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Himachali sweet and sour pumpkin (Kaddu ka khatta)

Updated: May 20, 2022

The cuisine of Himachal is new to me. This northern mountain state is filled with spectacular natural beauty, the enormous snow capped Himalayan range, infinite waterfalls from the melting snow that turn into burbbling streams and later to roaring rivers, and a land of kind and gentle people. The cuisine reflects the land, wild and untamed, but delicious and unique.

For this dish you need the white pumpkin that is common across India. It has a smooth green surface with wide, shallow ridges. The inside flesh is white, leaning slightly to a very pale green. The flesh is soft and non-fibrous making it perfect for slow cooked dishes. This dish pops with a myriad of flavors, sweet, tart and spicy. The chef transforms this otherwise bland vegetable into a delicious dish that will be the centerpiece of the vegetarian courses. The soft pumpkin is almost broken down completely due to the long cooking process and has completely absorbed the flavors of of the spices. The tartness of the tamarind hits the palate first and is followed by the sweet and the slow burn from the chilies. The thin julienne of green chilies and ginger add some freshness to the already complex dish. This is a dish that is perfect either with fresh rotis or plain rice. Yes, I did eat the whole bowl for dinner, it was superb.

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3 tablespoons mustard oil

1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained and dried on paper towels

1 tablespoons cumin seeds

3-4 dried red chilies

4 cups white pumpkin

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a mortar

1 teaspoon turmeric chili powder and toss well to coat the pumpkin

A generous pinch asafoetida

1-2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste

2 tablespoons tamarind extract

3 tablespoons jaggery

Salt, to taste

1/2 tablespoon garam masala

1 green chili, very thinly slivered, soaked in water

1—15 thin slivers ginger, soaked in water, can be same as for the chilies

Heat the oil on a high flame and add the fenugreek seeds. Sauté for 10 seconds and add the cumin seeds and red chilies and toss for 10 seconds. Add the pumpkin and toss in the oil and fry till the pumpkin is fried on the outside, about 5 minutes. Take care to toss the vegetable frequently to prevent the whole spices from burning.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the fennel, turmeric, asafoetida, and chili powder and toss the pumpkin well to coat with the spices. Cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes tossing the dish often so the spices do not burn. If the pot is too hot you can turn down the heat further, or add 1/4 cup water. By the end of this time the pumpkin should be almost broken down.

Add the tamarind, jaggery, garam masala and salt and toss for 10 minutes till the raw sourness of tamarind is gone. Taste and adjust spice, salt, sugar and tartness.

Serve hot with rotis, phulkas or rice.

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