Dry curries

My version of a Sri Lankan Pumpkin Curry

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It was in 2008 that we shifted to Chennai. The new city seemed a world away from the cities I’d lived in till then –Bangalore (2 years) and Delhi (20 years), both of which are cosmopolitan and embrace outsiders and their culture with open arms and some attitude. But, both the cities grow on you so much that you eventually merge with the character of th city.

Chennai, on the other hand, seemed cold to me. While the heat was scorching, the city’s attitude to a reserved, cautious newcomer like me wasn’t particularly warm. It did not help matters that while I myself take time getting  pally with new people and places, I’m used to others being exuberant around me. So, Chennai suddenly seemed like a sullen little child that would neither tell you what it liked, nor what it wanted.

It made the task all the more difficult for me because I don’t readily loosen up my ego by walking over and saying “Hello!” I became more reserved than before even while I tried showing off the coat of an enthusiastic newcomer. But it was this sudden coming-to-grips with a new city, its people, a new workplace and new job profile that led me to discover things about myself.

In Bangalore, we used to eat out quite a lot. We enthusiastically tried out new cuisine each time we stepped out of the house. If it was the typical idli-vada for breakfast one day, it was pad Thai and vegetables in red curry for lunch the other day and Parsi dhansak and brown rice for dinner the day after.

The shift to Chennai though, put a halt to our experiments, the only reason being lack of enough options. But it was for this reason alone, that I started to experiment with greater vigour in the kitchen. I must confess I did not try my hands at as many dishes as the cuisines that I boast of having tried, but every once in a while I did try to mix and match ingredients and cook typically foreign ingredients and vegetables in Indian style.

In fact, I devoured recipes published in the  cookery columns of newspapers. One such was a Sri Lankan recipe for a yellow pumpkin curry that appeared in the Hindu Metro Plus along with the profile of a pair of Sri Lankan sisters working in Chennai.

The sisters were quoted in the article saying that this particular dish was cooked during the stormy/rainy season. I forgot the reason for the same. This was close to three years ago and I thought of it yesterday when it suddenly started to pour. It was around 8 pm and I was biking down to a friend’s place. The rain turned from a mild drizzle to a full-blown downpour within a matter of minutes.

I had to park the bike in front of the gates of an eerie-looking hospital (Andhra Mahila Sabha at the foot of the Adyar Bridge in Chennai) and joined the 30-odd people squeezed under the sunshade of a tiny tea-shop right outside. The soaked-to-the-skin effect ensured that I was soon thinking of hot chocolate and fried goodies. One memory led to the other and I remembered this dish that I’d read about and subsequently prepared.

While I made a dry curry this morning from what I remembered of it,  google searches did not reveal any dry curry made with pumpkin. The versions available online use coconut milk and were titled ‘wattakka’. The one I ended up making is more or less a regular ‘thenga-pota-curry’ (cooked vegetable with grated coconut). The only difference being, pumpkin is usually used in sambhars, avials, kootus etc, all of which have a gravy base. Mine though, treats it as a regular vegetable and is not cooked to a mushy consistency. Here’s how I remember this recipe:

Nan’s version of Sri Lankan dry pumpkin curry

Pumpkin – diced (2 cups)

Green chilies – 3 (finely chopped)

Grated coconut – 1-2 tbsp (the more, the merrier)

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

Hing (asafoetida/peringayam) – ¼ tsp

Fenugreek seeds (vendhayam/methi dana) – ½ tsp

Curry leaves (tender ones) – leaves from 2-3 stalks (say, 20 leaves)

Oil – 1-2 tsp

Salt

Method:

Heat oil in a pan and splutter mustard seeds, followed by fenugreek seeds

Once fenugreek turns brown, add hing, curry leaves and chopped chilies

When chilies start turning white, add diced pumpkin

Add salt, sprinkle water and cover pan with a lid

Cook till pumpkin’s soft (it should neither be mushy nor lose shape)

Take off heat, add grated coconut and serve

I’m quite tempted to try out the version with the coconut milk too. Here is one recipe:

Sri Lankan Wattakka

Ingredients:

Pumpkin – 500g

Onion – 1 sliced

Green chilies – 2 slit

Cinnamon stick – 1 inch piece

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

Black pepper (ground) – ½ tsp

Turmeric powder – ½ tsp

Red chili powder – 3/4 tsp

Garlic – 3 cloves

Freshly grated coconut – 3 tbsp

Thin coconut milk – 1.5 cup

Thick coconut milk – ½ cup

Oil – 2 tsp

Salt to taste

Method:

Cut the pumpkin in 1.5 inch cubes

Heat oil in a pan and splutter mustard seeds, followed by fenugreek seeds

Add cinnamon stick when seeds turn brown

Now add onions, slit green chilies, turmeric powder, red chili powder, pepper powder, salt and think coconut milk

Grind garlic, mustard and grated coconut with 1 tbsp of water into a smooth paste

Cook till pumpkin pieces are nearly done

Add ground mixture and thick coconut milk to pan

Cook under low heat for a few minutes

Serve with plain rice

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