooking and talking about food with her peers.She even used the pumpkin seeds indigenously and served them as snacks. She coated the seeds with butter, sprinkled with salt and minced garlic and toasted them until they exuded a nutty aroma.

Here is one of the cherished recipes.

Pumpkin Koftas in Rustic Sauce

This is a vegetarian version of meat balls, fresh grated pumpkin replaces the meat. Serve with rice or flatbreads. These golden balls of squash can be served as a starter with any of your favorite dips accompanied with chilled Indian beer. For variation, serve over pasta with the sauce spooned onto the koftas.

Pumpkin Koftas

  • 1-1/4 pounds fresh ripe pumpkin, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)
  • 2 fresh hot green chiles, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2/3 cup chick pea flour
  • Mild vegetable for frying

Combine ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well with your fingers. Form into 1-inch balls. (The moisture from the pumpkin and lime juice should be just right to bind the koftas.) If the mixture is too moist, stir in a little more chick pea flour.

Heat the oil to a depth of 2 inches in a wok or deep fryer to 350oF. (To test the oil, drop in a tiny piece of the mixture; if it comes to the surface immediately the oil is ready for frying.) Fry the pumpkin balls in batches, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Rustic Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 5 cups chopped kale (6-8 large leaves)
  • 1 bunch trimmed and chopped fresh spinach (or 10 ounces frozen spinach,
  • thawed)
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the ginger and spices and cook until aromatic about 1 minute. Add the kale and fresh spinach; stir and cook until the leaves start to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the water and salt. Stir in the thawed spinach at this point, if using. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.Remove from the heat.

Puree the chard mixture in a food processor until smooth. Cook until heated through. Transfer the sauce into a shallow dish and place the koftas in the center.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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