Kaddu ka Bharta
We didn’t eat a great deal of pumpkin at home when I was growing up, and once I moved to the US I can’t say I felt the same mania for squash that most people seem to get gripped with every fall. I’ve never had a particular aversion to pumpkins—roasted, mashed, steamed, how-have-you—but I find that more often than not they’re served in ways that just accentuate their abundant natural sweetness, which can sometimes get a little cloying.
So it’s been a real treat—and a surprise to boot—that in the last couple of years I have so come to love all the many things that Indian cooks from all over the subcontinent do with pumpkins. There’s lal bhoplyachi bhaji, lal bhoplyacha raita, there are thorans and sambhars, and all manner of different ways of treating this starchy, delectable wonder of a vegetable, that bring out so many aspects of its flavor in addition to its honey sweetness (something I just learned in my Turkish class the other day: pumpkins in Turkish are bal kabağı: honey squash).
I owe this recipe for mashed pumpkin seasoned with sweet spices and spiked with lime and coconut to one that I found in the late Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. I think it was one of the first actual books on Indian cooking I ever bought and it’s still one of my favourites. It’s an uncanny and highly specialized book (I have to say I still experience a maximal cringe when I read the Anglicized names of some of the dishes) but gives an almost unparalleled look into a very particular branch of Indian vegetarian cooking.
The genius of this recipe really lies in the familiar yet subtly outré addition of sweet
fennel and cardamom to the tadka for this dish. They certainly enhance the honeyed
sweetness of the squash, but also add a delightful nuance to it. I didn’t have the fresh
coconut that the recipe called for, so I toasted some unsweetened desiccated
coconut and used that instead and have to say that I can’t imagine a version that
works any better.
KADDU KA BHARTA
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 large kogi nut squash
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
½ tsp freshly ground cardamom powder
1 tsp moderately spicy red pepper flakes
1 tsp grated jaggery
3 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut, toasted till golden brown
Juice of half a lime
Split the squash in two, scrape out the seeds and roast it in a 375F oven for an hour, or until a pick enters the flesh without any resistance. Scoop out the flesh, gently mash with a fork or potato masher, season lightly with salt, and set aside.
In a large kadhai or wok, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter until it is foaming and smells nutty but before the milk solids have started to brown.
Add the fennel, cardamom, red pepper flakes, and jaggery and stir well into the melted butter. Allow to cook till the spices are fragrant, but take care not to let the jaggery burn.
Add the cooked squash to the spiced butter and stir well to combine.
When you’re ready to serve, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter till the solids turn golden brown and then drizzle over the bharta. Squeeze the lime all over and finish with a generous scattering of toasted coconut.