This colourful side dish will banish all thoughts of trendy pumpkin-spice drinks and snacks. The spices here are a combination of Northern and Southern Indian seasonings, with a mild back-of-the-throat heat from chillies. Eat this with Indian breads or rice, ideally as part of a meal that also has a spinach dish, a dal and a yoghurt relish or salad.






Skill level

Average: 3.5 (47 votes)


  • 2 tbsp olive or peanut oil
  • ¼ tsp urad dal (see Note)
  • ¼ tsp whole mustard seeds (see Note)
  • 1-2 dried hot red chilli peppers
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 450 g peeled and seeded pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1 cm dice
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Pour the oil into a medium pan over medium heat. Add the urad dal. As soon as the dal starts to change colour, about 30 seconds, add the mustard seed and chillies. Once the mustard seed starts to pop and the chillies darken, just a minute or less, add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion just starts to soften, around 2 minutes. Next, add the pumpkin and cook, stirring, until the pumpkin and onion begin to brown. This should take 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the water, salt, brown sugar, cumin and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling. Cover and cook until the pumpkin is just barely soft enough to pierce easily with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the remaining water almost evaporates, yet the vegetables are still moist. Serve warm.



• You can find brown mustard seeds and urad dal — a split black lentil sometimes used in small quantities as a spice  at Indian markets. 


This recipe is adapted from Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 2015). Photography by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.


Read more about Madhur Jaffrey and Indian vegetarianism here.