I had two kabocha squash staring at me on the kitchen counter for the past couple of weeks (went a little overboard at the farmers’ market yet again). Kabocha, a Japanese varietal, is my favorite type of winter squash. I’ve used them before to make soup, risotto, gnocchi, ravioli, cake, pie, and bread., but, this time, wanted to do something a bit different. Hmmm…

After much contemplation, settled on a recipe I found in Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries (who would have thought there could be so many different curry recipes). A rather gloomy (and rainy) day calls for a comforting bowl of stew or curry of sorts. Since kabocha squash tend to be a bit on the sweet side, balancing it with an appropriate amount of heat, in addition to a unique mixture of various Indian spices, adds just the right depth of flavor.

This dish is not hard to prepare — just takes a bit of preparation, including a trip to a local Indian grocery store for the essentials. Once you have all your ingredients, a bit of roasting and grinding of spices, as well as some chopping, dicing, and slicing of various vegetables, c’est tout.  Then into a big pot to simmer for a bit. Okay, maybe a few more steps than that, but still manageable. I made a few deviations from the original recipe, as it called for a pressure cooker (which I do not have). It also calls for preparation of three different spice mixtures: 1) sambhar masala, 2) garam masala, and 3) Madras curry powder. I opted to make the first, and went with good quality, store-bought spice mixes for the latter two.

That brings me to the sambhar masala, an unfamiliar combination of flavors (to most) made from an assortment of spices (including fresh curry leaves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and cinnamon sticks, to name a few) and legumes in the form of yellow split peas. This masala can also be used to spice up everyday dishes such as stir-fries and other stews. Given my affinity for heat, I also sprinkled a bit of the sahmbar  over the finished dish to add a bit more kick (oh yea, there is a good amount of dried cayenne chiles in this mix). You can prepare the sambhar masala ahead of time. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.You can also prepare the curry in advance, and let the flavors marry overnight in the refrigerator. It will taste even better the next day.

Now, just need to figure out what to do with the other kabocha squash. Thinking pumpkin bread with some cinnamon spiced pumpkin gelato? Decisions, decisions…


Sambhar Masala

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Kabocha Squash Curry

2 cups, 1-inch cubed kabocha squash
1/2 cup pigeon peas (toovar dal)
1/4 cup green lentils (moong dal)
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
2 medium red onion, 1 chopped into 1-inch cubes, 1 halved and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium potato (such as russet or Yukon Gold), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (place in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning)
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/2  teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon Sambhar masala (recipe below)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
8 ounces baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Rinse the pigeon peas, green lentils, and yellow split peas under water and add to a large pot or Dutch oven with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add the pumpkin, cubed onion, carrot, potato, turmeric, cayenne, and paprika. Simmer over low heat for 12 to 14 minutes, until the vegetables just become tender, and the peas and lentils are cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic, and sauté, until the onions are soft and turn brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices, the salt, Sambhar masala, curry powder, and garam masala. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and turn reddish-brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the tomato mixture to the legume-vegetable mixture, along with the spinach and cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors marry, 6 to 8 minutes.

Serve hot with flatbread (chapati or roti or naan).

Sambhar Masala

1/2 packed cup fresh curry leaves
1/2 cup dried cayenne peppers
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon black (or yellow) mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white poppy seeds (optional)
2 (3-inch pieces) cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine all the spices in a medium-size bowl. Drizzle the oil over them and toss well, coating the spices evenly with the oil.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring constantly, until the curry leaves curl up and appear dry and brittle, the chiles blacken slightly, the split peas turn dark brown, the coriander, cumin, and fenugreek turn reddish-brown, the mustard seeds pop, and the poppy seeds are tan, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the spice mix to a plate to cool. Once cool, finely grind in batches using a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Store in an air-tight container, for up to 2 months.

Sambhar masala…my new favorite blend of spices. Also great simply sprinkled over sautéed vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, etc.

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