November 16, 2012
Pumpkin Curry and Bland Disappointment
Full disclosure - this dish looks better than it tasted and I loathe disappointment in the kitchen.
My friend and favorite farmer, Hector, generously gifted me with this beautiful sugar pumpkin and I couldn't wait to get it into my oven. To be honest, I have never cooked with real pumpkin before - always the store bought puree. As I schlepped it home from the market, visions of homemade pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin scones and pumpkin curry danced in my head.
It was a big'un - weighing in at at around 4 lbs, so I knew I would have more than enough to realize at least two of the scrumptious pumpkin dishes I had in mind. The first half went into an adaptation of Nigel Slater's pumpkin curry. The second half was destined for puree so that I could make a minified version of Kate's honey whole wheat pumpkin bread. Well, I highly recommend the bread recipe. Baked and devoured within one 24 hr period - I enjoyed it with afternoon tea, nibbled on it as pre-dinner snack, had it with vanilla ice cream for dessert and with my coffee the next morning. However, if you are going to make this curry dish, do what I immediately wished I had done after tasting it - make it with sweet potatoes or butternut squash.
I wouldn't have minded the recipe fail as much if it had been a less labor-intensive dish. However, after hitting a couple of different stores for the ingredients that I don't always have on hand, like lemongrass stalks, chilies and ginger - and then having to blend pastes, etc, ending up with a dish that is less-than tasty is, frankly, annoying.
Part of it is my own fault - I got the bones of this recipe from Nigel Slater's Tender, and while it is housed in the 'Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash' chapter, I should have remembered from my time in Ireland that sometimes the squashes we specifically identify as winter squash all fall under the umbrella term of pumpkin in the UK and Ireland. So, the ingredient that Mr. Slater universally identifies as pumpkin in this chapter and recipe, could actually be what we know as butternut squash or acorn squash, or even the rather sweet kabocha squash. And I suspect that's what he intended because this dish needed some of those natural sugars.
I also willingly take the brunt of the blame because I broke a cardinal rule of cooking - one that was drilled into me in cooking school - to taste, taste, taste! I cut up the pumpkin and hastily threw it into the curry sauce, which I had spent the better part of an hour meticulously building, without nibbling the pumpkin first to see that it was worthy. If I had tasted the pumpkin before chucking it in there, I would have found that it was, in fact, rather bland and tasteless and not suitable for this curry. No amount of spices and aromatics were gonna save that pumpkin from the land of bland. Ah, the regret.
But, all is well that ends well - we didn't starve that night. As an antidote to the tasteless pumpkin, I doused it in lime and blanketed it in cilantro and upped the spice ante and we ate it. And I rapidly got over it - the delish pumpkin bread helped. And I learned a lesson - which is that I don't really like cooking savory dishes with sugar pumpkins. So, in the future, I'll be reserving them only for purees and baking.
But - definitely make this dish! Because this dish really needs an extra kick of sweet and because I want to spare you the same mistake I made, I adapted the recipe below to include butternut squash rather than pumpkin.
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater's, Tender
Thai-style Winter Squash Curry with Chickpeas
What you'll need
For 4 servings
4 large garlic cloves
1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed
1 chili, fresh or dried, chopped
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 large shallots, minced
1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds, toasted
1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
6 cardamom pods
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup veggie stock
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Combine the peeled garlic, ginger, diced lemongrass and chili in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Reserve to the side.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine the coconut oil, yellow mustard seeds and shallots. Sauté over medium-low heat until the onion begins to turn translucent at the edges - 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic/ginger/lemongrass/chili paste and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the mixture becomes fragrant.
Use the back of your knife to crack open the cardamom pods - roughly chop the seeds housed within the pods. Add the chopped seeds to the pot along with the cardamom, turmeric and cayenne.
Next, add the diced squash and stock, stirring well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, so that the liquid is just simmering, until the squash is fork-tender - about 15-20 minutes.
Add the coconut milk to the pot and stir. Continue to simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for another 5-10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and half a lime.