The original version of this Bengali recipe uses white pumpkin (Benincasa hispida) that is cultivated extensively in India. It’s hard to find in the United States so Grandma Niloufer Gupta (see Notes) uses chayote, a gourdlike fruit, instead. Niloufer insists that ground spices cannot take the place of whole spices in this recipe. Besides, whole spices are not hard to find, she says, and many specialty markets have fresh, good-quality spices that are superior even to those at South Asian markets here. In the end, this simple dish is a knockout—the lightly spiced chayote blooms with flavor, the peas add a touch of sweetness to every bite, and subtle notes of coriander hum in the background.
- 1 pound (about 2) chayotes
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon golden mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 2 small red bell peppers, diced (1½ cups)
- 1 ounce cilantro, leaves picked off (¼ cup) and stems chopped (2 tablespoons)
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Peel the chayotes with a vegetable peeler and cut into quarters. Core and cut each quarter lengthwise in half. Chop crosswise into ½-inch-thick chunks.
In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Drop in a mustard seed; if it floats and starts to sputter, the oil is ready. Stir in the rest of the mustard seeds and cook until they are light brown and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss in the chayote and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Add the salt and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3 minutes. Add the butter, coriander, and fenugreek. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the chayote is almost cooked through. Add the bell peppers, cover, and cook until they release their juices, about 1 minute. Add the cilantro stems and peas and stir.
Simmer until the peas are heated through and the chayote is tender and cooked to your liking (bite into a piece to test), about 3 minutes. Don’t simmer the peas for too long or they will overcook and turn dirty green. Taste and add more salt or sugar if desired. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with cilantro leaves and let the dish sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld before serving. Enjoy this dish with whole-wheat tortillas available at Latin markets or specialty markets.