Kumro Danta Charchari (Pumpkin Shoots curry)

3:14 AM

What is Fall without a few pumpkin recipes? Right?

Wrong. For us Bengalis pumpkin is a vegetable that is enjoyed year around. especially during the summer days when the most of the veggies cannot stand the scorching heat or the waterlogged months of monsoons, when most plants wilt due to root rot...pumpkin and it's close cousin bottle gourd grow bravely.

There were numerous times in my past when in our drought prone town of Santiniketan, most plants could not withstand the heat and withered yet we could still harvest pumpkins and bottle gourds almost every week. For us Bengalis it's a big source of leafy greens.  

An everyday simple Bengali meal revolves around three basic elements apart from rice. Vegetable curries, Daal and Fish. The number of curries and fish preparation varry from family to family and choice of veggies are mostly seasonal. In our household following Maa I prefer to cook one leafy vegetable or bitter gourd curry, one vegetable curry, dal, fish and sometimes chutneys. And in the green first course pumpkin or bottlegourd greens appear regularly. 

Charchari was maa's signature dish. Every morning after watering her huge garden she would go around with a basket in hand to harvest all the mature vegetables. Definitely a big bunch of seasonal green would feature on that and later after prepping the veggies for the day she would pick all the over ripe matured vegetables like Paka Patol (ripe pointed gourd), poka begun (Brinjal with insect bites), Over matured carrots etc for her daily dose of Charchari. With just a handful of prawns or fish oil or bori (lentil dumplings) she would weave her magic around the pot and would prepare this steaming hot, soulful, satisfying curry.

The recipe is very simple. All you need is patience to cook the stalks on medium flame till all the juices dry up and it gets slightly charred. Add any vegetable you prefer starting from potato, brinjal, radish, pointed gourd, carrots etc etc. But we never add pumpkin to our data charchari as mashed pumkin gives it a sweet taste and makes it very mushy.

Here is her recipe that I often cook to relive those moments of pure love

Kumro Dantar Charchari

Stalks and shoots of pumpkin or bottle gourd plant with leaves: cut 4 cups
Potato: 1 medium
Carrot: 1/2 of a medium one
Pointed gourd: 2 (the ripe ones works too)
Brinjal: 1 medium
Radish: 1/3 of a medium one (optional)
Onion: 1 medium
Panchforon: 1 tsp
Dry red chillies: 2
Green chillies: 2
Mustard paste: 11/2 tbsp (From 2 tbsp whole mustard)
Oil: 3 tbsp
Sugar: 1/2 tsp to balance the flavour

Prawn: handful
Fish oil and gills: 1/6 cup
Bori (sundried lentil dumplings): 1/4 cup

Prepare the Pumpkin shoots and stalks
Wash everything under running water. Separate the leaves and rub your knife lightly on the stalks to remove all the hairy skin. Then cut in 1.5" pieces. If the stalks are very hard then make a slit from top to help it to absorb spices. Chop the leaves in big chunky pieces.
Cut all the other veggies except onion in thick batons.
If using prawn or fish gill mariante it with salt and turmeric for 15 minutes.
If using bori heat 1 tbsp oil and fry them on low till golden on each sides. Keep aside.

Heat the oil and once it starts to smoke add the panchforn and dry chillies. Let it splutter. Then add green chillies and sliced onion. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the prawn or fish oil, salt and turmeric. Cook for a minute and then add all the veggies except brinjal. Sprinkle more salt and turmeirc and mix. Cover and let it cook for 8-10 minutes. Stir in between.
The shoots will release a lot of juice in the beginning. Let the veggies get cooked in it's own juice. Once they look dryish and the stalks are tender add the mustard paste and mix. Check the seasoning and adjust by adding more salt or chilies.

Now add 3/4 cup of water and on medium heat simmer this till the gravy thicken. Here I must mention if the stalks have more leaves then the dish tastes best with little bit of coating gravy but when cooked mainly with stalks and shoots it's better to cook the dish really dry. This would require more oil to keep it moist and juicy inside.

Serve hot with steamed rice.

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