The backwater region of Kerala's western coast, with coconut palms in the background.
My dad's side of the family originally hails from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the two southernmost Indian states. After moving from India to England and then to Trinidad, my grandparents ended up in the Boston area, where they stayed while raising their family and pursuing their careers in medicine. I grew up eating my dad's home-cooked Indian meals, and I still consider these dishes some of the most powerful comfort food: mince curry, shrimp biryani, and a plethora of vegetable dishes featuring whole spices, shredded coconut, and bright flavors like lime, curry leaf, and tamarind. The following recipe is one of my absolute favorites--and since it uses butternut squash, a New England fall favorite, I feel it encapsulates the story of my family's journey from India to Boston. It's a journey I think of each time I enjoy this dish.
Leah Costlow, Outreach Coordinator
Winter Squash Erisheri
(Winter squash with toasted coconut)
1/2 cup whole mung beans
1 medium butternut squash, pumpkin, or other winter squash
1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 dried red chiles
1. Toast mung beans in a dry pan, stirring constantly until light brown. Rinse in a strainer, then place in a saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until tender.
2. Peel the squash, remove seeds, and cut into large chunks. I always use the whole squash, but if it's much more than 5 cups, set aside the excess for another time.
3. Blend 3/4 cup of the coconut, garlic, and ground masala in a small bowl with 1/2 cup water. Set aside.
4. Combine squash with turmeric, cayenne, salt, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cooked mung beans and stir well. Return to a boil, then remove from heat.
5. Make the tadka: heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the mustard seeds and cover while the seeds pop. After a few moments, toss in the dried red chiles, then add the remaining 1/4 cup of coconut. Stir constantly over moderate heat until the coconut turns cinnamon brown. Stir this mixture into the cooked squash, then add the coconut mixture. Heat until warmed through, adding water if necessary--the consistency should be akin to a thick sauce or stew. Check the salt and enjoy!
Adapted from Savoring the Spice Coast of India, by Maya Kaimal. This wonderful cookbook is one of my favorites, and although it's out of print, it can sometimes be found used.