We hope you love this blog post as much as we do from Guest Blogger, Jay Henry. All of us here in the shop are going to give this delicious recipe a go!
Browsing for books
I’m not big on buying cookery books.
I know what will happen. At first glance, the photos are exciting, the ingredients intriguing, and the opportunities endless.
But I’ll get the book home, and after a good meal or two, it’ll be left to a long retirement on a forgotten shelf. Heavier cookery books can be really useful if you ever need to press tofu! But they’re an expensive and bulky way of completing that simple task.
So when I saw the slim volume Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals by Chitrita Banerji on sale in a charity shop, I thought very carefully before taking it home. It had no pictures, lots of writing, and talked about spices I’d not heard of before.
After 10 minutes trying to figure it out, the price made the decision for me: at £2 for this little book, how badly could it work out?
Bengali Cooking has turned out to be one of the most illuminating and addictive cookery books I’ve ever read.
For me, I love how it gives you more than recipes: practical advice is just one part of the story she weaves about traditional Bengali cuisine. Rooted in centuries of lived experience, influence, and culture, every recipe is invigorated with a rich and vital context.
More importantly for rme, many of the recipes demand relatively few technical skills - the art Banerji brings is in the complete mastery of spice and sequence. If you can measure ingredients and follow simple instructions carefully, this could be a book for you!
Even though I can’t enjoy everything Bengali cuisine has to offer - the many fish recipes are completely lost on vegetarians - Banerji’s book has been a real eye-opener.
Pumpkin and coconut
Banerji’s recipe for ‘pumpkin and coconut’ showcases a great way to make familiar veg a bit more exciting.
One method I learned from this recipe was how to cook the spices. Banerji tells us to mix most of the ground spices with milk (in my case, oat milk) before adding them to the pan; a sprinkle of garam masala is then added when everything else is cooked. Preparing the dish like this creates some interesting layers of flavour - the chilli leads to a potent but smooth background, allowing the nutty garam masala to make a big impression on your tastebuds.
It’s well worth a go! So - take a look below for the the recipe I used from Banerji.
I’ve made a few adjustments. Most obviously, you’re unlikely to find an authentic pumpkin in Prestwich - I’m told that kumror chokka and misti kumro would be the go-to varieties in a Bengali household.
But you really can use whatever’s in season - butternut squash, acorn squash, even sweet potato. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to stock up on your desiccated coconut from Village Greens!
Serves 6 as a side dish
2 tbsps neutral oil (such as rapeseed or sunflower oil)
1 pumpkin or squash, around 700g
Desiccated coconut, 250g
Milk, 120ml (non-dairy alternatives also work well)
Chilli powder, 1 tsp
Ground coriander, 1.5 tsp
Ground cumin, 1 tsp
Dried curry leaves, 6 whole
Sugar, 1 tsp
Salt, 1 tsp
Garam Masala, 1 tsp
1. Prepare the pumpkin or squash. Chop it into pieces, remove the skin, and remove the goopy innards. Grate the flesh: either by hand, or with a food processor’s grating attachment.
2. Prepare the spices. Combine the coriander, cumin, chilli powder, curry leaves, sugar and salt with the milk. (Let it stand while you’re starting to cook).
3. Over a medium temperature, heat the oil in a large frying pan with high sides - a wok is perfect if you’ve got one!
4. Put the grated pumpkin into the oil pan. Keep it moving, making sure that it doesn’t burn or stick - lower the temperature if it’s cooking too quickly.
5. After about five minutes, add the desiccated coconut, and continue to stir. The coconut should gently toast, without burning.
6. When the pumpkin is nearly cooked through and the mixture turns light brown, add the milk with the spices.
7. Continue to stir until all the liquid is absorbed - if the pumpkin still isn’t cooked through, it’s fine to add a bit more water or milk.
8. When the pumpkin or squash is cooked, add the garam masala.
You can serve this as soon as it is ready. Any leftovers will keep well for several days.
How to use it
This dish will work fine as a meal in itself; you can serve it with rice, roti, naan, or whatever bread you have. If you’ve got the time, it works well in combination with a spicy red lentil dal.
For me, Banerji’s Pumpkin with Coconut reminded me of the value of a good cook book. We’re lucky to live in a time where recipes are so easily accessible at the other end of a search engine. But it was only by actively reading Seasons and Festivals that I came across this dish - I’d never have typed the key words into google on my own.
I was lucky to come across Seasons and Festivals in a charity shop. For a book that’s almost all words it’s been an inspiring experience!
So - give it a go! And let us know how it goes when you do! 😀
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