my favourite part of eating a plate of sri lankan food comes at the end. after the food and the rice are gone, you’re left with an exceptional gravy–a combination of all of the sauces, blended together in perfect high-flavour harmony, better than any on their own. if i know you well enough, you’ll see me shamelessly wiping the sauce off with my fingers and licking loudly, or if i’m lucky and the plate is saucy enough, tipping the plate to my mouth and drinking it straight–as i’ve done since i was a kid. sounds gross, but i would force you to do the same just once. then you’d be hooked and we could always eat together, no strange looks passed–especially not with plates pressed to our faces.
this recipe produces one of those sauces.
this is my mother’s recipe and in it, she uses “jamaican pumpkin”–her words. i have tried to get at what the difference is, but i get answers like, “you know, it’s real pumpkin”. while i’m sure my parents have made this recipe with pumpkin from chain grocery stores, asian grocers, etc., i also know that they usually buy their pumpkin from carribean grocery stores. if you can do the same, that would be ideal (apparently), but i assure you that a piece of pumpkin, delicata squash, kabocha squash, even butternut squash from your everyday grocer would yield good results.
you are probably going to have to get yourself to a spice market, asian or south-asian grocery store for some of the ingredients in this recipe, if you don’t already have curry leaves or rampe (screw pine or pandan leaves).*
(photographed by james piper)
my mom’s tip is to slice the pumpkin before peeling it, it’s less awkward. i think i may do the same with butternut squash and other things that are labourous to peel. the skin of “real pumpkin” is soft so you can use a regular peeler, as you would with a butternut squash. however! i don’t think this applies to super-tough-skinned kabocha squash. i find peeling kabocha squash is is easier to do with a cleaver, and easier to do before cutting the squash into pieces.
that all sounds fussy–but that’s where it ends. peel the pumpkin and the rest is dead easy. almost everything goes into a pot together, you grind some things with the push of a button and you’re eating in half an hour. and if you’re looking for the other recipes that create the magic plate sauce, they’re coming up soon–part of “recipes from the cooks i love most” february!
pumpkin curry, with ground coconut and mustard paste
for the curry:
2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 green chili, thinly sliced
10 fresh curry leaves
2 2-inch pieces of rampe (pandan or screw pine leaves), fresh or frozen
1 tsp mustard powder
1 2-inch stick of cinnamon, or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk, or 5 tbs coconut milk powder dissolved in 1 cup of warm water
1 tsp dark, roasted (sri lankan) curry powder (optional)
for the paste:
2 tbs grated fresh coconut (or dessicated coconut)
1/2 tsp raw white rice
10 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
1/2 green chili
5 curry leaves
1/2 tsp mustard powder
make the curry: put all of the ingredients, except the coconut milk, into a large pot. add 1/2 the coconut milk, cover and cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes or until the pumpkin is fork tender at the outer edges.
meanwhile, make the paste: in a spice grinder, grind the rice and black peppercorns to a powder. then add the the rest of the ingredients and and grind to form a crumbly paste. transfer this mixture to the remaining coconut water and combine the paste well.
add the paste to the pumpkin, lower heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. remove from heat and sprinkle with roasted curry powder on top (if using). serve over rice.
makes 4-6 side servings, or 3-4 large servings.
*if any of the ingredients here or in any of the recipes on my blog seem mysterious in any way, please comment and i will try to help you source them or find substitutes if we can’t!