We are very similar but very different. We speak dialects of the same language, eat foods made from the same ingredients but cooked differently, sing the same folk songs but adapt the lyrics based on whether we are Hindus or Muslims. But where we are still very different is in the way we perceive each other. “They” are Bangladeshis and “we” are Indians and vice-versa. Deep inside our heart, we are all “Bengali” but that is overpowered by the tangible political border and intangible cultural border separating our two countries.
Bangladesh or former East Pakistan was part of undivided India. After India got its independence, it became a part of Pakistan. Finally in 1971 Bangladesh got its own independence after suffering a horrific and largely undocumented genocide at the hands of the Pakistani army that would make the Nazis look like flower children. In those dark and turbulent days, India was flooded with Hindu refugees escaping targeted mass murder at the hands of Razakars, roving bands of killers sponsored by the Pakistani armed forces.
My grandparents and some of my uncles and aunts were among those refugees who crossed the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Living as refugees in India, they didn’t have the luxury of eating good food and couldn’t be picky about the ingredients. It was a question of pure survival; they ate whatever was edible. If possible, they even made the inedible edible. Years of struggle and deprivation fostered recipes which bore the indelible stamp of being poor man’s food. Magically, many of these were unbelievably tasty. The refugees of East Bengal made delicious curries with vegetable peels, roots and leaves, fish bones, shrimp heads and even the water hyacinth that abounded in our land of lakes and ponds. Gradually, these survival foods became delicacies in their own right and today we write blog posts about “potoler khosha bata” (stone-ground pointed gourd peels) and “lau er khosha chNechki” (stir-fried bottle gourd peels). Forty years after the horrors of 1971, these foods have finally lost their “refugee” stigma and are bona fide components of Bengali cuisine (although you might still hear an occasional snicker or two from the housewives of old North Calcutta families – “E baba, oi shob abar bhadrolokey khay naki?” or “My goodness, would a gentleman ever eat those things?”).
Among many recipes which were invented by these unfortunate refugees is daal cooked with pumpkin peels. I have adapted my recipe from Simon’s ‘pet pujo and adda’. She has a soul touching story with the recipe. Feel free to cook it either way. This is the first time I had daal cooked with pumpkin skin. In fact this is the first time I cooked something with pumpkin skin as an ingredient at all, although this will become a staple in my kitchen from now onwards. A big thanks to Simon for the wonderful recipe.
There is not much to measure. Eye ball the ingredients. I am writing the approximate measurements.
Red lentils/Masoor daal: around ½ cup
Pumpkin peel: around ½ cup as well. I kept a little bit of flesh with the skin
Kalojeere/Nigella seeds: ½ tsp
Mustard oil/olive oil/vegetable oil: 2 tsp
Green chili: 2 nos.
Dried red chili whole: 2 nos.
Salt to taste
- Wash the lentils with several changes of water.
- Start boiling 1 ½ cups of water. Once the water comes to a full boil, add the lentils.
- Add ½ tsp of turmeric and keep on boiling for several minutes. Take the foam/scum out while boiling the daal.
- Add the pumpkin peels when the lentil is half done.
- Add salt and the green chilies. Let the lentil cook for several more minutes until the peels are cooked. Check for salt and adjust accordingly. If you like your daal to be thin, add more hot water.
- In a separate pan heat up the oil. Once hot, turn the flame to medium or the spices will burn. Add the Nigella seeds and let them sizzle a bit.
- Add the dry red chilies and let them darken one shade.
- Add the Nigella seeds and the red chili-oil mixture to the boiling daal and immediately cover the pot. Turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered for few minutes and then serve with white rice.
- You can add a pinch of sugar if you want, I didn’t.