Pumpkin shoots with eggplant – al kanjji te wangun

As we move to bigger urban centers, and into smaller and smaller lots and apartments, we are removed more and more from the food we eat, from the act of growing our own food.  Much of what was once common in every home garden is gradually getting lost, at least to us city folk.  My parents maintain a small garden patch in their urban lot and even in that tiny space my mom forages for amaranth.  Yes, forage; they don’t grow it from seed, it just volunteers!  When we were younger and had a large kitchen garden inside the IITD campus,  kulfa (purslane) was another green found growing wild.

My father and his brothers are avid gardeners.  Even in the constraints of their urban homes, you will find them pottering around.  My uncle, in Pune, gardens out of huge planters on his rooftop growing runner beans, and Kashmiri favourites haak, sotchal (common mallow), and monjji (kohl rabi).  I have been very lucky, despite an urban upbringing, to have grown up in a home with a garden, and knowing a little about how food makes it to the table.  In my own typical city house I grow herbs in pots, I have a curry leaf tree and a lime tree, and grape vines that climb up the pergola on my first floor terrace.

Many wild greens used to be part of a regular Kashmiri diet – abuj, vopal haak, vasta haak, hund, to name just a few.  Today, I would be hard pressed to even identify them.

urban foraging: wild mallow
Sotchal (common mallow), on the left, foreground. Photo credit: Kritika Walia

Once a fortnight I walk to the Laxmi Nagar subzi mandi in the evening –  a 20 minute walk.  The neighbourhood super markets stock only common vegetables and fruits.  This week I needed some jimikand (elephant-foot yam) for avial.  I usually make the trip on a Wednesday or Saturday, the days my regular subziwala, who stocks only greens, brings special varieties like scochal, haak, and bok choy.  This Saturday I found mounds of pumpkin shoots as also shoots of bottle gourd.  I called my mother and in the background cacophony of the noisy street market it was agreed that I should buy some and bring them to her the next day.

Sunday afternoon I was at my parents’ place.  First, we all sat down to a cup of shir chai.  Later, I helped mom prep the shoots and leaves.   We wished there had been some baby pumpkins in there.  She also mentioned how delicious the flowers are, batter-fried.  Then she was a blur of activity.  Mom cooked the shoots in a simple stir fry with eggplant exactly like she cooks sotchal.  I got half the portion to take home.  Dad stepped into the garden and returned with fresh haak that I cooked for lunch yesterday.  For lunch today I thawed fish cooked with monjji (kohl rabi – this too was from dad’s garden) that mom had saved for me and the son – the last serving of fish until September.  That is a lot of different greens for this week! [PS: There was malabari spinach in the mixed veggies for dinner!]

in the kitchen with mom!

The other day I was out with my class at Purana Quila, and I came across a wide carpet of sotchal growing in a swale!  I could identify it only because I had seen it growing in my father’s garden. There might be an opportunity for urban foraging in Delhi, but the tragedy is that few of us in the city can spot an edible green from a weed.  What we can do is to try and grow, even if in pots, some of the lesser known greens and reconnect with some nutritious foods that were staples in our grandmothers’ kitchens.  Easier still, we can start with familiarising ourselves with all those ‘weird’ greens that the greengrocer has on offer in the mandi.

Go out, find your pumpkin patch, and bring in an armload of the tender shoots and leaves, and try my traditional Kashmiri recipe, al kanjji te wangun – pumpkin shoots with eggplant.  Pumpkin shoots are cooked all over Asia and Africa. You could try a Malaysian style masak lemak pucuk labu, pumpkin shoots cooked with coconut milk, or this simple Thai stir fry (with pictures explaining how to prep the leaves).  The Nepalese cook them much like Indians, with oil and spicesThis recipe for mukimo, a Kenyan potato mash, contains within it hints of an Indian infusion.  The comment section of this post is full of suggestions on how to cook with pumpkin shoots – there is even a chutney from India!

