Autumn Squash Biryani

Every year I make something baked in a pumpkin. An edible, culinary pumpkin is best, as I have discovered. The cheap carving ones are rubbish and watery. M&S had a big basket of pumpkins for a pound each, ranging from small to big. I was so delighted by them, I bought three.

This is something I made using various leftover items – some forgotten dhokla garnish in a plastic tub, a lone soft beetroot at the bottom of the salad drawer, the end of a bag of brown rice. It was partly inspired by my desire to imitate the biryani a Nepalese restaurant in Blackheath does, the proper sort that is baked covered with a dough crust. This one has mange tout and baby corn in it, a nod to the Chinese and Tibetan influence on Nepalese food.

This dish is a funny mix of North and South. A biryani is Iranian in origin and is more typically associated with north Indian food but I’ve used south Indian flavours with the curry leaves, coconut and sambar. While biryani is made in Kerala, I sincerely doubt they have any sort of Nepalese influence.

I was making dinner for two and used a pumpkin that was about five inches in diameter. You will have some excess veg leftover – I decided it was preferable to have some leftovers rather than cooking very small, precise quantities. I didn’t put any spices into the veg but served it with sambar (I was in the mood for coconut, tamarind and chili) and beetroot raita. This isn’t a quick recipe but you can make the rice, dal and veg while the pumpkin roasts. Make this on a day when you don’t have anywhere else to be and fancy spending a slow evening in the kitchen – allow two hours/two and a half to make this. You can alternatively prep some of the elements in advance.

For the rice

75g rice, I used brown basmati

3 tablespoons fresh grated coconut

10 curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon of salt

For the veg

1 red or yellow pepper

1 packet of mixed sweetcorn and mangetout

one small pumpkin or autumn squash

a handful of pomegranate seeds

For the raita:

1 beetroot

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

10 fresh curry leaves

a pinch of chili and salt

1/4 teaspoon hing

a few tablespoons of plain yoghurt

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200C and prep your pumpkin. Cut the top off to create a lid and scrape out the seeds. On a tray, put it on the oven and with its lid on, leave to roast for an hour/90 minutes, until the pumpkin flesh is really soft.
  2. Once the pumpkin is in the oven, make the sambar. While it cooks, make the raita. Peel and grate the beetroot before heating a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and ten curry leaves, followed by the hing. Turn the heat down and add the grated beetroot. Stir briefly before leaving the mix to cook until it softens and allow to cool. Once cool, add the yoghurt, salt and chili. Stir and watch the yoghurt go a lovely shade of purple.
  3. Make the coconut garnish. Fry a level teaspoon of black mustard seeds and 10 fresh curry leaves in a tablespoon of hot oil. Once they start to crackle and smell fragrant, add the coconut and toast over a low heat. The coconut will dry out a bit and some of the edges will start to brown.
  4. Chop up the pepper into squares and slice the mange tout and baby corn in two vertically. Fry in a splash of oil over a medium heat until they soften and blacken slightly in parts. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
  5. Stir the coconut through the rice and remove the pumpkin from the oven.
  1. Put half the rice into the bottom of the pumpkin and gently pat it down. Add the veg, patting it down too.
  1. Then add the second layer of rice.
  1. Put the pumpkin lid back on and return it to the oven for thirty minutes to warm everything through.
  1. Cut in half, decorate with pomegranate seeds and serve with the dal and raita.