Last year, sometime between October and Thanksgiving, I bought a can of pumpkin puree. I must have had grand plans for it, but they never materialized. So it sat in the cupboard, alone among the beans and tomatoes, while pumpkin-eating season trundled right on by. It sat, and it sat, and it sat, until last week I took it down and resolved to do something with it. That something turned out to be curry.
I suppose curry isn’t the most head-slappingly creative way to use pumpkin, but it’s a good one. Winter squash goes hand-in-hand with the warm spices that make up curry’s backbone, and its sweetness plays well against curry’s sharpness and spice. Plus, it’s a refreshing 180 from the cinnamon-dusted march of pumpkin pies and pumpkin pastries and pumpkin breads and pumpkin lattes. After so much sugar, it’s awfully nice to find a savory home for pumpkin.
I thought about making a coconut curry, since pumpkin and coconut play so well together. But we’re slipping into the gauzy period between winter and spring, and I wanted something lighter and less unctuous. So my on-the-fly pumpkin curry became a pumpkin tomato curry, brothy and light and orangey-gold. The pumpkin gave the curry a quiet syrupy-sweetness, and the tomatoes provided both liquid and tang. I threw in a cinnamon stick too, to appease the pumpkin gods, and finished off the curry with a pile of cauliflower and shrimp.
There are no efforts at authenticity here. This is a cheater’s curry, built on supermarket curry powder, and quick enough to make on a weeknight. But I don’t really think of it as a weeknight meal, at least not the night you make it. Curry demands time to mingle and deepen; a night or two in the fridge is ideal. The cloud of spicy fragrance that filters up from the rested curry is worth the wait, I promise.
Pumpkin Tomato Curry (serves 4-6 with rice)
Adapted loosely from Bon Appetit
2 tbsp coconut oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil
1 small white or yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp minced or finely grated ginger
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste
Crushed red chili flakes OR cayenne pepper to taste
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 tsp tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lb), cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb cubed chicken breast, cubed tofu, or peeled and deveined shrimp
Salt to taste
To finish the curry:
2 medium shallots
1 tbsp coconut oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime’s worth)
Cooked white or brown rice for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger and saute for 8-10 minutes, or until the onion turns golden around the edges. Add garlic, curry powder, and chili flake, and saute for another 30 seconds, or until the mixture is fragrant. Add pumpkin puree and tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is golden brown and nutty-smelling.
Add tomatoes, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and stock or broth, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add cauliflower and continue simmering for another 8-10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is just starting to get tender. Add chicken, tofu, or shrimp, and continue simmering for another 5-8 minutes, or until the protein is cooked through and the cauliflower is tender. Remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. At this point, you can let the curry cool, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months–the longer it sits, the better it gets.
When you’re ready to serve the curry, thinly slice the shallots and separate the slices into rings. Heat oil in a small frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the shallot rings, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the shallots are deeply browned and crispy. Remove the shallots from the pan with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel-lined plate to drain while you heat up the curry. Once the curry is warm, stir in lime juice. Spoon the curry over rice, and top with chopped cilantro and the fried shallots.