Chilli & Tamarind Squash with Chickpeas
October in England is a fickle creature. Some years, she can’t wait to arrive with the autumnal chill that necessitates wrapping up warm. Other years, like this one, she’s content to let the warmth of the summer linger on. Over half the month is done and only now has it begun to feel cooler. In response, only now, belatedly, is the gradual shift in the rhythm of my kitchen taking place: slower, heartier cooking, a busier oven and the increased consumption of beans, warmer spices and stews. And squashes, lots of squashes.
With impeccable timing, a green-fingered friend surprises me by dropping off some of their home-grown squashes. I see a butternut squash nestling and I know exactly what I am going to do with it. Sometimes, I like the silky smoothness of the squash to shine through, undistracted, but this time, I want textural contrast. I know I am going to pair the squash with chickpeas and caramelised onions, the perfect excuse to linger at the stove on a dark, cloudy evening while listening to an audiobook.
I wish I could tell you that this recipe has an interesting story behind it but no, that would be a lie. The truth is, this was the result of me pottering around in the kitchen a couple of years ago, going with the flow, finishing off bits and bobs in the fridge. There isn’t much to the recipe really, but the end result seems to be more than the sum of its parts. I love it when ordinary ingredients yield good results – that’s what simple home cooking is all about.
1. This makes a generous amount, to serve around 6 to 8 people as a side dish. If you want to make a smaller quantity, just halve the recipe.
2. You could use any other squash but as the flavour, texture and cooking times of squashes vary greatly, keep a close eye when cooking and adjust quantities of salt, chilli powder and tamarind accordingly.
3. If you don’t want to roast the squash, add it to the pan after the garlic, season, cover and cook for about 10 minutes (or until done) stirring every 2 or 3 minutes.
4. The masala flavour is very subtle here, so feel free to add your favourite.
5. Personally, I like this to be hot and sour but as squashes can range from being rather bland to rather sweet, I find that I need to adjust the tamarind accordingly. The caramelised onions add their own sweetness too. The trick is to taste the dish once it’s done and adjust the sweetness/sourness according to your preference.
6. For best results, use a cast iron pan and caramelise the onions well (see photo)
Tamarind Butternut Squash with Chickpeas
For Roasting the Squash:
- 1 butternut squash about 1.25 - 1.5 kg, peeled and cut into approximately 1.5 cm cubes
- 1 tbsp flavourless oil
- 1 tsp salt
Rest of the Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp flavourless oil
- 500 g onions thinly sliced into half or quarter moons lengthwise
- 4 cloves garlic minced or grated
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 -3 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 - 3 tsp chilli powder I used 2 tsp extra hot chilli powder
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder optional
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 400g tin chickpeas drained
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp garam masala or any other masala
- a squeeze of lemon
- coriander leaves for garnish
- Preheat oven to 200° C. In a very large bowl, combine the oil and the salt under the roasting ingredients and add the cubes of squash to it. Toss to combine well, then spread the squash out on to two baking trays in a single layer without crowding. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, checking frequently after the first 10 minutes of cooking time, until the squash is just done.
- In a heavy pan, cast iron preferably, heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and add the onions. Fry over medium heat, stirring constantly until the onions are caramelised. This could take about 20 - 25 minutes (sorry!) but the proper browning of onions is what lends flavour to the dish.
- When the onions are caramelised (see photo), add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.
- Lower heat and add the tomato puree, the tamarind puree and the chilli powders. Fry for a few minutes, stirring regularly, then add the chickpeas, roasted squash, salt to taste and coriander powder. Stir to combine well.
- Turn off the heat, then add lemon juice, masala powder and coriander leaves. Taste and adjust the salt, chilli and sour elements