Pumpkin & Brinjal (Eggplant) Stew

It started out so well. The city enjoyed a bright and sunny weekend. Blue skies; gorgeous golden light. Away from home, the SF Giants swept the World series last evening.

Then came the night. It all went to hell pretty quickly.

Reports started to emerge of “Celebration rioting” across various neighbourhoods in the city. People tweeting about fires and getting hit in the face with beer cans. Rabid fans trashing cars and dumpsters and public transport. People aggressively searching for fights in the street, looking to trash anyone who didn’t look as jazzed about the win as they were.

I come from a country where rioting expresses public outrage. The frustrations of living in a country with many races, vast economic differences smoulder just beneath the surface. It takes but one unhappy spark to ignite the tinderbox. Riots occur as an outlet, when the common man is past endurance, out of fear and unhappiness. They stem from anger and long-seeded frustrations. When one is unhappy, one lashes out at anything for any reason. You want the world to feel your pain.

Why would anyone riot as an act of celebration? Wouldn’t happiness want to spread with acts of kindness and generosity? Why should happiness be so destructive? I can find no explanation.

The next morning dawned cold and grey. Gone was the sunshine of the weekend. The city seemed moody, as if confused by the conflict. The news of the East Coast hunkering down for one of the biggest storms possible did nothing to alleviate the nameless fears that had held me captive in my nightmares the previous night. As the day wore on, the storm began wrecking havoc along the coast. I prayed for friends and family on there, wishing them cover and warmth. I looked to Twitter for updates, hoping all was well. That was a mistake.

As great as social networks are, misinformation abounds. At times like this, for someone who is already terrified and powerless to help, too much information just feeds the fear. Then there are those clueless or callous few who just don’t know when to keep away from social networks. And there are others who are just waiting to heap scathing vitriol on such pitiable fools. Retweet after retweet, cursing each other out.

Few take the high road anymore. Few focus their abundant energies mainly on prayer and faith that those they care about will pull through. Precious few are concerned about curbing their negativity instead of putting it out there in the world in a time of crisis. In the real world, people were irritated and tense today. It is like the fog has taken a grip on our collective psyche.

My mind, it had had enough. I left work when the day was done and took a few long, deep calming breaths. I focused my thoughts on the few good interactions of the day, on good advice from a trusted colleague, on smiling compliments from another, forcing myself to forget all other unworthy exchanges. As I stepped off the bus and walked home, the mist hung low and clung to me like a cloak, threatening to wrap the dread around me once more.

Then I heard it. A joyous sound. The uninhibited laughter of a gaggle of children.

When we were children, sounds like these were heard every evening, rising from the streets and building perimeters. The sounds of gathered children at play. It has been a while since I heard such sounds. They stopped me in my tracks. I walked towards the source and saw what looked like a pumpkin convention. Dozens of pumpkins lined up on the sidewalk while an equal number of kids attacked them with plastic knives. Occasionally, a knife would break and the child would run to the two adults around, laughingly brandishing the broken knife, looking for a replacement. A couple of kids horsing around smashed into a third’s pumpkin. Instead of being mad or bursting into tears, the child tackled the other two with a whoop and all three of them collapsed on the sidewalk near my feet, giggling away. No ill will, no name calling, just everyone getting along on a make-shift playground.

I smiled at the adults, helped them pick up a still giggling child, waved to them and walked on home. Children – they will always show you the way.

I got home, then proceeded to turn on every light in the house to cut through the dank grey outside my window. Then I walked into to my kitchen, the space that can always lifts my spirits. There was a bright orange pumpkin and a couple of luxurious purple eggplants sitting pretty on the counter. I gathered some spices in my mortar and crushed them with a pestle, the act of the pounding release some of the knotted tension I didn’t know my muscles had been gathering. The smell of the spice oils was calming aromatherapy. There was some staccato wrangling with the pumpkin and some fluid dispatching of the eggplant and soon everything felt the blaze of the sizzling oil as it hit the bottom of the pot. After some rapid stir frying, they were joined by a can of tomatoes, some yellow lentils and some chipotle chillies. There they all stayed, simmering away, until softened by the gentle but persistent flames. The pot full of goodness spread its aroma and magic through every lighted room.

I’ve done what I can. I’ve unplugged from social networks. I’ve cooked up a few good things. I’m huddled up next to the only person who can chase away my fears with a hug. I’m breathing slowly and deeply.

Perhaps tomorrow, the storm will have passed. The prayers will have worked. Everyone who has been in harm’s way will be safe. And perhaps, just perhaps, the world will learn to get along.

Pumpkin and Brinjal (eggplant) stew
Source: Own recipe
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

For the spice mix:
Mustard – 1 tsp
Celery seed – 1 tsp
Caraway seed – 1 tsp
Nigella seeds (kalonji) – 1 tsp
Cumin seed – 2 tsp

For the stew:
Bay Leaves – 2
Cinnamon – 2 sticks
Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
Garlic paste – 2 tbsp
Pumpkin – 1, small, cleaned, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
Brinjal (eggplant) – 2, small, cut into 1″ cubes.
Chipotle en adobo – 2 tbsp
Red chilli flakes – 1 tbsp
Mexican oregano – 1 tbsp, crumbled

Toor dal – 1 cup
Water – 2 cups
Asafoetida – a pinch
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Whole canned tomatoes – 28 oz can, pureed
Oil for frying
Salt to taste

– Boil or pressure cook the toor dal, turmeric and asafoetida in two cups of water until softened.
– Take a large pot or dutch oven and place it over medium heat.
– Crack the spices using the mortar and pestle. Add them to the pot, along with the bay leaves and cinnamon and dry roast until you can smell them toasting.
– Add the oil to the pot, and fry the spices for a minute. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry for another minute.
– Add the pumpkin and the eggplant pieces. Toss to coat in the ginger, garlic and oil. Fry for about 15 minutes, until eggplant just starts turning brown.
– Add the dal, the pureed tomatoes, chipotle en adobo, Mexican oregano and chilli flakes to the pot. Stir to mix. Add salt to taste.
– Cover and lower the flame to under medium. Let cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
Serve with some couscous or rice. Optionally, you can strew over some pine nuts and dig in with a spoon.

Cook’s notes:-
This recipe originated from a pumpkin and the eggplants from my CSA box, and leftover dal base in the fridge. Everything else evolved around this. This recipe is essentially a guideline. Spices that usually play well together were combined. I added the chipotle and oregano because, quite frankly, the dal addition was making everything begin to taste like sambar, and I didn’t want sambar that night. Just those two ingredients took the flavour a different way.
Don’t worry if you are missing one or two spices from the list. Use what you have. You’ll still end up with a delicious albeit slightly different stew. You could use a variety of squash instead of pumpkin, or turnips instead of eggplant. Playing with your food can yield some pretty tasty results.

Comments are closed.