Pumpkin Halwa | Happy Deepavali

Deepavali,  a sanskrit word meaning “A row of lights” is as much a festival of fun and frolic as much it stands for a deeper meaning. Celebrated as a symbolic of victory of good over evil, light over dark, knowledge over ignorance, it signifies freedom for the mind from the clutter of dark thoughts and spiritual illumination for the soul.
While in North India, it is celebrated to commemorate Lord Rama’s return with Seetha after his triumph over Ravana, the ten headed wicked demon who abducted her, Deepavali in many parts of South India is mostly celebrated over three days for different legendary reasons. The first day is Naraka Chathurdashi on the 14th day of the Hindu month to celebrate the victory of lord Krishna over the mighty demon, Narakasura. The second day is Lakshmi Pooja on Amavaasya (New moon day) to celebrate the rebirth of goddess Lakshmi during Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk) and lastly the third day, Bali Paadyami on Paadya (first day of the month)  to celebrate the victory of Lord Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf (vaamana in Dashaavataara) over the demon king, Bali when he was pushed to Paathaala, the netherworld.
Sitting miles away from home in front of the laptop, typing this post away, what I miss the most are the nuances of the festival that made it so special throughout my childhood and adolescent years.
Typically, the evening before Deepavali known as Neeru tumbo habba (literally translates to Water filling festival), bathrooms would be cleaned to a shine and decorated with flowers and rangoli and water be stocked up in as many huge containers and cauldrons as possible in preparation for the next morning’s Abhyanga Snana (full body oil bath). A huge copper cauldron full of boiling hot water heated through the night awaited us at 4:00 in the morning. After a customary Enne Shastra the “oil ritual”, a full body oil massage followed ending with an almost scalding hot water bath with Shikakai and besan only as soap. Dressed in brand new clothes smeared with a pinch of turmeric for auspices, mouth full of sweets, a lit incense stick in one hand and a favorite fire crackers in the other, rushing out the door to be the first on the street to burst them almost always make up the first of the mental pictures of my flashbacks of this day..
Today, I cannot help but recount and hope that I can relive those beautiful memories when my little girl gets to enjoy the simple richness of that experience some day..

Traditionally, Gulab Jamun and Vella Kozhukattai for sweets and Paruppu Urundai and Khara Sevai for savory have been the norm since childhood.
Food experiences make up for most of our nostalgic memories and as much as I miss celebrating the traditional way, being here in the US, I felt it was appropriate to celebrate fall and the festival of lights together in one! And Pumpkin Halwa has got to be one of the simpler sweet recipes calling for just five ingredients and the best way to do exactly that..

I wasn’t too fond of Pumpkin until my foray into blogging, when holiday recipes such as this Pumpkin Pie lured me into opening my mind and broadening my cooking/baking horizon. Since then, I haven’t looked back much when it comes to this sunset-orange autumn vegetable.

Verdict
None could tell there was pumpkin in it, even when they were certain that a vegetable was in there! I was quite pleasantly surprised myself with how instantly I fell in love with its mild taste, daintily sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth!

The recipe is so simple and unassuming that it might quickly become a part of your culinary repertoire without your knowledge. Just give it that first chance.

Wish you a Happy and Wonderful Deepavali! 

May this Deepavali brighten your lives with much joy, bliss, love, peace and serenity..

Pumpkin Halwa Recipe

(makes about 9 – 1 oz cups)

Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:
  • 4 tiny pumpkins or 1-1/2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
  • 1/2 can fat free sweetened condensed milk*
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1-2 tbsp ghee
  • skinned pumpkin seeds for garnish
*  (1 can = 14 oz or 396 g)  I use Borden – Eagle brand
How it’s done:
Wash and cut the tiny pumpkins in half, remove the seeds and pith and microwave cut side up for 5-6 minutes or until soft. Do not add any water. Let cool and scoop out the cooked pulp with a curved spoon. Mash this pulp for uniform consistency.
Heat ghee in a thick bottom pan on medium. Sauté mashed pumpkin for 10 mins or until rawness subsides. Add condensed milk and crush saffron between your fingertips into it. Cook stirring well intermittently until the Halwa comes together as one mass away from all sides of the pan or about 20 mins. Switch off and let cool. Take care to not let the halwa burn or brown.
To roast the pumpkin seeds, microwave on a plate for 2 mins in 30 sec intervals, shuffling them in between. Alternatively dry roast on a pan on low heat until fragrant.
Serve warm or cold garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds.

