Tag Archives: Shanta Sacharoff

Savory Stuffed Pumpkin With Tamarind Rice

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the four seasons are not easily discernible, but come October, along with shorter days and cooler nights, fall fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, and a dazzling variety of squashes begin to appear in the markets. Among these vegetables and fruits one can find jolly, bright orange pumpkins, popular among cooks and children alike.

Pumpkin DishPumpkins are native to Central America and Mexico, but spread all over the world as they are easy to cultivate and very nutritious. They are low in fat, sodium and cholesterol, and high in important nutrients such as vitamins A, B, C, E, iron, magnesium, potassium and riboflavin.

Pumpkins come in a tremendous variety of sizes and colors. The most familiar color is orange, but some varieties of edible pumpkins are green, white, or even pale blue! There is also a beautiful variety of pumpkin called a “fairy-tale pumpkin.” The biggest pumpkins grown for carving into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, are not ideal for cooking. Smaller pie pumpkins that weigh 2 to 3 pounds, are better for soups, pies, or stuffing, as they are meatier, sweeter, and less stringy than large pumpkins.

Pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every culture. One of my favorite books that I read to my children when they were young was a folk tale from India retold by Betsy Bang and illustrated by her daughter, Molly Bang. In the story, an old lady sets out to visit her daughter in anticipation of being fed well. On the road, she meets three wild animals who want to eat her. She promises them that she will return later after becoming fat and much tastier. After a pleasant stay with her daughter, where she feasts on tamarind-flavored rice, the old lady prepares to return home. To protect her from the waiting animals, her daughter hides her in a large pumpkin and gives it a good kick to roll her towards home. The old lady in the pumpkin outwits the animals by singing “pumpkin, pumpkin, roll along,” asking them to give her another push until she reaches her home safely. The recipe presented below is inspired by memories of this story.

This recipe for savory stuffed pumpkin involves a four-step process, but the finished product is worth the effort. In addition to being delicious and nourishing, the baked stuffed pumpkin looks very festive!

Savory Stuffed Pumpkin with Tamarind Rice
Serves 8.
1 medium-sized, 2-2½ pound pie pumpkin
1 cup [white] rinsed and  drained basmati rice
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil

For tamarind sauce:
5 or 6 large tamarind pods or a lime-sized chunk of dry tamarind paste
2 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
3 or 4 dry chilies
(shake out and discard the seeds)
1 teaspoon shredded fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons crushed or powdered sesame seeds
½ cup roasted shelled peanuts
1) Prepare Pumpkin: Wash the pumpkin and dry. Using a sharp knife, cut a wide circle so that the stem  can be lifted off  the pumpkin like a lid. With a large spoon scoop out the seeds and fibres inside, being careful not to puncture the body of the pumpkin.

2) Steam the Pumpkin: Place a steamer basket in a pot with 1 cup of water and place the pumpkin with the hollow side down, with the lid next to it as shown in the illustration. Bring the water to a boil and steam the pumpkin for 20-25 minutes till the flesh is soft.

Let it cool. Use a large spoon to evenly scoop out approximately two cups of flesh. Set aside.

3) Prepare Rice and Tamarind Sauce: While the pumpkin is steaming, cook the rice. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and stir in turmeric, oil, salt, and rice. Cover and bring to a boil again and then simmer. Cook covered for 15 minutes, turn off the heat, and let the covered pot sit undisturbed.

Tamarind Sauce: If using fresh tamarind pods, soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Then remove pods, separate the pulp into the water and save the sauce. If using dehydrated tamarind pulp, soak for 15-20 minutes in warm water and blend the tamarind-water mixture.

4) Put it all together. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and whole red chilies. Stir in shredded ginger, tamarind sauce and sugar. Cook and stir for a minute. Add the pumpkin pulp and stir-fry for 5 minutes to blend in the tamarind sauce. Next, add the rice, stirring gently, so that the ingredients are not mushy. Stir in crushed sesame seeds and peanuts.

Fill the pumpkin with the rice and pumpkin mixture. Place the pumpkin lid on top and massage the skin on the outside with oiled hands, without pressing too hard. Pour about 1/4 cup of water into a pie plate and place the pumpkin in it. Slide the plate into the pre-heated oven.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the outside is shiny golden brown and the stuffing inside is soft and fragrant.

Bring the pumpkin to the dinner table. To serve, use a large spoon and scoop out the filling with some of the meat from inside the pumpkin. This dish goes well with daal or soup.

Notes:  (1) To serve as part of a large Thanksgiving dinner, prepare two pumpkins. (2) If using brown rice, cook 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water, but cook the rice for 45 minutes instead of 15 minutes.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student.

