When Brian and I were last in Nepal in 2008, we were treated to a delicious homemade Nepali meal upon our arrival in Kathmandu, and I have wanted to create one dish in particular ever since. It seemed simple enough -- diced potatoes and cucumbers served cold -- but the dish included some mystery ingredient that gave it a delicious boost, and it was not in the usual Nepali spice family of coriander, cumin, turmeric, garlic, and ginger. The flavor was so subtle, though, that I couldn't figure it out on my own.
The secret? Sesame seeds.
In this recipe, sesame seeds had been toasted and then ground into a fine powder. I decided to try this secret ingredient with a different vegetable, the yellow pumpkin that is native to Nepal. We love squash in any shape or form (I have been known to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all on the same day), so we figured we could not go wrong with the Nepali cousin of our standard favorites like kabocha, buttercup, butternut, and of course orange pumpkin.
The combination of slightly sweet pumpkin and slightly smoky sesame was a winner. And the recipe is so simple -- just five ingredients.
Sesame Pumpkin Stir-Fry
1 3-pound pumpkin or squash (if you don't have Nepali pumpkin on hand, kabocha and butternut would be excellent substitutes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1. Peel squash, remove seeds, and cut into one-inch cubes. Your squash should yield about eight cups.
2. Prepare sesame seed powder by toasting the seeds in a skillet over medium-high heat, about 2-3 minutes or until the seeds begin to brown and become fragrant. Allow the seeds to cool and then transfer to a spice grinder, pulsing until the seeds turn into a fine powder. Set aside.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin, salt, and pepper. Cook covered for approximately 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure that squash does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When squash is soft, remove from heat.
4. Using a potato ricer, mash the squash directly in the pan until it has a uniformly, er, mushy texture.
5. Stir in most of the sesame seed powder, reserving about one tablespoon to sprinkle on top of the finished product.
6. Serve and enjoy! This recipe yields 4-6 portions, depending on how much you and your guests love squash.
Behold, the Nepali yellow pumpkin.
As with any hard squash, I recommend a good, sharp chef's knife or cleaver to hack into it. I had always wanted one of these cleavers -- my dream came true in this kitchen.
Scoop out the seeds (reserving for roasting or toasting, if you desire).
Peel the squash and cut it up into one-inch cubes, adding up to about eight cups.
Toast your sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes. The sesame seeds should turn golden brown. Allow seeds to cool before transferring them to a spice grinder.
If you live in Nepal, if it is load-shedding season, and if your kitchen does not have an electrical outlet connected to the inverter, you may need to bring your spice grinder up to your bedroom, where a power strip is connected to the back-up power system. Just saying.
Grind the seeds into a fine powder.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Then add the chopped pumpkin, salt, and pepper.
Cook the pumpkin covered for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the pumpkin from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the pumpkin has softened, remove the pan from heat.
Using a potato ricer,
Mash the pumpkin into a uniform consistency.
Stir in most of the sesame seed powder and serve, sprinkling a bit of the powder on top.
This recipe yields about 4-6 servings.