The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
If I were to pick one vegetable to showcase the ingenuity of Bengali cooking, it would be pumpkin. My love affair with this gourd started young, as I watched my mother
grow her own vine so that she’d have every part of the plant available to cook. From frugal stir-fries, to hearty hashes using the tender shoots and stalks, to fritters made of plump blossoms, to fish wrapped and steamed in its fuzzy leaves, the humble pumpkin never disappoints.
This summer, I sowed a handful of seeds with my child from a store-bought pumpkin in our 13th floor apartment in Mumbai. They germinated in no time. It’s been a while now, and the sight of a lush vine replete with abundant leaves invading the balcony grill has got us excited. My five-year-old asks for bora (pronounced “baw-ra” in Bengali, and is known as pakora in Hindi), or fritters made of the tender green leaves, coated in batter, and deep fried to a crisp. Poppy seeds add a distinct textural bite to these golden fries, per the instruction of my mother over the phone.
Traditionally, fritters such as these are prepared in pungent mustard oil, and eaten as part of a multicourse meal, where they play a supporting role alongside runny dals or lentils. And if you can’t find squash leaves in your neck of the woods, this versatile batter works just as well with squash blossoms, or any thinly sliced sturdy vegetable you may have hiding in your crisper drawer.
Here’s how to make squash leaf bora:
Select the most tender, spotless leaves, wash them, and gently pat dry—about 5 large squash leaves should be enough to serve two.
Make the batter: Take about 1/4 cup chickpea flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. nigella seeds, ½ tsp. poppy seeds (optional), ½ tsp. ground turmeric, a sprinkle of salt, and enough water to make a lump-free batter—just thick enough to coat and cling to the leaves.
In India, fritters are typically prepared in a kadhai, a heavy-bottomed iron wok that can hold plenty of oil. A sturdy cast-iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan works just as well. Add roughly 1 inch neutral oil (vegetable, canola, or sunflower all work) to the pan and set over medium heat. . Test the temperature by dropping a pinch of the batter into the oil. If it immediately puffs up and floats on the surface, you’re good to go.
Gently coat the leaves in the batter, and deep fry them one at a time over low heat until they’re puffy and golden brown on both sides.
Pair your pumpkin leaf fritters with warm khichdi or dal and rice. Or eat them as is, like my toddler does. Life comes full circle indeed.