Dappalam (pumpkin stew)

Fall evokes warm fuzzy feelings and cravings for things cinnamony or sweet. And it sure does entice our thoughts toward ghastly looking creatures and plump pumpkins of autumn harvest.

…I guess it is time for a hearty pumpkin stew with chockfull of wholesome veggies that is sure to make our tummy, hauntingly happy!

Dappalam is a stew traditionally cooked with pumpkin along with bottle gourd, eggplants, sweet potato, okra and Drumsticks possibly because these are in season locally but it can be prepared with any vegetable at hand.

The sweetness of Pumpkin is perfectly complemented by the sour juice of tamarind and the heat of green chilies. And the rice flour added towards the end mellows the slew of flavors and brings out the earthiness which is signature of this dish.

For some reason, in all of our childhood stories – the ones which were told on dark starry nights, ghosts took up residence on tamarind trees... whenever we neared a tamarind tree the rush was indescribable as was the thrill of ghoulish adventures and the nightmares that followed. So, I felt it is apt to talk about tamarind in the Halloween month.

Unlike sweet Tamarind, the one that is meant for cooking purposes is pucker-inducing tart and imparts sharpness to the otherwise mildly sweet dishes. Tamarind pulp is an important ingredient in most of the south Indian recipes especially in dals and stews where as in the North, Amchur (dry mango powder) is the chosen ingredient for this use. Though they both taste sour, each adds its unique flavor. Amchur is easy to use in stir-fries because of its powdery form and has a slightly metallic tinge to it.

Tender tamarind sprigs which begin to bud with the arrival of spring are made into many beautiful dishes combined with either dals or vegetables or meat and are considered delicacies as these tiny first leaves are available for only a very short time in the year. Tamarind leaves too are sour and if we happen to pass by a tamarind tree, we reach for the leaves, pluck a few and nibble & relish just like candy!

Preparing tamarind extract

Tamarind pulp comes in a compressed bar form or is readily available as a concentrate or paste in a jar.
Break lemon-sized tamarind pulp from the bar into pieces. Rinse and soak the pulp in a cup of hot or warm water. And set it aside for at least 30min. This softens the pulp and makes it easy to extract the juice.
Squeeze out as much juice from the pulp as possible with your hands into a separate bowl. Repeat the process by adding more water to the pulp until there is no more juice left to extract.
Sieve the extracted juice into a fresh bowl. You could store this juice for up to a week in the refrigerator.

If you are using the concentrate, you can simply put the required amount directly in the stew when we come to that part.

serves 4.

Half of small pumpkin
Half of a small Bottle gourd
Onion – 1 medium
Okra - about 5
Egg plant – need about 1/4 cup to ½ cup of chopped egg plants
Sweet potato - 1
Drumstick - 2
Green chilies - 4 (slit length-wise)
Ginger - 1 tbsp (finely minced)
Tamarind extract - 1 tbsp (adjust to taste)
Salt - to taste
Turmeric - ½ tsp
Rice flour - 1 tbsp
Oil - 2 tbsp

for seasoning

Oil or ghee or butter - 2tsp
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Red chilies - 1 (broken into pieces)
Fenugreek seeds - ½ tsp
Kari leaves - a sprig
Garlic - 1 clove (crushed)
Asafetida - a pinch

Preparing the vegetables

Pumpkin: cut in half. Remove seeds and strands. Peel the shell and discard.
Cut into medium-sized pieces.

in the pic, you can see the spongy part of the Bottle gourd piece which contains seeds is separated.

Bottle gourd: It is a summer squash shaped like a bottle. It tastes mildly sweet.
It is better to pick a smaller one which is tender with seeds and fiber not very mature.
Peel the skin and discard. If the squash is not tender, we can easily remove the spongy part along with seeds and discard. Cut into med-sized cubes.

Sweet potato: peel skin and cut into med-sized cubes.

Eggplant: cut into med-sized pieces.

Okra: Trim the stem & tail and discard. Cut 2 inch cross-wise pieces.

Onion: cut into medium sized chunks.

