Twenty years back when I left behind my home, my family and my childhood to begin a new life in this country, I had no idea how much I would miss the everyday things that I took for granted: the hand pump which spurted out water with every squeeze, the call of the cuckoo which drove me crazy in the wee hours of the morning, the pink lilies that lined the walkway that led to our front door, the neem leaves that brushed my windows, the gourd vines that spread their arms and legs on our terrace, the street vendors that broke the silence of the late afternoons…
the list can go on forever.
When I walked out of that front door, I hid my tears as I sat on the back seat of the car as all the neighbors walked out and waved me farewell. The wonderful people who cradled me, loved me and talked to me every single day of my twenty years that I lived there – they faded away slowly. All I could see were the blurry faces and the outlines that disappeared behind me. I had dared not look back.
All I could think of, or rather not think of when the final call of the airplane boomed through the departure lounge was how could I live without my parents, my family. None of us were prepared. It happened so suddenly that we never got to make plans, or never even had the time to allow it to sink in. The distance. The thoughts of getting used to another life so far away overwhelmed me. How could I start another life in a place where we did not know a single soul? There were more than seven seas between us. We were way more than a phone call away.
Yet it was my decision.
I had to look forward to the new beginning, a fresh life, different in every way I could think of, but together with whom I had wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I had received my gilft.
While I sat alone by the window of our tiny apartment and looked out at the snow that slowly covered the earth, I thought of how I would lay on my bed and watched the moon rise. I thought of what my baba, ma and my grandmas would be doing without me. I calculated time and lived the moments by only taking myself back into the routine of the days and nights I left behind. And I cried. I missed them so much that it ached. Not that I did not like it here. I was loving the life, exploring the new with the love of my life. But I did wish that there would be way to shrink the physical distance between the two homes.
After a few months when I got used to missing home and calling my parents at odd hours of the night, I started missing the food at home. That is when my experiments in the kitchen began. The novelties of the ice creams and chocolates and the abundance of other things had worn off. We got used to the snow. We knew how the large grocery stores were layed out. We had begun to feel at “home”.
We had started making friends. Young people just like us who moved here to start another life. We found solace in talking about home and what we left behind. We helped one another and we grew.
Soon I was trying to fill in the gaps. I started a little garden in the backyard of our apartment. The breeze of the garden conversed with me in a language from back home. Over the years I have tried to grow a lot of things that are termed exotic here, but grew around the house almost wild.
It has been another twenty years. This year marks the almost equal time that I have spent back in India and here. This is my home now, surrounded by my family and comfortable flavors of familiarity. I have tried to find and fill what I have missed and many wishes have been fulfilled. My heart leaps to see the fresh green pumpkin or ash gourd vines sprawled around my yard – bringing back sweet memories of the leafy green covered terrace of my home back in India. We have harvested every squash blossom and plucked out tender leaves to cook all that I had loved.
This is a simple side dish from back home. I grew up learning to use every part of the plants: leaves, blooms, fruits and peels. Sayantani has talked about foraging in her post - exactly my thoughts, so I will not repeat them here. It only seemed natural to eat what we grew and what we found and to use all of it. Fresh food nurtured without waste.
This can be made with any of these leaves: pumpkin, ash gourd, bottle gourd, butternut squash. All these leaves have the same texture and flavors.
Kumro/Lau Pata Bata: Spiced Pumpkin/Gourd Leaf Paste
Ingredients: (serves 4 as side)
- about 10 medium sized tender leaves of pumpkin/ash gourd/butternut squash (select leaves which are still young, bright green and not as rough: younger leaves near the tip of the growing end tend to be less coarse)
- 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon oil (pref. pure mustard oil)
- 1/2- 3/4 teaspoon kalonji/nigella seeds
- 1-2 red dry chilli pepper (remove seeds if you do not want spicy)
- 2-3 hot green chili peppers (remove seeds and membrane if you do not want spicy)
- 1/2-3/4 tablespoon chopped garlic
- salt to taste
- more pure mustard oil to drizzle
Note: You may use any one of the chilli pepper or both. The dry one adds a smokey flavor, and the fresh ones a more refreshing one. The combination is the best, but picking either one will work too.
Roughly tear or shred the leaves.
Wash the leaves well. Heat the oil in a pan/wok/kadai. Add the dried chilli peppers and then the slit green ones (save one for garnish). When the chillies start to turn brown, add the nigella seeds. When the seeds sizzle, add the garlic and allow them to turn golden to light brown and then add the leaves and a little salt to the pan.
Toss everything together so the spices coat the leaves. Cook uncovered at low heat for a couple of minutes. Toss again and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. The leaves are going to soften in its own liquid so cook just until they are slightly tender. The amount of the leaves will reduce and they will soften. If still not done, and the liquid has dried up, add a splash of water, cover and cook again.
Once done, remove from heat and cool. Process/blend the spices, garlic and leaves to a paste. Do not add any extra water or it will be runny. It should be more like a spread.
Remove from blender/food processor. Adjust salt. Drizzle some pure fragrant mustard oil over it and garnish with more sliced hot green chillii peppers.
Traditionally it is served with steaming hot rice. But you may serve it whatever way you want.
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy
Serves: 4 as a side
- Lau-er Khosha Bata: Chutney with Bottle Gourd Peel
- Mashed Pumpkin/Butternut Squash
- Mulo Bata: Raw Spicy Radish Paste
- Mulo Bhaja: Lightly Tempered Stir-Fried Radish
- Mulo Shaag Bhaja/Sautéed Radish Greens (Two Ways)
- Pickled Chili Peppers
- Pnyaj, Tomato diye Posto: Onions & Tomatoes cooked in Poppy Seed Paste
- Roasted Eggplant with Sun-dried Tomatoes
- Sautéed Cabbage and Sweet Onions with Almonds
- Sautéed Chard with Pine Nuts
- Shaag Bhaja: Amaranth Stir Fry