Pumpkin curry

Serves 4-6 Starters and mains

Pumpkin Curry 220321 156915



  • 12g rice of your choice
  • 40g grated coconut
  • 50g ghee
  • 5g mustard seeds
  • 180g brown onion, diced
  • 3 green bird’s eye chillies
  • 40g Sri Lankan mustard (or 1:1 mix wholegrain and hot English mustard)
  • 4g coriander seeds
  • 4g cumin seeds
  • 10g curry leaves
  • 20g Maldive fish flakes (available online or in Asian stores)
  • 14g brown curry powder (see recipe linked below)
  • 600g Japanese pumpkin (kabocha squash), or other firm, dry variety, roughly peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 200ml coconut cream
  • 4 x 5cm pandan leaf pieces


Tip the rice into a small frying pan and gently toast over a low heat for 1–2 minutes until it just begins to colour. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool. Add the coconut to the pan and toast, stirring constantly to prevent burning, for 2–3 minutes until it is an even dark brown colour. Transfer to the bowl with the rice.

Melt 20g of the ghee in a small saucepan over a medium heat, add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5–6 minutes until softened. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Put the rice, coconut and chillies in a large pestle and mortar and pound to a coarse paste. Add the onion mix, in batches if necessary, and pound to break down the onion – you won’t get it completely smooth. Stir in the mustard.

Melt the remaining ghee in a large wide-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and fry for a minute. Add the curry leaves and Maldive fish flakes, reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the curry powder (recipe here), then add the pumpkin and mix well to coat. Add the coconut cream, pandan leaf and 500ml water and season again with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and stir through the pounded onion mixture. Simmer for 16–18 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Taste both the pumpkin and the sauce before serving. If it is too sweet, add salt to taste, along with plenty of black pepper.

Cook's notes If you use a different type of pumpkin or squash, it needs to be a firm, dry variety as anything too watery will make the curry a little insipid. Don’t worry about removing every scrap of skin when peeling it – a little skin here and there is fine.

This recipe is from the April 2022 issue of Food and Travel. To subscribe today, click here.

Recipes and photographs taken from Lanka Food by O Tama Carey, photography by Anson Smart (Hardie Grant, £26).
Pumpkin Curry 220321 156915
Recipes and photographs taken from Lanka Food by O Tama Carey, photography by Anson Smart (Hardie Grant, £26).


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