“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch he thinks is the most sincere …” – Charles Schwartz
Does anything say October louder than pumpkins and winter squash?
My original intent was to make kaddu ki sabzi – an Indian spicy, salty, sweet and sour pumpkin dish that gets all of your taste buds dancing at once.
However, I’ve been told that the pumpkins in India are different from the pie pumpkins in America. I also realized that many of the ingredients in traditional kaddu recipes might be a little difficult for my blog readers to find, unless they live near a good Indian grocery store. And perhaps even if you do live near a good Indian grocery! For example, methi … a.k.a. fenugreek, a key ingredient in kaddu recipes. Even when I can find it fresh, often it isn’t all that … ahem … fresh. Dried methi is more widely available – and, sadly, that’s what most Indian restaurants in Charlotte use.
(Personally, I have found dried methi to be rather … “buggy” … if you know what I mean! And bugs in my pantry bug the heck out of me! So I avoid it. Like the plague. And it almost was a plague. But pantry pests are a topic for another post.)
So, for the Vegan Month of Food 2017, I considered how to translate this amazing dish into something that would be more easily accessible to Americans.
I began by using versatile butternut squash instead of pumpkin.
I then made a few spice substitutions. Organic brown sugar or “sugar in the raw” can stand in for jaggery. Lemon juice can stand in for amchur (dried mango powder). Yellow curry powder (used sparingly) can provide a lot of that bitter, fenugreek taste, as fenugreek is a major component. Fresh cilantro leaves can substitute for fresh methi leaves.
One spice I wouldn’t substitute – brown mustard seed. It adds such a unique flavor to this sabzi! And if you plan to do much Indian/Indian Fusion cooking, it is definitely something you will want to add to your spice rack.
The other spice I wouldn’t substitute is asafoetida, or hing. Warning: It smells effing horrible! Hing is also known as devil’s dung – how Halloweeny is that? But once added to food it gives a taste of onions and garlic. It’s mostly used in South Indian cooking. Even though my style is mostly North Indian, sometimes I feel I just CANNOT bear to chop and fry ANOTHER pan of freaking onions!
… And I find myself reaching for the hing.
(More uses for hing … To perk up bland jarred spaghetti sauce … to add to guacamole … to use in place of garlic and onion powder in your noochy mac ‘n cheese.)
OK! So let’s get cooking. Although this is not exactly identical to a traditional kaddu ki sabzi, I think it does capture its “spirit” … plus, it’s delicious. And quick. And easy.
And you don’t have to fry any d*mn onions.
I highly recommend using pre-peeled, pre-chopped cubes of butternut squash – as you might get at Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter. It’s more expensive, but saves you time and frustration. Mostly frustration. Buy whole butternut squash when you plan to roast or bake.
Ingredients for Sweet and Spicy Curried Butternut Squash:
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil (mustard is ideal, but optional)
2 Teaspoons Brown Mustard Seeds
2 1/2 – 3 Cups Chopped Butternut Squash (about 1 large squash)
1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Ginger
1-2 Green Thai Chilis* (Optional, See Notes)
1/4 Teaspoon “Hing”
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 – 1 Teaspoon Ground Red Chili Pepper (Cayenne)* (See Notes)
1 Teaspoon Amchur OR 1 Tablespoon+ Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon+ Jaggery OR Brown Sugar OR Unrefined Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Yellow Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt
Chopped Fresh Cilantro, for Garnish
Directions for Sweet and Spicy Curried Butternut Squash:
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet (which has a lid to cover it – you’ll need the lid later). Add mustard seeds and cook just until they start to splutter and pop.
Add the ginger. Add green chilis, if using. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add hing. Stir briefly.
Add butternut squash; stir to coat the squash in spices. Add salt, turmeric, red chili powder, curry powder, garam masala. Add jaggery OR sugar. Add amchur OR lemon. Stir again to coat the squash.
Add 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook on medium low heat. Stir occasionally. If things start to seem dry (unlikely, but it could happen), add a wee bit more water. After 15 minutes, test the squash with a fork. It should be soft (or mostly soft) but still holding its shape. Depending on your squash, you may need to cook it 5 or 10 minutes more. Remember, though – we are not aiming for mush here.
Now comes the only slightly tricky part. (But also the fun part!) Once the squash is mostly cooked, taste it. You’ll probably have to do a little bit of adjusting – because squash vary widely! First, is it sweet enough? It has to be sweet. If not, add sugar. If it’s sweet, but still missing something, that something is lemon. Add more fresh lemon juice – a teeny bit at a time. This should wake it up! Finally, is it salty enough? An additional sprinkle could make a world of difference. You know you have it right when your tastebuds start to tingle.
Serve garnished with cilantro.
If you can’t find green Thai chilis, leave them out and just use red chili powder. (If your palette is sensitive, also leave them out and just go for a tiny pinch of red chili pepper.)
Remember, red chili powder is more potent from Indian grocery stores than American supermarkets!