We are at the cusp of seasons now, as early fall produce is rearing its head in the form of squashes, grapes, and figs, but the glories of late summer's tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and strawberries are still around in plenty too. It is in this bountiful period that I received a wonderful surprise from a friend in the form of some of the season's best produce.
Thelma Sanders Squash
The goodies included one of the signs of cooler weather, a squash, intriguingly called as 'Thelma Sanders'. I found that it is a family heirloom acorn squash from (who else?) Ms. Thelma Sanders of Adair County, Missouri. It has a delicate skin, and not many seeds. It is hard to define its taste, but it is definitely delicious, though not as sweet as butternut squash, which is my favorite. Naturally, it would pair well with plenty of spicing. It retained it shape even after it was fully cooked, and did not get mushy at all.
Thelma Sanders Squash, cut open
The recipe in this post is adapted from 'Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian', and called 'Pumpkin or Hubbard Squash cooked with Bengali Seasonings' or 'Bangali Kaddu'. Even though this is one of my favorite cookbooks, I haven't mentioned it on my blog yet because I was waiting to write this particular recipe along with that. This was the first recipe I tried from the book, and boy, it turned out so good that it completely changed the way I looked at pumpkins. That was years ago, but till date, this book remains an absolute favorite, and so does this recipe. In fact, it has now become the touchstone recipe that I use every time I encounter a new type of winter squash.
A few simple whole dry spices and a bit of salt and sugar are all that are required to bring out the intrinsic taste of the squash, without overpowering it. While the original recipe gives intricate proportions for each of the spices in fractions of teaspoons, I generally use generous pinches of everything and do not bother with all the precision. One thing I have noticed about 'World Vegetarian' is that even the Indian recipes in the book taste a little bland to me. So, although I am not a fan of very hot and spicy food, I usually increase the chili or pepper quotient in those. Accordingly, this recipe has all the ingredients from the original, except that I add a bit of turmeric and red chili powder, and a few cloves. I also do not mash the pumpkin at the end, which is what the original recipe says.
A note about the oil: The original recipe says to use either mustard or olive oil. The authentic Bengali dish is most likely to have mustard oil in it, so I tried using it, but because there are so many aromatic spices in this dish, I prefer to use a neutral oil, like the light olive oil that I use for most everyday cooking.
About 1 lb winter squash (in this case Thelma Sanders)
2-3 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
1/4 teaspoon nigella (kalonji)
a few cloves
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 dried red chilies, broken into pieces
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
a teaspoon of salt, or to taste
1-2 Tablespoons of brown sugar
Peel the squash and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes.
Measure out the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella, cloves, bay leaves, and red chilies in a small bowl.
Heat the oil, and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, add the rest of the spices from the bowl, followed by the squash. Add the turmeric and chili powder, and a little salt. Stir together until the squash gets coated with the oil and spices. Lower the heat, and cook covered until the squash is tender, stirring now and then and replacing the cover each time. Depending on the squash it could take 20 - 30 minutes. When it is done, add the sugar and a little more salt, turn off the heat, and let it sit on the (still) hot stove for a few minutes, so that the sugar melts gently.
Serve it as part of a regular Indian meal, with rotis, poLIs, parathas, or rice and dal or as a side to any kind of main dish.
Another pumpkin dish on radar this season: Baakar Bhaji