“Kumro” in Bangla means pumpkin. And “Chechki” is what a Bengali would refer to, when a vegetable or an edible veggie skin or peel, has been slow fried and cooked with nothing but tempered seeds and salt, and often turmeric powder. The seeds in Chechki is generally black cumin (nigella, kala jeera, kalo jeere), or mustard (sarson, shorshe) or the Panch Phoron (a bengali mix of 5 spices/seeds: cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black cumin and onion seeds or mustard).
Of all chechkis, Kumror Chechki comes across as the most commonly made daily food. Bengalis make and eat this with a lot of love. It is eaten at breakfast with luchi, porota or ruti. Or at lunch or dinner with hot steaming bhaat and the comforting daal. I preferred mine with daal, rice and an omelette! And isn’t that a treat?
Living away from our region, Ma made sure she fed as much from the cuisine, to make our living seem as closer to homeland as possible. Being the super easy recipe this one is, Kumror Chechki would appear often out of Ma‘s kitchen and on our dining table. Another reason was also because our pumpkin patch overproduced and so we had to do everything from regularly donating them generously to neighbors and friends as well as including copious amounts of it in our meals.
We Bengali’s can feast on a pumpkin plant like no one else. The flower petals are washed, dipped in a batter of besan (garbanzo bean flour), and deep fried to make yummilicious pakodas or fried snack called “Kumror Phool bhaja“. Then the leaves and most tender pumpkin twigs when cooked together with a bit of mustard or poppy seed paste, results in an amazing “Kumror Chorchori” (Chorchori refers to cooking up vegetables, occasionally with a dose of shrimp or fish, and cover cooking till done without adding water.) And Ma did all of this and more to utilize as much of the pumpkin produce she got from her garden harvest.
Interestingly, as many other regular daily recipes, kumror chechki has also been adapted differently in each household. Like every Indian mom cooks her own version of the comforting everyday lentils, each Bangali household has their own family recipe of a chechki. Chechki can be made in different ways. Please read footnotes after my recipe to know more on the variations possible.
The best part of the recipe is how it tends to cook a veggie all alone into deliciousness……without using much spices, herbs or overwhelming accompaniments that may hijack it’s natural flavors. The beauty is really in it’s simplicity. It’s a super easy, quick recipe that superbly fits in a diabetic diet, paleo diet, low calorie and low carb menus, festival recipes, and can adapt to days when you want to eat healthy, yet do not find enough time to cook an elaborate meal. My recipe was borrowed from Ma. It’s how she always makes it. Pair it with a humble dal (Indian lentil soup) and some hot steaming bhaat (means white rice in Bangla) or a roti (Indian flatbread), and you’re all set for supper!
Serves 3 to 4
- About 500 gm or 1 lb portion of a ripe orange pumpkin — washed, peeled and cut into cubes or fingers
- 1 medium onion — peeled, washed and sliced length-wise
- 4 or 5 Indian hot green chilies, slit length-wise or coarsely chopped — adjust amount of chillies based on your heat tolerance!
- 1/2 tsp black cumin seeds or nigella or kala jeera
- 1 tsp turmeric powder or haldi
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tbsp raw or regular sugar (for a caramelized color, sweet-nutty flavor) — *Optional
- About 1/2 US cup or 120 ml cooking mustard oil
- Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat and add 2 to 3 pinches of sugar. Wait for a couple seconds, till it melts in. (Sugar also helps balance acids in the food). Then quickly add the black cumin seeds, followed by onions.
- Saute for 1 to 2 minutes till onions are translucent.
- Put in the pumpkin pieces and chopped green chillies. Add turmeric and salt. Stir fry for about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Then turn the stove heat to low-medium, and cover cook the pumpkin in it’s own juices, till tender and almost done, stirring once or twice mid-way. (Overcooking can render the pumpkin too mushy. It’s ideal to cook them till soft enough and just done.). Add the remaining sugar, mix and take off from heat.
Tip: This dish is moist and semi-dry. When the pumpkins are just about to be done, and you see more moisture/juices in the pan, open cook on high heat for a couple minutes till excess moisture evaporates and till the pumpkin is cooked.
Most common variations of Kumror Chechki are:
- Satvik version: The completely “niramish” or satvik version is to follow the same recipe, but without the onions. I have also seen this chechki being made without adding turmeric powder. I however love the flavor turmeric adds to it.
- Adding potatoes: Potatoes provide extra body and taste to this dish. For aesthetic appeal as well as for ease of cooking both veggies together, chop the potatoes to match pumpkin pieces (cubes for cubes and fingers for fingers). After sauteing onions, fry the potato pieces for 1-2 minutes, before adding the pumpkin pieces. Follow the remaining cooking steps as is.
- Using Panch Phoron in place of black cumin seeds for infusing additional aroma and flavor. “Panch phoron” is the bengali mix of 5 spices/seeds: equal ratios of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black cumin and onion seeds or mustard, taken together. Use 1/2 tsp of panch phoron to substitute black cumin seeds (Nigella or kaala jeera).
- Chingri diye Kumror Chechki or cooking the pumpkin with shrimp: You’ve got to believe me, when I say the shrimps change the chechki into a heavenly delight! Clean, peel and de-vein 10 shrimps and marinate them with a little salt and shallow fry them in hot oil for 1-2 minutes and turn sides, until the shrimps curl, and are slightly reddish and done. Fish them out of the pan into a bowl and reserve for later use. Follow and proceed with the recipe for chechki, and add the shrimps just before cover cooking.
- This recipe can also be used to cook small and green pumpkins or squash or zucchini.
- Adding some grated ginger or garlic with asafoetida (Hing) for enhanced flavors. For using ginger, grate 0.5″ inch ginger piece and add them along with pumpkin pieces during cooking. If using garlic and hing, grate or grind 2-3 cloves of garlic and add them along with 1/4th tsp of hing with onions and saute.
- You may use your preferred choice of cooking oil, although mustard oil renders a subtle flavor to this dish that is unmatched.