Drumstick: Scrape the skin slightly. Trim the ends. Cut cross-wise pieces which are about 3 to 4 inches in length.
Drumstick or munagakaya (as we call it) is a woody vegetable with translucent pods nestled in a soft green flesh in the inside. The outer skin is very fibrous. Tender drumsticks are prefered as the pods and flesh in them are baby soft.

The way we eat it after having cooked is to suck the sweet juice out of the drumstick piece… while it breaks open, scrape the soft flesh with teeth and eat it along with the pods. Then we chew on the woody outer skin until it’s pretty dry and spit out the pulp. It kind of feels messy, but it is one of those simple pleasures where time stops and you just forget everything else around you and indulge in for a wee little while.

I forgot to take a picture of the inside, but you can see it here and read more about this nutritious and medicinally rich plant.

We grew up with a huge Drumstick tree in our backyard and have many interesting stories around it, one being dodging the spiky caterpillars that cover every branch of this tree and lose their grip and take free falls from time to time… eeks!

cooking the vegetables

Heat the oil in a sauce pan. Add onion chunks and green chilies. Cover and cook until the onions are translucent but should still hold the shape.

Add all the chopped vegetables along with finely minced ginger. Sprinkle turmeric and salt.
Mix well. Cover and cook on low-med heat. Keep stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft. They usually get cooked in the water that oozes out of them. But if necessary add little water and let them cook until they are done.

Add tamarind juice and mix carefully to not mush the vegetables.
Adding the sour tamarind juice before the vegetables are cooked slows down the cooking process. That is why we add it later.

Don’t cover the pan now. Let the veggies simmer and soak-up the juice for about 10 min.
At this point if you feel the stew is too thick, add water and adjust the salt & tamarind juice to taste. It is like a balancing act to get the sweetness, tartness and saltiness of the dish just right.

The best way to go about it if you are hesitant is to add everything little by little and balance until you get the desired results.

Mix a tbsp of rice flour in half-cup of water and stir-in. This serves as a thickening agent and gives the stew a creamy consistency. All-purpose flour or Besan (chickpea flour) can also be substituted for rice flour.

Let it cook on low-flame for about 5min. Sprinkle cilantro sprigs and remove from heat.

Seasoning the stew

Take a wide skillet and set it on medium heat. Add oil or butter or ghee. Once the oil is hot enough, add red chilies. After a couple of sec. add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and then cumin seeds and a crushed garlic clove. When the mustard seeds are beginning to splutter, add a pinch of asafetida and Kari leaves. Hold a lid or spatter screen over the pan so that the seeds won’t splatter all over.

Pour this mixture into the stew and mix well.
Serve with rice or enjoy a hot bowl of this stew with a toasted slice of bread on a chilly evening.

~ The acidity of tamarind reacts with metals like copper, tin or aluminum. So, it is better to store the juice or concentrate in glass containers.
~ Fresh Drumsticks can be hard to find it here. But frozen drumstick pieces are always available at Indian groceries.

Are you still with me? ( ' v ' )
It looks elaborate but once the vegetables are cut, it is very easy to make.
Hope you’ll give it a try with an assortment of veggies that are available to you.

Have tons of fun carving eerie eyes and wicked smiles too ( ^ w ^ )


Sujata said...

Yummmm... I am feeling warm just reading and looking at pictures. Not to mention all the drooling that went on too!
I will certainly have to try making it this weekend!

Candace said...

What a gorgeous dish and beautiful post, Pratima! I have ordered a variety of Indian spices online so I can make some of your incredible dishes for Mr. Squash and I! Thank you so much for a beautiful, inspirational recipe!

Martha said...

This recipe sounds delicious -- your instructions are always easy to follow and your photos are so beautiful and professional (as usual). Thank you for taking the time to share these recipes with all of us.

Nanette Merrill and daughters said...

What a great cooking lesson. Loved reading about the tamarind and seeing your methods in photo as well as in written form. I really love soup this time of year. Squash is my favorite but I love pumpkin soup too. I'll have to show this to Natalie. Thank you!