Notes:
If you can’t find tiny pumpkins, use the slightly bigger sugar pumpkins, they are also pulpier. Store bought pumpkin puree can also be used. It might take a little longer to cook as it has more moisture content.
Do not leave the stove to attend to other things or the Halwa can get burnt in a  jiffy. Stirring intermittently is an important thing to do.
If you are not a big fan of pumpkin seeds, feel free to use a garnish of your choice. I don’t see why ghee fried or roasted and slivered cashews, pistachios or almonds won’t go well.
If you don’t have ghee, substitute with butter. Whatever happens, please don’t use oil.

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Traditional Pongal Chutney

South Indian Rice and Lentils Risotto with Coconut Chutney

Being the ubiquitous food it is of South India coming a close second only to Idli and Dosa, it is not much of a surprise if in the name of ‘authentic’, one finds umpteen variations of Pongal. But for the most part, they cannot stray too far from a concoction of rice and lentils.

To me, authentic Pongal has only one definition and one taste – the way it was made in my grand dad’s house, where I grew up eating and hating every bit of it back then. Even as a kid, I would never eat Pongal when not well accompanied by a spicy chutney or some pickle. Just cumin and black pepper wasn’t spicy enough for my taste buds which remains not far from that even today and hence this post comes with a bonus chutney recipe too.
As a little girl curious in the kitchen and keen to assist and learn recipes from my aunts, I had a long list of foods I loved that I wanted to cook in my own kitchen someday when I grew up. But, my standard statement was always “Pongal will never make it to that list”.
Irony of present times is that I make Pongal more than I could imagine as a school goer. It also happens to be his favorite and if I ever ask him “what do you want for lunch or dinner?” I am sure of his answer even before he does. It will invariably be “Pongal” and I am like “duh”
Now that I am officially making a post on Pongal, need I say my liking for Pongal turned 180 degrees?
{Coconut Cilantro Chutney}
Before making Pongal the traditional way, make sure you have good quality Ghee at hand. Without Ghee for the seasoning, Pongal is not Pongal in my opinion. The creamy consistency of Pongal comes from short grain rice which has the ability to absorb liquids well to release starch and also cook faster. So whatever happens, stay away from long grain or other aromatic rices similar to Basmati if you want the traditional creaminess of the dish, unless of course that is the only rice you can lay your hands on!
Even if you take away the ‘luxury’ of Ghee, Cashew nuts and desiccated coconut, authentic Pongal is characterized by turmeric, asafoetida, cumin and black pepper. And, just because cumin is called for, do not presume so for mustard seeds as well, they are a no-no.
Pongal from my grand dad’s kitchen always has whole black pepper even till today. I, however prefer to use freshly cracked pepper as I hate to chew on a whole black pepper unknowingly. I figured, Ghee and desiccated coconut must have been added to balm away any dry heat from the black pepper, other than for the divine taste of course!
Although this is how it is made in most places, it is also not uncommon to find an Andhra version seasoned with ginger and curry leaves in addition to the basic spices. If you’ve never had a taste of this creamy rice and lentil ‘Indian Risotto‘, I bet the best place to begin is at a South Indian temple where Pongal is almost always part of the ‘Prasadam‘ distributed.

