Sunday, 20 January 2013

Guest Post: Tales from the Vegetable Patch

New on the Blog for 2013, I'm pleased to welcome Tales from the Vegetable Patch; musings and recipes from a keen gardener who also loves to cook and eat. First up, a lovely tale of pumpkins and Caribbean cooking... 


On an earlier trip to my mother’s homeland of the ruggedly beautiful Trinidad she brought back with her some seeds from a home-grown pumpkin. A healthy mother-daughter competition ensued to see who could reproduce the largest fruit. Naturally I won and the glorious golden beauty pictured above was one of three – sadly the other two didn’t ripen thanks to another typically sunless British summer (but made great Halloween carvings; no-one knows what colour they are in the dark!). Such was my marvel at successfully growing pumpkins for the first time that I allowed this voracious plant to take over one half of my vegetable patch leaving precious little else to flourish. Such is the over-enthusiasm of the novice gardener, we tend to pay attention to what is succeeding to satisfy our grow-your-own greed. Nevertheless I’m proud of my pumpkin and determined to make the most of the situation. Out of the rows and rows of (almost too) perfectly round orange pumpkins lined up in supermarkets in back in October, I wondered how many are actually eaten for their nutty sweet flesh, rather than mutilated for the ghoulish holiday from across the pond that us Brits have so eagerly embraced.

Seeing as this all started with mum’s visit to Trinidad, it seemed fitting that I devoted my home-grown triumph to a "Trini-childhood favourite" simply known as pumpkin n roti. I’ve never been one for exact quantities in recipes, especially when it comes to Caribbean cooking, but here goes. The recipe for the pumpkin is really simple and goes well with an equally simple West Indian flat bread, roti.  

1. The pumpkin I used was approximately the size of a small football and made enough to feed 6 people. Remove the skin, de-seed the pumpkin and roughly dice

2. In a large pot, soften 2 onions, 3-5 cloves of garlic, 1 red chilli (small or large, depending on taste) finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of garam masala and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.  

3. When the onions have softened down, add the chunks of pumpkin with a mere splash of water. Cook down until the pumpkin is very soft and gooey (this takes approximately 30 - 40 minutes). 

4. For the roti, sift 500g of plain flour into a large bowl with a small pinch of salt and a large pinch of baking powder. Add cold water slowly until a relatively sticky dough is formed. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, then divide into 4 pieces and leave to rest for an hour or so. 

5. Roll out into round discs, as thin as possible, using enough flour so they don’t stick. Smear margarine all over in a thin layer (don’t be tempted to use real butter; it needs a looser fat and a little water content to make this work) and cut with a knife from the centre of the circle to the edge and roll round into a rough cone. Tuck the ends under so you’re back to a rough ball shape. Repeat with all 4 pieces of dough and put into the fridge for 30 minutes. None of this needs to be exact or precise so if you end up with funny shapes it’s not the end of the world! 

6. After 30 minutes roll out your dough balls as thin as you can. Heat a large flat heavy-based frying pan with the merest coating of plain oil. When hot, put your rolled roti on and brush the top side with a thin layer of oil. When it starts to bubble up after a few minutes, flip it over. Traditionally it’s kept on a warm plate scrunched up in a clean tea towel to keep hot and also to give it that characteristic flaky appearance.


You can find more foodie musings and tales from the veg patch by following @Ezby81 on Twitter.