Pumpkin, Pumpkin

by Kaveri Ponnapa

One of the best-kept secrets of the Coorg table is the sheer range of fresh and vivid vegetarian dishes that appear regularly at mealtimes. Before market towns were established, vegetables were generally grown in small back gardens, or else foraged and gathered from estates and forests. Despite having access to towns and markets, both my grandmother and my mother-in-law had kitchen gardens, like every home in Coorg. My grandmother was an expert gardener and divided her day between cooking and gardening, working to a predictable rhythm. In her vegetable patch creepers trailed from a makeshift trellis; there were plump butter beans, French beans, fiery bird's eye chilies, fat pumpkins and much more - always something to be plucked, fresh and flavourful and added to the menu of the day. This patch that had a life of its own, growing wild and unrecognizable during the monsoon months, only to be patiently brought back to shape under her direction each year, when the rains had gone. Since it was out of bounds, we could not resist the temptation of wandering through, playing wild games of catch and hide and seek, only to be shooed away for trampling the plants, pinching tendrils and plucking young vegetables before they were ready.

A breakfast favourite frequently was, and often still is, as far as our busy schedules permit, an earthy kumbala curry, full of cubes of pumpkin, skin on, simmered in a bare minimum of spices, thickened with a small amount of ground coconut and seasoned. It arrives with golden slivers of crushed, fried garlic, a scattering of mustard seeds and deep red chilies floating on the surface. The gravy, which becomes creamy with the combined weight of some pumpkin pulp and a little ground coconut, is perfect for mashing the cubes of pumpkin. All it needs then is a spoonful of hot, melted ghee poured over the mixture, and broken off bits of akki otti with which to scoop it up. The green, stripy skins become perfectly tender and edible and provide a lovely contrast of colour and texture. My grandmother would put a little jaggery into the curry, while my mother-in-law left the pumpkin to show off its natural sweetness, and that is the recipe that I have given below. Faintly sweet and garlicky with a hint of spice, the combination of akki otti and kumbla curry is a generous and satisfying way to start the day.

Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.

Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa

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