Discover the nutty goodness of kabocha squash with Malai Kari

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – I know this feeling won’t last forever, but for now, I just can’t get enough winter squash.

They’re a staple of fall, even though you can certainly get some of the more common varieties year-round. I like to scour farmers markets for the shapes, sizes and colours unique to the season, loving that some of them have such different textures and even flavours.

Try roasting butternut squash next to spaghetti squash next to one of my favourites, kabocha, and you’ll see what I mean. The first is sweet, nutty and dense, a classic pumpkin flavour and texture; the second is stringy and a little bland; and the third is fluffy and tastes like chestnut mixed with sweet potatoes. And there are so many more.

I’ve written before about how much I love kabocha with a sauce, because its drier flesh soaks up liquid so nicely. And that’s just what Meera Sodha does with it in her captivating new cookbook, East. She loosely based her recipe on Bengali malai kari, a dish of sweet onions, garam masala and coconut milk (plus prawns), but here the star is that kabocha, roasted in wedges (without the need for peeling beforehand).

Sodha demonstrates how easily such curries can come together from a handful of spices (plus the workhorse blend of garam masala), canned tomatoes, coconut milk and the aromatic base of garlic, ginger and onion. You cook the sauce while the squash is roasting, and when both are done, you nestle the wedges in the spicy sauce on a platter or plates.

All that’s left is the eating – with rice or naan, or by itself. Feel free to dig in. It’s fall, and you’ll be excused if you can’t get enough.

Squash Malai Kari. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

SQUASH MALAI KARI

Cookbook author Meera Sodha loosely based this recipe on the Bengali malai kari, a dish made with sweet onions, garam masala and rich coconut milk. It’s warming, hearty and sharpened with a little lime. Kabocha squash is preferred here for its dry flesh, but if you can’t find it, use acorn or butternut. Serve with rice or naan.

Storage Notes: The roasted squash and the finished sauce can be refrigerated, separately, for up to one week. Reheat before serving. Freezing is not recommended.

INGREDIENTS

One kabocha squash

Four tablespoons canola, sunflower or other vegetable oil, divided

One-and-a-half teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste

Two red onions, finely chopped

Five garlic cloves, chopped

One teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Three-quarter cup canned crushed or strained tomatoes

One can coconut milk

Two teaspoons ground cumin

One-and-three-quarter teaspoons red chile powder, such as Kashmiri

One-and-a-half teaspoons garam masala

One teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste

Three-quarter teaspoon ground cinnamon

Two tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste, and wedges for serving, optional

Toasted flaked almonds, for garnish (optional)

Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Position a baking rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Without peeling, cut the squash in half, scoop out and discard the seeds (or save for roasting). Cut the flesh into wedges no more than three-quarter-inch wide.

In a large bowl, toss the wedges with one tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle with half teaspoon of the salt, then transfer them to the baking sheets, making sure to keep them from overlapping.

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning the squash wedges over halfway through, until the squash is tender and is blackening at the edges.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining three tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the garlic is soft, three to four minutes. Add the tomato and cook until rich and paste-like, about six minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk, cumin, chile powder, garam masala, sugar, cinnamon and the remaining one teaspoon of salt and cook until the sauce is thick and bubbling. Stir in the lime juice, taste, and add more salt, sugar and/or lime juice, if needed.

Divide the sauce among serving plates and top each with a few wedges of squash. Garnish with the almonds, cilantro and/or lime wedges, if you like, and serve hot.

Nutrition – Calories: 309; Total Fat: 24g; Saturated Fat: 13g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 660 mg; Carbohydrates: 25g; Dietary Fibre: 4g; Sugar: 8g; Protein: 4g.