Brussel Sprouts the Indian Way

My older sister is a phenomenal cook! When she came to visit from India, she invented recipes from local vegetables that she had never cooked before. She had never seen brussel sprouts before, but she was intrigued by the shape and size. She called them nani-kobi (small cabbage) and came up with two recipes that can please even the fussiest eater. I modified the recipes to make them less spicy.

Brussel sprouts got its name because of its popularity in Belgium. According to Wikipedia, the first written reference dates back to the 13th century.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors Of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is a co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco.

Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts Curry
4–5 small red or Yukon gold potatoes
(about 1 ½ cups when cubed)
12 brussel sprouts
3–4 Roma tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 or 2 cloves of mince garlic
2 tsp minced or shredded fresh ginger root
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp or less salt
Juice of one lime
2 tbsp chopped cilantro for topping

Peel and cut the potatoes into approximately 1 inch chunks. Set them aside. Rinse the brussel sprouts and cut off their stems. As you cut their stems, some outer leaves will come out, discard them along with the stems. Cut the brussel sprouts into halves. (If they are really tiny, keep them whole.) Set them aside. Chop the tomatoes into small chunks and set them aside.

Next, heat the oil in a sauce pan and add the onion. Over a moderate heat, stir fry onions for a few minutes until they begin to get limp.

Then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir fry for two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir fry for a few additional minutes.

Lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for five minutes, then uncover and add a few tablespoons of water.

Break the tomato pieces with a wooden spoon to transform the mixture into a chunky sauce.

Now, add the potatoes and brussel sprouts to the tomato sauce and saute for two minutes.

Next, add powdered spices and salt, and continue to stir gently for a few minutes. Then cover and cook the curry for 15 to 20 minutes, over low to moderate heat, until both potatoes and brussel sprouts are soft. The mixture should simmer gently while it is cooking.

Uncover the pot every five minutes to check the consistency of the curry. Add a bit of water if the sauce is getting too dry. Add the lime juice and stir the curry gently to mix the ingredients. Top with chopped cilantro and serve hot with flat bread and/or rice.

Brussel Sprouts Pakora
12 brussel sprouts, cut into halves
1 cup of garbanzo or chick-pea flour (besan)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
a few pinches of ground cayenne pepper to taste
½ tsp (or to taste) salt
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
¾ cup or more water
2 cups light oil such as canola

Remove a few outer leaves of the sprouts and discard. Rinse and then cut each brussel sprout into half. Set them aside in a colander to drip off the excess water.

In a mixing bowl, combine the garbanzo flour, spices, salt and lemon juice. Add water as needed to make a batter that is thin like a pourable consistency.

Heat the oil in a wok or a heavy frying pan until it is very hot. Check that the oil is hot enough by dropping a small piece of batter into the oil. If the piece bubbles and rises to the surface right away the oil is ready.

Next, dip a few pieces of brussel sprouts into the bowl to cover them with batter. Slide the dough-covered vegetable pieces into the hot oil carefully. Turn the vegetables using a slotted spoon to cook them evenly into a light brown color. Then remove them from the oil and lay them on a platter lined with paper towels to drain off excess oil. Deep fry the rest of the Brussel sprouts in small batches until all of them are done. You may have some batter left over which can be refrigerated for future use. Serve hot or at room temperature with a green chutney; recipe to follow.

Coriander or Mint Chutney
1 cup coriander leaves (cilantro)
or fresh mint leaves, stems removed
½ cup chopped scallions, including greens
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
1 or 2 hot chilies, seeds and veins removed, chopped fine
1 tsp salt
½ cup plain yogurt (or unflavored soy yogurt) blended with ¼ cup of water

Place the ingredients in the jar of a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Keep it chilled until ready to use. If refrigerated in a covered jar, the chutney will keep for a week.

Gluten-Free Green Chapaties (Dhebras)

Indian wheat breads such as rotis, chapaties, puris and naans are world famous for their flavor. Back home, rotis are made fresh every day. Who can forget the taste of piping hot chapaties that our mothers served us? But if you are suffering from Celiac disease, or are gluten sensitive, you must avoid wheat breads.Scanned Document

Gluten is a protein component found primarily in wheat, rye and barley. It is the magic element in wheat that makes it stretchy and spongy when used to make bread. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include abdominal pain, headache, and skin rashes. Some people can eat a small amount of gluten with no adverse effects, but suffer if they eat more. Others cannot consume any gluten at all, and must avoid anything that is made in a facility that processes grains that contain gluten.

