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 colors unique to the season, loving that some of them have such different textures and even flavors.
Try roasting butternut squash next to spaghetti squash next to one of my favorites, kabocha, and you’ll see what I mean. The first is sweet, nutty and dense, a classic pumpkin flavor 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
Active time: 40 mins | Total time: 1 hour 10 mins
Serves: 4 to 6
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 1 week. Reheat before serving. Freezing is not recommended.
One (2 pounds 8 ounces) kabocha squash
4 tablespoons canola, sunflower or other vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
2 medium red onions (1 pound total), ﬁnely chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3/4 cup canned crushed or strained tomatoes
One (14-ounce) can coconut milk (may substitute light coconut milk)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 3/4 teaspoons red chile powder, such as Kashmiri
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 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)
- Position a baking rack in the center 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 3/4-inch wide. In a large bowl, toss the wedges with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle with 1/2 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 3 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, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato and cook until rich and paste-like, about 6 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, cumin, chile powder, garam masala, sugar, cinnamon and the remaining 1 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: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 13 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 660 mg; Carbohydrates: 25 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 4 g.
Adapted from “East” by Meera Sodha (Flatiron Books, 2020).