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Saying It With Flowers: Remembering Barbara, And Indian Style Pumpkin Blossom Fritters

Posted Jul 16 2012 12:00am

I
didn’t know her very well. My friendship with her was limited to interactions by e-mail and on Facebook and Twitter. I read her blog posts (Winos And Foodies) occasionally and first met her (virtually) when I won a bid on a book on photography that she had sponsored for a fundraiser . That led to our discussions on and off about our mutual interest in photography.
Barbara was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and her highly popular event “ A Taste Of Yellow ” was her way of supporting the LiveStrong Foundation and raising awareness about cancer through food and blogging. She finally lost her long battle with it 2 weeks back, on the 29th of June. She had just come out of surgery for a collapsed lung. I did not need to know her better than I did to know of her passion for good food and photography, how kind, nice, dignified, courageous and cheerful she was even when during the times when things weren’t all that good with her health.



(Image courtesy Barbara's FB profile )


She once wrote a meme on her blog about the “5 Things To Eat Before You Die” and the last item on that list was her “87th birthday cake”. Today would have been her birthday, and even though she isn’t here to celebrate it, I’m happy to celebrate her spirit and courage by dedicating this post to Barbara. May you continue to be happy but at peace and free of pain and suffering wherever you are.

Jeanne and Meeta are dedicating this month’s edition of the Monthly Mingle to Barbara’s memory with the theme “A Taste of Yellow” and I hope I’ll be seeing you all there. Every season brings with it fresh vegetables and fruit. One of the things that make an appearance in the local market here in summer, for the space of 2 to 3 weeks, is the pumpkin flower. Now I come from a vegetarian cooking tradition that makes ample use of pumpkin but for some reason we don’t cook with pumpkin flowers. I only discovered that one could cook with pumpkin flowers when my Dad used to tell us stories of his childhood friend in Kerala whose mother who would cook with them. Turns out they were originally from Goa.




I’ve been seeing pumpkin flowers at my market for the past few years but never thought of cooking with them.  Never having seen anyone I know cook with them, I didn’t know what to do with them. This year I took the plunge, and bought a couple of bunches of pumpkin flowers. Here in Goa (and along the Konkan coast ), these pumpkin flowers are used to make Bhoplachya Foolanchi Bhaji (Stir-fried Pumpkin Flowers) for which you need a really huge bunch of flowers or Phodi which are fritters which you can make with a smaller bunch of flowers which is more likely to be what you have unless these are growing wild and with abandon in your backyard. Phodis are usually made by rubbing/ marinating the flowers with a spice mixture, then coating them with semolina and pan frying till they’re crisp.




I understand that pumpkin flowers are very much part of the food culture in the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal . There they make fritters (both stuffed and plain) with pumpkin flowers which they call Kumro Phool Boda/Bhaja (Bengal) or Kakharu Fulla Bhaja (Orissa). Think of an Indian style pumpkin blossom tempura and you have an idea about what I’m saying.




I decided to make some fritters, the plain kind, and this recipe is all my own and so is not authentic or representative of the fritters made in the mentioned states. In India, a favourite batter for making fritters is one made with chickpea flour and rice flour so that’s what I’m using here. You could add a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the mix if desired. If you would like to fill them you could use a spiced mashed potato and pea mixture or spiced paneer.
Indian Style Pumpkin Blossom Fritters
Ingredients:

12 – 15 pumpkin blossoms 3/4 cup chickpea flour (besan) 1/4 cup rice flour 1/4 tsp turmeric powder 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste) A large pinch asafoetida 1 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp kalonji/Nigella seeds Salt to taste Oil for deep frying

Method:
Trim the stalk and the sepals off the bottom of the flowers. Gently open each one and remove the yellow coloured stamen carefully. Carefully wash the flowers and lightly pat them dry. In a bowl, put all the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and mix up a batter by adding enough batter to give it a rather thinnish coating consistency – think of something like the batter for tempura but just a little bit thicker. Heat the oil in a wok and when it is ready, dip each flower in the batter and gently slide it into the oil. Fry well on both sides till golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve warm. These are normally served on the side with rice and lentil curry, but they’re just as good with a steaming hot cup of tea. This recipe would serve 3 to 4, but frankly speaking, I could eat them all by myself!

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