 {Pongal Ingredients; Guess the ginger look-alike in the background? It is turmeric root}
Etymologically, Pongal which means to ‘boil over’ or ‘spill over’ in Tamil, comes from Pongal, the harvest festival of South India (akin to Lohri/Lodi of the North). In rural parts, a pot of Rice and Lentils – the South Indian staple is boiled over typically on open wood fire as a thanksgiving to the Sun god for a good harvest.
At my grand dad’s house and my mom’s, on the day of this festival(Makara Sankranthi) Pongal is cooked in a traditional brass pot adorned with vermillion (kumkum) and turmeric root which is considered auspicious tied around the pot along with its shoots (hence symbolically in the picture above). On that day, Pongal or Venn Pongal is always accompanied by a sweet version ‘Shakkar Pongal’ or Chakkar Pongal cooked with jaggery, dry coconut and spices like cardamom and nutmeg.
I seldom make Pongal the same way every time.  Most often, the kind of Pongal I make everyday is never without vegetables, which could be anything that is readily available in my refrigerator from carrots to spinach to Hyacinth beans [papdi lilva / Avarekaalu (kannada)] to edamame beans to even broccoli and okraTasty Vegetable Pongal, a post that I made earlier is such a variation adapted for kids especially picky eaters like my little girl.
Best way to serve hot Pongal is on a clean banana leaf. It feels like food is so much tastier when eaten from a banana leaf.

Traditional Pongal Chutney Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
For Pongal:
  • 1 cup short grain rice (I used sona masoori)
  • 1/2 cup split yellow dal / moong dal
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk ~ optional
for the tempering:
  • 1 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black pepper, coarsely crushed fresh
  • 1/4 tsp hing/asafoetida (I use SSP brand powdered asafoetida)
  • 2-3 tbsp copra /desiccated coconut / grated dry coconut
  • 10-12 cashews broken into pieces
  • 4-6 tsp Ghee
For Chutney:
  • 1 cup grated coconut , fresh or frozen
  • 1-2 green chillies / Thai chillies
  • small handful cilantro
  • almond sized tamarind
  • salt
For tempering:
  • 1 tsp peanut oil (or any cooking oil)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida/hing
other:
  • Pressure Cooker
How it’s done:
Dry roast the yellow lentils in a thick bottomed pan over medium heat until fragrant and golden brown. Or, simply microwave for 2 mins at 30 sec – 1 minute intervals, spread out on a microwave safe plate and keep aside.
Wash rice a few times until water runs clear. Pressure cook the washed rice and roasted lentils with turmeric and four times the amount of water or 6 cups or optionally 51/2 cups water and 1/2 cup milk for 2-3 cooker whistles. Alternatively, bring water (or water and milk) to a boil in an open pot and add rice and roasted lentils. Stir intermittently to avoid boiling over. When rice and lentils seem half cooked, simmer partially covered until fully cooked. Add more water if required.
In the meanwhile, grate dry coconut and ready the seasoning ingredients for Pongal and also make chutney.
Grind together the chutney ingredients with enough water to a paste. Remove into a bowl. Pour a little water into the mixer jar and wash it off into the chutney bowl and set aside.

Once the cooker has cooled, mash the lentil-rice mixture using a whisk for a uniform runny consistency and keep aside.

For the chutney seasoning, heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or kadai over high heat. When oil is hot enough and shimmering, add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start spluttering, reduce heat to medium, add asafoetida and quickly empty it over the chutney. Wipe the pan clean with a tissue using a pair of tongs.

Now for the Pongal seasoning, heat ghee in the same pan over medium high heat. When ghee is hot enough (add a couple of cumin seeds to check), add cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add cashews and fry till golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Reduce heat to sim and add asafoetida, crushed black pepper and grated dry coconut quickly followed by the cooked lentil-rice mixture. Add salt to taste, mix well and switch off.

Serve hot with coconut chutney and/or your choice of pickle.