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

There is some effort involved in preparing the shoots.  First, remove all the tendrils and discard.  Also discard tough stems and very large, coarse leaves.  The top 2 inches of the shoots are good as they are, snap and keep.  Retain any baby pumpkins that might be there on the shoots.  You have to now ‘string’ the remaining stems and fuzzy leaves.  Break the top of a shoot and gently pull it down the stem and all the way to the leaf.  You may use a knife to pull at the strings or outer skin of the shoots, if you prefer. Repeat till all the tough skin, strings, and fuzz are removed.  Tear leaves into two or three pieces and crush lightly in your fist.  Chop the stems into inch or inch and a half long sections.  Rinse and drain.

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

Al kanjji te wangun
Pumpkin shoots with eggplant

500gms tender pumpkin shoots (before prepping)
1 medium eggplant (the long, slender kind), medium diced
a few green chillies, snapped into two pieces
1/4 cup mustard oil
a pinch of hing
1-2 dried red chillies, broken into two pieces
1t Kahsmiri mirch powder (cayenne pepper) or to taste
1t Kashmiri veri masala (can be found at Durga Masale at INA market in Delhi; you may substitute with garam masala but it is not the same)

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

Heat oil in a karahi or a heavy bottomed pan. When it starts to smoke add the eggplant pieces. Fry the eggplant, stirring all the time, till the pieces are golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. To the hot oil add a generous pinch of hing. Add the prepared shoots with the chillies.  Stir.  Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and cover.  Cover and cook on medium heat, for 5 min.  Remove the lid and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant and stir gently.  Cook for a few minutes till the shoots are tender (not mushy).  Serve with steamed white rice.

al kanjji - pumpkin shoots

19 thoughts on “Pumpkin shoots with eggplant – al kanjji te wangun

  1. I want itttttttttt!!!! Baingan is my super fave! Mommmyyyyyyyyyyyy
    I love the simple prep of the recipe…yummmm!!!!!

  2. Looks like wangun is used as a vegetable to balance a lot of Kashmiri dishes with texture and form. Either that or you folks just like wangun a lot!

    The closest I can get to pumpkin shoots is when my neighbor grows pumpkins high up in his aspens and I’m too afeared to go pick some shoots! What do they taste like? Mustard greens? Bland? Like spinach?

    On and now, you can now make your own coconut milk and use it to cook pumpkin shoots in coconut milk. (And, you’re very welcome!)

    One more thing, got strainer yet or no? 😀

    We just love baingun!

    They have their own taste – comparable to common mallow – see if you can find that wild! Remember to ask your neighbour for some shoots when his vine spreads everywhere.

    I think I will give the coconut milk recipe with the shoots a try, now that we all know how to make coconut milk! The strainer – now what do I need that for? Surely not for tea?

    1. No, I guess Kashmiris don’t have any use for strainers for tea. They either use their mustaches or their teeth. Who needs man-made implements when we have God/evolution-given ones, eh?! ;-D

      Smart, no? Just like you!

  3. Such a nice, simple dish- highlighting a delectable treat- and another use for veri masala! There is an abundance of shoots from various gourds available here in the farmers’ markets in summer- bottle gourd and pumpkin- even karela shoots! And of course, anyone who grows these plants in their garden would have an abundant supply from prunings- as I have in the past- but, sadly, this veggie-part is almost unheard of in most European cuisines! They are lovely raw as well!

    I am so going to ask my father to grow pumpkins next year! Haven’t tried them raw…you will try anything. But I do want to try some of those recipes mentioned in the comments of that link.

    1. 43 comments! I’ll need to read through them sometime… I also just remembered seeing the Laotians serve these (raw) with certain kinds of soup (with noodles maybe?). In a similar way to Viet pho, and their basil-sprigs, the tender tips are swirled in the hot broth to quickly wilt, then nibbled.

      Now, Chandrima has suggested a bong recipe with shorshe!

  4. You do know how to make everyday food totally irresistible!

    And yeah, about the home gardens, I remember leaning from the window of my bedroom in my childhood home (on the second floor) and picking runner beans for the day’s lunch. I sorely lack a green thumb though. My curry leaf plant and mint and basil plants are limping along.

    I know how that can be – i had a friend who managed to kill even the hardy money plant!

