Indian Pumpkin Curry (Sambar)

The Indian curry served in most western countries is usually a rice dish covered with a thick, yellow sauce containing commercial curry powder. In authentic Indian cooking, there is no specific dish called curry, but there are many dishes with sauces, each made with its own special spices and ingredients. The delicious sauce in pumpkin curry is made with coconut milk and lentils. If you can’t get fresh pumpkin, try making this southern Indian specialty with a winter squash such as acorn or hubbard.

  • 1 small pumpkin or winter squash, about 3 cups chopped
  • 1 cup brown or split red lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 curry leaf, optional

Cut pumpkin into quarters, scrape out seeds, cut off peel, and chop into 1-inch squares. Place lentils in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Remove any inedible objects from lentils while washing. Put 4 cups of water in a large kettle. Add cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, and salt and bring to a boil. Add lentils, cover, and lower heat. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender. If you are using split red lentils, they will cook in about 15 to 20 minutes. Add pumpkin squares to lentils. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until pumpkin is tender. Add coconut milk to kettle and stir. As soon as mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and set aside. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add fenugreek, mustard seeds, onion slices, and curry leaf and fry for 4 to 5 minutes, or until mixture is brown. Add onion-and-spice mixture to kettle. Cover kettle and let stand 5 minutes. Stir pumpkin curry before serving over rice.

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