Shortcut method:
If you have a pressure cooker, start with the seasoning and then add roasted yellow lentils and washed rice to that and stir until rice is translucent. Add turmeric, salt and required amount of water (and milk) and close the cooker lid and whistle. Allow to whistle for 3 times before switching off. Pongal is ready when cooker cools off.
Don’ts
Do not heat Ghee at high heat similar to oil or it will burn.
Do not use Basmati or any kind of aromatic rice. Short grain rice similar to Sona masoori will do well.
Note:
If the cooked rice and lentil mix does not have the consistency of a creamy porridge, add enough warm water or warm skim milk to bring it to the right consistency.
The quantities mentioned here serve 2-3 people. To adjust quantities as per your needs, just remember to have a rice and lentil ratio of 2:1 and 3-4 times water. Eg. 1 cup rice + 1/2 cup lentil +5-6 cups water. Some prefer to use 1:1 rice-lentil ratio as well instead of 2:1. Suit yourself.
Quantity of asafoetida used is directly dependent on its potency which differs by brand. For example, SSP brand asafoetida (which I use) is strong, hence a little goes a long way while L.G hing is milder than SSP. So adjust accordingly depending on the brand of your choice.
Adjust the quantity of chutney ingredients as per your taste.

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Mango Strawberry Yogurt Granola Parfait

I know, I know, I have been away for a while now. Did you guess I was busy? Well, you are right in doing so. It seems, “Busy” is not quite an excuse for a mom, rather a state of life and more so if one has school going kids. No, I get it, let’s just say a mom is busy no matter what and everything else has to somehow fit in.
I sound dramatic, don’t I? Indeed! It was a big milestone for my little one as she started pre-school last week . My life is busier than before with my new job as the resident chauffeur and yet, I will get to have “my” time while she is away. So it is a win-win for both of us and hopefully it means many more frequent posts for you too..
Anyhow, I am glad to be back and this time, with a beautiful fruit combo in a healthy dessert and a guest post for a special friend.
A personification of her blog’s namesake, she is bubbly, she is enthusiastic and is the sweetest blogger I know of. Our friendship sparked off over a weekend of web photography session by Penny De Los Santos, virtually of course. And as we were learning together miles apart, it didn’t take too long before we started bonding over tweets. This to me (and many bloggers might probably agree) is one of the most beautiful gifts of blogging. There are some really lovely people to befriend and help you in the food blogging world.
And I am so thankful to blogging for having found me this wonderful friend. I only hope we can meet in person too someday.
So when she asked me if I could guest post, my instant reply was “Of course, I’d love to!
She is none other than the girl with bright eyes and a big smile, my good friend Kanakana Saxena of Sunshine and Smile
Blogging from the sunshine state of California, Kankana, a Bengali and a newly wed showcases recipes that she’s tried to woo her doting husband, though she claims he is a better cook! She comforts you with her laid back easy-going conversational style and stories from everyday life. Paapri Chaat, Whole wheat carom seed crackers, Gobi Manchurian, Watermelon cooler are some of my favorites among her vegetarian food fare.
So be sure to head over to her lovely blog for some sunshine, a smile, lot of interesting recipes and my guest post.
You can also find Kankana on twitter and facebook.

Here’s a quick link to the Printable Recipe as well.

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Sauteed Sour Plum Pickle

Sauteed Sour Plum Pickle

Have you ever tried this? Eat an Indian gooseberry and drink water immediately thereafter? If your answer is an all-knowing yes, I guess there must also be a tiny acknowledging smile on your face as sweet as that water would taste! Sigh! the simple joys of childhood…
A nostalgic memory recall as this is all it takes to summon a craving.
Well, if you haven’t, you must have done at least this for sure – chew gum and drink water thereafter? Not the best analogy I can think of, but recognize how cool the mouth feel is? I meant to correlate that fun part. Otherwise, it is a mellow-green translucent, gently striped sour-bitter fibrous fruit with a sweet after taste, its size ranging from a marble to a walnut. There is another smaller floral shaped tart gooseberry minus the stripes too, but for now I’ll stick to the bigger one. By size, that’s how we distinguished them anyways..
As kids, we loved eating gooseberries raw, simply sprinkled with some salt and ground black pepper or red chilli powder (akin to ground cayenne pepper). As my taste buds expanded their horizon, I figured they taste even better pickled, in preserves and relishes – sweet and savory quasi-similar to other acidic fruit. I have not been quite lucky yet to find fresh Indian Gooseberries where I live in the US. The closest that money can buy are frozen, but are not best suited for pickling.

