Kumro Mash or spiced Bengali Pumpkin Mash

Kumro Mash or spiced Bengali Pumpkin Mash

It’s vegan, it’s delicious: A childhood meal from the writer’s family home

Pumpkin mash, Bengali style
Bengali style pumpkin mash brings memories of childhood to many Image Credit: Supplied

A simple mashed pumpkin might seem underrated, but this simple, nutritious and delicious childhood comfort food beckons forever.

In my childhood, whenever we came back home after a vacation, my mother served us a simple preparation that seemed to embrace us in her love. She cooked this in a jiffy - potatoes, sweet potatoes, raw papaya, pumpkins and occasionally, eggs - all in Bhaaté, which literally meant boiled and cooked together in rice.

Ma let the rice over cook and never strained the water, thus keeping the nutrition quotient of the vegetables intact in this homey hot pot preparation. If I can recall, every vegetable was eligible enough to go into Bhaaté, including bitter gourds, despite our resistance. She mashed fistfuls of the combo with pinches of salt, dollops of ghee and added chopped green chillies as and when we were old enough to handle the spice. This was served piping hot and tasted nothing less than divine. Before the age of instant noodles and cup meals, this was Ma’s version of instant home cooked meal that took less than 20 minutes.

Mustard oil for Bengali cooking
A cold pressed or 'kachi ghani' mustard oil is essential for most Bengali cooking Image Credit: Supplied

Daily meals or elaborate feasts on special occasions, every meal at our home was cooked by either my mother or our housekeeper who had stood by us like family, season after season. As my brother and I started fancying a variety of food other than Bengali food, Ma enrolled herself in a cooking class.

Soon sticky rice, chilli chicken and many other new dishes started rolling out from Ma’s kitchen. My father fondly called it BB’s kitchen, after the very popular restaurant on AJC Bose Road in Kolkata, Jimmy’s Kitchen! Today, things are different at my Ma’s place as well as my own kitchen. Although we have given into the conveniences of home deliveries or takeaways from restaurants, every time I recreate a simple dish from my childhood, I ask myself - did it take any time at all? The excitement in my daughters over a delicious meal cooked by me is unbeatable. “Comfort in my tummy… Mummy,” my elder daughter describes!

I first experienced the segregated Kumro Bhaaté or the boiled pumpkin alone at a dinner at my close friend Devjani Cox’s home. Devjani, a versatile interior designer and an aesthete, had a way of presenting the food she cooked. Although a vocal cheerleader of traditional Indian cuisine, especially Bengali food due to her roots, she always blended her food presentation with modern aesthetics.

Dried pumpkin seeds
Dried pumpkin seeds make a delicious savoury snack Image Credit: Supplied

I was blown away by the pumpkin mash that she served in a pumpkin shell. A solo frangipani was tucked into the mash, grabbing the attention of us diners, to this simple preparation amidst an array of her various elaborate preparations. The distinctive pungent aroma of the kachi ghani or cold pressed mustard oil, a tempering of black cumin seeds and green chillies peeping out, it was clear that Devjani had given her famous twist inspired by Bengali cuisine to this homey preparation of pumpkin mash.

Over the years, I have made quite a few experiments and arrived at numerous pumpkin mash dishes. One of my favourites is pureeing the mash, adding cream, and serving it cold as a rich soup. My daughters love a fried concoction that my mother-in-law makes. Ma, as I call her (I am blessed to have two mothers who indulge me to bits!), dries the pumpkin seeds, removes the skin and mixes them in a batter of atta or wheat flour, salt and turmeric. Then she fries them in oil. I have no idea how many pumpkins my in-laws deliberately devour before our arrival, just to serve a handful of fried seeds to their beloved granddaughters!

Sometimes, I feel that recipes have similar fates like explorers. They travel, are adapted to local flavours, evolve and the dish that lands on your plate soon becomes an ‘inspired’ dish. What then, would you call an authentic dish? Have you ever travelled to its place of origin to certify its authenticity? For me, what becomes authentic is the one that has been created honestly and tastes delicious, even if it has been transformed many times over. Therefore, my dear readers please enjoy the pumpkin mash that lands on your plate… it’s so close to my heart and carved out in my Ma’s kitchen! Here's a recipe for the dish.

Do you have a favourite recipe to share? Write to us at food@gulfnews.com

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