Whether one has a known gluten allergy or not, avoiding gluten can have other health benefits, as the food items containing gluten in our diets are often accompanied with unhealthy ingredients such as over-processed flours, and added fats and salt. Gluten-free cake and bread mixes are available in markets, particularly those selling health foods, but home-made versions of these foods are easy to make and often much healthier.

In the arid region of India, the state of Gujarat, millet, juar and corn are cultivated, because they require less water than wheat. All of these grains are gluten-free.

Freshly made millet rotlas are served daily in Gujarati villages. During the monsoon, when leafy greens are abundant, rotlas take a colorful turn to become dhebra.

To make dhebra, millet flour is combined with seasonal leafy greens, other flours (such as corn meal or garbanzo flour), salt and spices to make a bread dough. The dough is then rolled, pan fried with small amount of oil, and served with yogurt soup or a daal.  Instead of using millet flour dhebra dough is often made with khichadi (a dish made with brown rice and split mung beans) that may be left-over from a previous meal. Inspired by the memories of dhebra, I combined leftover cooked rice and quinoa. In place of fresh fenugreek leaves, I use watercress or other spicy leaves such as mustard greens, daikon leaves or radish leaves which are easier to find in the United States.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors Of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is a co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student

Dhebras Made with Rice, Quinoa and Leafy Greens


 1 cup of water
¼  cup white Basmati rice
¼  cup quinoa
1 cup firmly-packed very finely chopped
fenugreek leaves, watercress leaves, radish leaves or mustard greens
½ tsp coriander powder
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp whole cumin seeds or oregano seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup besan (garbanzo flour) or millet flour
Few tbsps of water, only if needed to make the dough
Additional few tbsps of garbanzo flour for dusting the dough
4 to 5 tbsps corn, safflower or peanut oil

Method for Basmati Rice with Quinoa

Prepare the Basmati rice together with the quinoa following the method below.

Both rice and quinoa are versatile grains, quick to prepare and easy to digest. The unique fragrance of Basmati rice, which has been attributed to the special soil in which it is grown, pairs well with the nutty texture of quinoa, a protein-rich ancient grain from the Incas of Peru. Both grains take just about fifteen minutes to cook, and the sticky texture of the rice compliments the nuttiness of quinoa perfectly.

In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, bring water to a boil. Add the rice and quinoa, optional oil and salt. Stir the mixture gently, cover, and bring the water to a second boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Uncover and check to see that the grains are cooked. If the grains are not soft when pinched between your fingers, add a few spoonful of water, cover again, and turn off the heat. In five minutes, the steam in the pot will finish cooking the grains completely.

Next spread out the cooked grains onto a platter to cool them completely (unless you are using leftover and refrigerated cooked grains).  You need approximately two cups of cooked grains for this recipe.

If  you wish to cook a bigger batch of rice and quinoa, just double the amount of water and grains, they will still cook in 15 minutes. Unused cooked grains can be refrigerated for future use.

Method for Making Dough

Wash the leafy greens and drain them thoroughly. Chop the leafy greens finely with a sharp knife or in the food processor using the pulse button very briefly.

Place the chopped greens in a mixing bowl and combine with the cooked grains, coriander powder, cumin seeds, garlic and salt.  Then add the garbanzo flour or the millet flour, a few spoons at a time to form the dough. The dough will be sticky but  it will start to form into a solid mass as you add more flour. If you are using previously cooked and refrigerated grains, the mixture may be dry and will need a few tablespoons of water to make the dough.

When the dough is formed into a ball, sprinkle two tablespoons of flour on a cutting board. Roll the ball in it to dust the surface of the dough with flour. Then apply a small amount of oil all over the surface of the ball.  Cover the bowl of dough with a damp cloth until ready to roll the dhebra.

Making Dhebras

To form the dhebra, divide the dough into six equal portions. Using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat circle. Lay each circle on a lightly floured surface and, with a rolling pin, roll the circle out to 4” to 5” in diameter. After you have rolled out two dhebra, you can begin frying them. Keep the remaining dough under a damp towel.

To fry the dhebra, heat a skillet over medium heat and place one of the rolled discs in the hot pan.  Cook for a minute, and flip it to cook the other side. Spread a teaspoon of oil all over the surface of the dhebra, flip again and cook for a minute.

Next, spread the same amount of oil on the other side, and cook for a few more minutes. Continue to cook on both sides, turning the dhebra several times until the surface turns brown and blisters begin to form. Repeat this process to cook the rest.

Keep the dhebras warm under a tea towel until ready to serve. Dhebras are delicious served cold, at room temperature, or reheated in the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes. Serve them with a curry, soup or salad.  Dhebrasmake good companions for a picnic, pot-luck or any meal.