Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Our New Pumpkin Patch

Halloween spirit at its finest-- near my sister's house in Ithaca, NY
For many miles around, my former neighborhood in St. Louis was the soul of Halloween.  It was the time of year when we unified and gathered before some people wearily went indoors--for the rest of the winter.  Also, it was a holiday that all our neighbors could celebrate as it had no religious tone to it--just fun, festive, and embracing to all cultures.  Everyone of all faiths were welcomed and felt included. Most houses were decorated, and one was considered somewhat curmudgeonly if there was not a pumpkin in the front to show a little Halloween spirit. Lake Forest was the prime place to be on Halloween night, and some trick or treaters drove many miles to have the tour of winsome, magical, and a few ghoulishly decorated houses.  It was a guaranteed good, safe time.  

In front of our house last year, never imagining we would be carving Iranian pumpkins in Qatar in one year.

At our annual neighborhood party, there was even a hay ride to give a tour of the spirit-filled houses.  Lights blinked, and were lit up for the holiday.  For several years my husband even dressed up like a hobo and handed out candy on the curb--with a roaring fire to warm any celebrators on a chilly Halloween night.   I have hosted many a party to celebrate the bewitching autumn holiday that is a prelude to winter.
Our new pumpkin patch, all the pumpkins hailing from Iran.
This season I am trying to find new ways to get my "autumn fix" here in Doha, Qatar.  There is certainly no autumn foliage or pumpkin fields that are a sea of orange and green to behold.  But this last week I have discovered some gems that I can frequent all year long: the open air markets (one is Souk Waqif--Qatar's Grand Bazaar).   To me, the world becomes alive in markets, as merchants proudly show their wares, and give tips and recipes to their enthusiastic customers.  The market offers a feast to the senses--even if it has a odorous fishy smell at the Qatari Wholesale Market.  It is no matter.  I am at a market.

My aim today was to obtain some pumpkins to carve with my family--a critically important tradition that I, for one, do not want to miss--even in Qatar,   Today my neighbor, L., and I  found them, nestled on the top of the table--not bright orange, mind you, but they were pumpkins that hailed from Iran (I think they resemble a large butternut squash, don't you?).   However, I deem them lovely so I positioned them proudly on my new front porch.



Spruced up for a Qatar Halloween
One of the interesting things about the market and even the grocery stores here is that you know exactly where your vegetables and fruits come from.  Today I bought sweet potatoes from Egypt, avocados from Kenya, watermelon from Iran, tangerines from Jordan, onions from India.  The merchants are all from southern India, in the southern region around Kerala,and they eagerly served us four at a time (see a previous post on Many Hands Make Light Work).   


In every grocery store, there is a world tour of countries where the produce comes from.  It comes from Australia to Norway, and South Africa to New Zealand.  Qatar can only grow a few vegetables and fruit--mainly cucumbers and dates.

The older gentleman from India pushes a cart around the market when you buy heavy boxes of produce or large pumpkins.   I couldn't help but laugh to myself when he plucked some dates from one vender and grapes from another so we expats could taste their fruit. The merchants did not glare as he went by with handfuls of fruit from their stall--accepting the fact that the old cart-pusher was only trying to advertise their food.  



Our cart pusher arranging our produce. 
Two of the vendors were choosing, weighing, and bagging our produce, while another was cutting pomegranate or mandarine tangerine slices to taste.  When I didn't have enough change, Salim, the fruit vendor said, "Just pay me next time."  I did finally give him the exact change because I don't like to owe anybody money.  But I was hooked.  I will be there "next time" very soon.

Since I am a marketeer at heart, and love to hear tips on how to spice up some veggies, here is a recipe:

                  Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Couscous

1 Tab olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large red onion, sliced thickly
l large pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, chopped coarsely
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 cups prepared couscous with 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
(You could also try one or two apples that are cut up, and some pine nuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and heat oil in medium baking dish; cook garlic, onion, pumpkin, stirring, until vegetables are browned lightly.  Add spices, cook, stirring, about two minutes until fragrant.  Roast pumpkin mixture, uncovered in the oven, about 15 minutes or until pumpkin is just tender.  Add pumpkin mixture to couscous, stir in parsely.   

So go make some pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, or eat a dinner in a pumpkin.  You can have pumpkin pie for dessert.