The question, "What do you want for dinner tonight, honey" usually gets no reply from my wife normally content to go with whatever I want, something particularly frustrating to this proud "culinary genius". So when I do get a request, I am more than pleased to fill it, and when that request is for something we both love, well what could be better? We both happen to crave orange food in all its forms whether it be cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, carrots, acorn or butternut squash or pumpkin. Readers are I'm sure, aware that the orange color in these foods comes from beta carotene which is particularly good for you in preventing certain cancers. Now, pumpkin curry is a dish I fondly remember from my first trip to Guyana, the year after Neeta and I were married. It also happens to be one of the seven vegetable curries which are served traditionally after a Hindu religious ceremony which is how I first encountered it.
Well, the day we arrived in Guyana and were met at the airport by most of my wife's family, we were driven to her dad's house where we stayed our first three nights. Neeta's brother and his wife and two daughters live there, and because we were there, three or four other family members were also staying over. I can't remember what we ate when we arrived at the house, but the big question was "What should we cook for Joe tomorrow?" I was told all this later by my wife. No one ever would ask me directly. Well, Neeta informed them that I loved pumpkin curry, and that night, as I slept for the first time under a mosquito net in a bed vacated by someone so we would have the most comfortable room, I was awakened by the strong smell of frying chili peppers at 5 in the morning (in pitch darkness). "Honey", I whispered to Neeta, "What's that smell?"
She informed me that they were making pumpkin curry for me. "For breakfast?" I asked. I was told not to say anything about that, and sure enough, that morning after showering (or more precisely after pouring a few buckets of cool water over my head) I came down to a "breakfast" of coffee, roti and pumpkin curry!
When I cook it, I get a piece of pumpkin from one of the Asian groceries in our neighborhood. You need to find one with a deep orange color as that indicates sufficient ripeness and sweetness. As I happened to be shopping in Trader Joe's, I saw a package of organic butternut squash already peeled and cut up, so I settled on that.
The pumpkin or squash must be placed in salted boiling water until soft enough to be added to the other ingredients. So while it's on the stove, you can slice two cloves of garlic, dice an onion and mince some chili.
Notice the tiny chili pepper on my cutting board. Those are fresh Guyanese chilies and are fiery hot. For this much pumpkin, I would use two if you like really spicy food. I never give amounts for something like this as it's purely a matter of taste. If you're trying the dish, experiment with any chili you like.
While the pumpkin cooks, saute the garlic, onion and chili, salting them lightly. When the onion becomes translucent, add about one and a half teaspoons of Garam Masala which is a spice mixture easily obtained in any Asian grocery or available on line from a small company, Nirmala's Kitchen which carries genuine Guyanese style. Notice, I cleared a hot spot in my pan to fry the spice before mixing it into the other ingredients.
Finally, add the cooked pumpkin to the pan and mash it. Add a little (1/4 cup) water to the pan and about two teaspoons of sugar (optional) to correct for the fact that American produce is never as sweet as Guyanese fruit and vegetables which come from small gardens and are allowed to ripen in the tropical sun. After about 3 minutes, plate the curry and serve with roti, nan or flat bread. By the way, I usually cook this for lunch or dinner!
If you enjoyed this recipe, you might like this one for fire roasted eggplant Guyanese style.