Pumpkin erissery is an easy and comforting Indian side dish combining pumpkin with coconut and relatively simple spicing. It's light and bright and pairs perfectly with a range of other dishes.
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I will always remember watching a TV show many years ago about someone who was doing a solo around the world bike ride. It was obviously a pretty big challenge in itself, but one of the things I found most interesting was his challenges with food, particularly as he was vegetarian (then less common). He also happened to be traveling through the Middle East during Ramadan as an extra challenge.
When he got to India, though, he was in vegetarian heaven. Not only was there an abundance of vegetarian options, but there were so many amazing flavors, and plenty of dishes that were great fuel for his cycling.
While I don't think it was part of his route, one region which really celebrates vegetarian cuisine is Kerala in the south, particularly through a traditional meal called a "sadya".
Kerala been a major player in the international spice trade for centuries with many different spices grown in the region. Those spices are certainly reflected in the cuisine.
You'll find chilis, turmeric, tamarind, curry leaves, mustard seeds and asafoetida in many dishes. Coconut is also an important ingredient and used widely, including many dishes in the sadya feast.
What is a Sadya?
"Sadya" means "feast" or "banquet" is Malayalam, the language of the Malayali, the major ethnic group in Kerala. It's a meal that is served for special occasions like weddings and a number of festivals, including Onam.
Above is just a few of the dishes typically included, all of them vegetarian and many including coconut, chili, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Typically, you may have 25 or more dishes for a sadya, from pickles to curries, sides like beans thoran and banana chips.
I talk a little more about Onam in my post about Kerala style sambar, one of the core dishes served in a sadya (and generally popular in the region). Erissery is another dish you'll typically see in a sadya which combines vegetables and coconut.
Pumpkin, or mathanga erissery is a very popular version, particularly for Onam when the local yellow pumpkin is in season. Some versions also include lentils or beans such as black eyed beans or cow peas, but here I've gone with the much simpler version. I've drawn on a few recipes including this one from Kannamma Cooks and this from Nish Kitchen.
What type of pumpkin is best?
While you may not find quite the same kind of pumpkin as in Kerala, you can still enjoy the wonderful flavors of this dish at home. You can use a pie/sugar pumpkin or similar winter squash like kabocha. Butternut would also work, though it may not break down as much, which is part of how the dish typically looks (though some leave it in chunks).
I have made it both with pie/sugar pumpkin (the photos that are more yellow) and kabocha (the more orange ones) and personally, I prefer kabocha as it is that touch sweeter and more flavorful.
Making this dish
There are a few ways to make this, with slightly different seasonings. Some will steam or boil then mash the pumpkin for a smooth texture, others grate it. Either will work, it just depends which texture you prefer.
You make a paste of coconut, chili and cumin and mix this with the pumpkin. Traditionally you use grated fresh coconut, but that's obviously not available easily everywhere, Instead, you can also use frozen coconut and pulse it in a small food processor with the chili and cumin to break it up.
Then you warm some oil and cook mustard seeds, shallots/onion, chili and curry leaves to bring out their flavors. This mixture is called a tempering which is a common part of many Indian dishes. It adds an extra burst of flavor at the end of cooking. For this, you then add a final addition of toasted coconut, and it's done.
Compared to many Indian dishes, pumpkin erissery may seem to use a relatively limited number of spices and be pretty simple. And it is, but in the best way possible.
It has a wonderful balance of gently sweet, savory and spice that pairs well with lots of other dishes. That said, I could also eat it just as it is, it's so comforting and tasty.
Try these other Indian favorites:
- Paneer Makhani (a tasty curry with paneer, a firm cheese, in a tomato-cashew sauce)
- Goan fish curry (a tasty curry with a tamarind-coconut base)
- Aloo chaat (a tasty potato-based snack/appetizer)
- Malabar prawn curry (another coconut-based curry that's flavorful yet quick)
- Plus get more Indian recipes in the archives.
- 2 cups pumpkin approx 240g, in cubes
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ cup fresh coconut or frozen, as small chunks or grated
- 1 fresh green chili or 2 if you prefer
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds or ground both fine
- 2 tablespoon coconut fresh grated or desiccated, as you have
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 2 shallots small, or 1 large or ½ small onion, sliced
- ⅛ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 4 curry leaves approx
- 1 dry red chili (small)
- Place the pumpkin cubes in a pot with the turmeric and cover with water (around 1 cup). Cover and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook until the pumpkin is tender, around 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the pieces.
- Meanwhile, put the coconut, chili and cumin in a small food processor and pulse them together to a rough paste. Alternatively, grate the coconut, finely chop the chili and grind them with the cumin with a pestle and mortar.
- Once the pumpkin has cooked, drain it and mash. Add the coconut-chili paste and mix through. Leave over a low heat to cook slightly.
- Meanwhile, dry toast the 2 tablespoon coconut in a skillet to be gently brown and set aside (this is to top at the end).
- Add the oil to the skillet and add the mustard seeds and shallot slices/onion. Cook for a couple minutes to start softening then add the curry leaves and chili. Cook for a few more minutes - the onion should be at least very soft if not gently browned.
- Add the onion and spices to the pumpkin, stir through and cook another minute or two then serve, topped with the toasted coconut (or stir it through).
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I first shared the recipe for pumpkin erissery on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.