• Payal Maharaj

Mum's Special Pumpkin Curry


When I was young I absolutely detested eating any curry from the squash family of which there are many. I just did not enjoy it at all. Apparently, when I was young I wrote an essay about how much I hated pawpaw (papaya) curry. My mum still laughs about this. Of course now that I am older and my palate has matured (ahem), I love these same curries! One of them is my mum's special pumpkin curry. It is perfectly cooked. Spicy, salty and sweet in all the right ways!

We usually get our pumpkins from my Nani's (maternal grandmother) garden. My grandparents love to garden. They used to own a sugarcane farm back in Fiji so gardening is sort of in their blood. Anyways, we usually get our whole pumpkins from them. We also sometimes get them from the local Asian store. They usually sell them in halves or quarters. It is important to pick a ripe or mature pumpkin. As in, the insides should be a beautiful orange and the outside also has to be a beautiful rustic orange. It is possible to make this recipe with a less ripe pumpkin too. It would not be as sweet but just as delicious. We typically make this pumpkin curry during special events. Especially weddings. It is a must-have during weddings. My Nani had collected quite a number of pumpkins to cook for a big prayer event she was hosting. This event of course was cancelled due to shelter-in-place orders so Nani had an excess of pumpkins and was giving them away. What do you do when you have an excess of pumpkins? You make pumpkin curry of course!

So the pumpkin rind tends to be tough. In order to cut through a whole pumpkin, you will need your sharpest big knife (yes, I don't know the names of all the knives). Carefully make an incision at the top and slice down the length of the pumpkin. Then do the same thing on the other side so the pumpkin is sliced in half.

I have also seen folks sort of throw the pumpkin on the ground in order to crack it open. So I suppose it is up to you whether you want to knife it or throw it on the ground with your superhuman strength (of course make sure that it doesn’t crack into too many pieces and there is some sort of covering on the floor to collect all the pieces in). Alright. Moving on. You have a sliced pumpkin half. This is usually makes enough pumpkin curry to feed a family of 4-6. You can wrap and store the other half in fridge for later use. Once you have a pumpkin half, clean out the pumpkin seeds and stringy bits out with a spoon. You can use the pumpkin seeds for something else if you want or these can be discarded. Then slice the pumpkin half into smaller crescent moon slices. These slices should then be peeled with a knife. Your basic potato peeler will not be able to handle pumpkin rinds.

Once peeled the pumpkin slices can be broken down into smaller cubes. About 1 x 1 inches should be good. The cubes will not be cubish exactly but you get the idea. The sizes should be as equal as possible otherwise the pieces will cook unevenly. If the pieces are too big, then it will take longer to cook and if they are too small, they will cook too quickly and the flavors will not incorporate as thoroughly as it should.

Once you have pumpkin pieces, you can wash them and have them drain in a colander. In the meantime, start your pot. Add oil. Once oil is heated, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Once this sputters, add diced onions and let edges brown. Add garlic and ginger and chilis if using. Let this cook until aromatic. About a minute or two. Add your pumpkin pieces, salt to taste, mix well and cover. Keep stirring to make sure pumpkin does not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. The pumpkin will start to cook down. Once the edges start to look softer and the insides become tender, add water. The pumpkin pieces need to break down completely. The pumpkin will become mushier and mushier. It will boil and bubble away.




Once the pieces have become mushy, give it a taste and add a bit of sugar if needed. A bit of sugar is added to this dish to enhance the natural sweetness of the pumpkin. If your pumpkin is sweet enough then this is not necessary.

Also, add some tamarind juice. Tamarind juice can be made by soaking 1/4 cup of tamarind pulp in some hot water and sort of mushing this with your fingers until juices get released. Only juice should be added. I believe regular grocery stores carry tamarind paste now and this can be substituted as well. However, because it is a paste and concentrated, less should be used. If you don't have this, lemon juice can be added instead. Once all the pieces have broken down completely, the liquid will start to cook off. Let the liquid cook off until there is no liquid left at the bottom of the pot. Basically, move a bit of the pumpkin curry to the side of the pot and if there is no liquid pooled at the bottom, then pumpkin is done! Add a handful of cilantro for freshness and garnish. And there you have it Mum's Classic Pumpkin Curry!



I like to eat this with plain rotis (see recipe link below) or pooris which are like little fried puffed rotis (recipe forthcoming). Can also be enjoyed with plain rice and maybe some tamarind chutney on side!

RECIPES:

Ingredients:

-one half pumpkin diced into 1 x 1 inch cubes

-2 tbsp olive oil

-handful of curry leaves (optional)

-1 tsp of mustard seeds

-1 tsp of cumin seeds

-1/4 onion diced

-1 tbsp crushed garlic

-1 tbsp crushed ginger

-2 Thai chilis (optional or to taste)

-salt to taste

-2 cups water

-sugar to taste

-1/2 cup tamarind juice

-handful of cilantro (optional)

Method:

  1. Cut up pumpkin into cubes about 1 x 1 inch.

  2. Heat up oil on medium flame. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and curry leaves if using. Once sputtering and crackling, add onions. Add garlic and ginger once onion edges are brown. Cook for a minute or two until aromatic.

  3. Add pumpkin pieces and salt to taste. Mix well and cover. Stir every five minutes or so to ensure even cooking.

  4. Once pumpkin pieces begin to look soft and tender, add 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cover. Stir every five minutes or so.

  5. Once pumpkin pieces have completely cooked and disintegrated, taste and add sugar if needed. Also, add tamarind juice at this point. Mix well. Cover.

  6. Cook until all the liquid has cooked off. At this point, the curry should look like a soft puree.

  7. Add cilantro if using.

  8. Dish is best served hot with a side of roti (recipe link below) or rice or pooris.

Note:

-Link for roti recipe: https://www.cookingwithmum.net/post/mum-s-classic-rotis

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