  5. Dear Anita,

    I have been reading your blog for a few years now. My first success was trying to follow your recipe for Modur Pulao a couple of years ago for my nephew’s wedding in Australia. My very first attempt became a success. Al kanji and wangan has reminded me of Vosta haakh. My dad used to grow vosta haakh in my garden in CA. I had saved the seed and had some success last year-it grew very well but the yield was very low.
    My Dad is not around any more and this year I tried the remaining seed from his cultivation from over 2 years now. It has not grown at all. I don’t know what went wrong.

    Anyhow,my question to you is this? How come you don’t share any non-vegetarian recipes ? Meat and Fish are favorites of Kashmiris. We even cook meat and Fish on Shivratri………..

    Thanks for reading, Jayadidi. That easy modur polav is my mom’s super recipe!

    Old seeds are not viable sometimes unless stored very carefully.

    Half my family (husband and father in law) are vegetarians, so it is sometimes difficult to plan meals that can suit everyone without requiring too much time in the kitchen. I do make a mean nenya kaliya and have been meaning to write about it. Soon, I hope!

  6. loved the recipe, also found it interesting that kashmiris eat pumpkin shoots and flower with batter, something that is also a delicacy in bengal! tender pumpkin leaves and hilsa in mustard paste and with mustard oil- using steam technique to cook-excellent taste, you can try. Also we do kumror shag (pumpkin= kumro in bengali) with posto bata (khus khus- poppy seeds paste). In bengal also lots of different varieties of greens are eaten, mostly grow in back gardens without much ado 🙂 my mother is a compulsive gardener and she kept feeding us different types of shaags (green leaves).

    I have been meaning to try my hands at a posto – might as well be kumror shag! On one Kolkata visit I picked up jute greens and made delicious pakoras with the tender top leaves! I love poi saag too – my Bengali maid spotted in my garden and taught me how to use it in a Bong mixed veggie.

  7. You are so right, compared to my mum and grandmum, I can identify so little of the greens and when faced with the sea of green at the green grocer, pick the familiar ones, mostly palak and methi. I am trying to change that esp. when a few weeks back I could not answer my son’s question about the names of some greens at the market!!!!

    As my thumb never has been or will be any shade of green, I plan to tap on to my mom’s knowledge on the next visit and experiment making more varieties of greens….hopefully here too I will read about more varieties…thanks for this post, Anita.

    Once you get some recipes from your mum, share them with us!

    Not only am I going to try to cook with all the different greens I can find, i am also going to ask my Dad to grow some of the less common greens!

  8. I love pumpkin shoots. My family uses it with dill to make it come together well. We also make simple sabji just with red chilies and of course peanut powder.

    We are very lucky to find it in local farmers market during summer. I will start seeing them in market in few week also hoping to get some plants out of my compost this year. The point is, I will be trying this very soon!

    That is an interesting combination, though unlikely in Delhi – we get pumpkin shoots in summer and dill in winter!

    Oh, you must share your pumpkin shoots recipes – especially the one with peanuts so that I can make it this summer! Looks like you will have loads of pumpkin shoots this summer!

    1. Interestingly enough the dill + pumpkin leaves bhaji is made on every Saturday in Shravan and also the day Gauri comes during Gauri-Ganapati festival. Both the times served with Jowar Bhakari.

      I will translate the recipes from Marathi to English soon.

      Look forward to the recipes, Mints!

  9. Love your/your moms clean kitchen. All the greens and the details….enjoyed reading as always.

    Sometimes pictures make things clearer – I also noticed how clean and uncluttered her kitchen is! It was not set up for the camera specially – she started to cook, and I thought I ought to take some pics…

  10. Anita, I made this bhaji this week, thanks to farmers market I found fresh eggplants and pumpkin shoots. It tasted awesome. I did not have special Kashmiri Masala so I used my mom’s garam masala. I loved the taste of the combination but I think I will use mustard+olive oil combination next time as it was bit strong for us.

    This is a keeper recipe for me. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Your blog is awesome and This dish looks very yummy. My maternal grandmom used to cook this.. Also there used to be loads of Abuj growing in their house compound. Is it possible somehow to add pictures and English ( hindi/ marathi) names of all varieties of greens Kashmiris used to eat. Khol Knol,Badh Hak, vopal Hak, voste Hak, sochal, Abuj,Leese, hund etc. also leaves like these pumpkin leaves.

    Frankly if I go to market today I won’t recognise these even if they are being sold!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s