{Sour Plums on a tiny skillet}
It was the first time ever that I saw sour plums and it was at a persian/mediterranean food market. But they looked so eerily similar to Amla (Nellikai) aka Indian gooseberry, that I felt a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach, must be the flashback of childhood memories and the promising possibility to re-create the food experience I so enjoyed during my school years. I won’t hesitate to say I wasted no time in buying them.
I knew little to nothing about them except for their uncanny resemblance to something familiar to me from childhood. Apparently, sour plums are nothing fancy but unripe plums with a palate cleansing sourness , sized tad bigger than bing cherries. To my surprise, they weren’t as sour as their look-alike, as I imagined. I did not taste before buying, I never really do.

This was my first attempt at pickling, to be very honest and I promptly borrowed my mom’s instant gooseberry pickle recipe where they are sautéed whole with the stone intact. Because this recipe is as simple as ABC, there’s not much to mess around. Only condition requires you to use dry-everything from jars to ladles to pans and spoons for the fear of spoilage otherwise. Moisture is also the number one friend of molds, you see.

Substitutes are just that substitutes, they never quite match the original. But then, cravings are stubborn things, they just don’t die without fighting hard, you know. Some cravings are easy to satisfy, as simple as go to the nearest market, get the stuff, cook, eat and be happy. But then there are others, for which even the most up-class markets can’t come to the rescue, for that matter. Not because one can’t afford to buy, but simply because one may be so far away from their homeland and foods so local, it may just be impossible to find them. Drooling for foods from childhood and waiting for the next fortunate time to satiate those tingling taste buds is all one can do.  And for those times, substitutes are the king, like Sour plums fill in for gooseberries here for an instant gratification.  In that attempt, I got to discover a new ingredient in old light, a win-win for me!
I know when I can buy a bag full of fresh and shiny gooseberries when I am in Bangalore. Till then,
Do you know of any place in the US where you have had luck with finding fresh Indian gooseberries?

Sautéed Sour Plum Pickle Recipe

Adapted from a recipe ideal for Indian Gooseberries (Amla / Nellikai).
Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 25 Sour plums / Indian gooseberries
  • 2 tbsp red chilli powder
  • salt
For the seasoning:
  • 3-4 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida / hing
  • 2-3 whole red chillies, seeded and broken into 1″ pieces
  • 3 pinches crushed fenugreek seeds / methi seeds
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of ground mustard ~ optional
How it’s done:
Wash sour plums and pat completely dry on a towel. Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or an Indian wok over high heat. When the oil is hot enough or shimmering, add mustard. When mustard begins to splutter, reduce heat to medium and add broken red chillies followed by crushed fenugreek seeds and give it a stir.
When red chillies turn dark brown (make sure the fenugreek seeds are not burnt or they’ll be very bitter), add asafoetida and turmeric and ground mustard quickly followed by the whole sour plums. Sauté on medium high heat until they become soft. Do not cover to avoid moisture from being trapped.
When the plums are soft (check with a fork or spoon), add salt and red chilli powder, give it a good stir and take it off heat. Let cool completely before transferring to a clean and dry jar. Store covered airtight in the refrigerator.
Goes very well with curd/yogurt rice. I would eat them as is any day though!

Note

This pickle belongs to the instant pickle category and tastes best when used within the first few days.

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