Spinach and pumpkin stew

Smoky Sweet Spinach and Pumpkin Stew

I know I only posted something a few hours ago. But I made this dish this evening and since the previous post was all about chicken, I thought it only fair to post one for the vegetable lovers.

Ever since I started meeting non-Indians on a regular basis, I have heard this refrain, “Indian food is so complicated,” or “Indian food is so heavy,” or “Indian food needs so much time to make,”. To all of these I have replied, No, No and No. But here is a concrete example. I grew up eating this probably on a weekly basis and it’s a dish that one could cook without thinking. Literally.

All you need is spinach and pumpkin. And a little spice called kalonji. Also known as black caraway or nigella. You know this seed. It’s pretty ubiquitous in middle eastern baked products. I am sure you can procure it in a store close to you or on the internet. That is all you need. Oh, and maybe a single dried red chilli, if you happen to have it. But no biggie if you don’t!


The ingredients are so simple that I don’t even have to list them out. But OK, if you insist,

  1. Pumpkin – peeled and diced, about 2 cups
  2. Leaf spinach – either four cups of  fresh spinach or two cups of frozen
  3. 1/4 tsp black caraway/nigella
  4. 1 dried red chilli (optional)
  5. 1 tsp vegetable oil

Process in a gist – heat oil, add black caraway/nigella and chilli if using. Toast until you get a nice aroma or the chilli turns dark brown. Add the pumpkin and saute for a couple of minutes. Add spinach and 4 cups of water. Add a teaspoon of salt. Fish out the chilli if you don’t like your food spicy. Simmer until pumpkin is tender. Season to taste. Done.

Process with a truckload of explanations and the hand-holding of course –

Here is my secret. I didn’t like to cook with pumpkin because it is such a pain to cut. I never seemed to get through the tough skin without a lot of huffing and puffing. So I have figured out a short-cut. I take the whole pumpkin, wash it, wrap it in foil and put it in the oven. I heat it to about 220 degrees Celsius and let the pumpkin sit in there for about half an hour or even more. I poke with a fork to see if the skin is tender enough for me to cut through. If it is, I take out the pumpkin and let it cool a bit before proceeding to peel and cut it.

Back home, my mother buys a bunch of spinach and uses it stalk and all. Just trimming off the roots. Out here, I just take a short cut and use frozen leaf spinach. Convenience without any loss of nutritional value.

You can adjust the ratio of pumpkin to spinach according to your taste. Ideally the two should be equal. But don’t let that stop you. Also it’s nice if the pumpkin is sweet. Mine today was remarkably tasteless. But the dish tasted good nonetheless. My first grader mentioned it more than once. So did the husband.

I like the dish to be rather watery, like a soup. So I tend to add more water. But if you don’t like soupy dishes, then add less.

I grew up eating this dish with rice. But you can eat it with anything you like, a grain or potatoes, or even some semolina dumplings like we did today. What can I say, I needed to get rid of some leftovers! But a grain that is on the sweeter side, like rice or barley would harmonize better than something like quinoa or buckwheat. Just my opinion. Oh and some extra butter on the grain would smooth out the slight alkalinity of the spinach and make it more kid-friendly.

Try it and leave a comment for me.