Asian Squash Recipes

Asian Recipes for Squash 

Julia Harrington Reddy, November 2014

Traditional European and US squash recipes have the flavors of autumn, since this is the season when winter squash is harvested.   Thus, one finds squash cooked with cinnamon, with cream, and with butter, in soups, supplementing mashed potatoes, or roasted with root vegetables.  Warming, but not too exciting or refined.  Squash are a hardy vegetable and keep well, so they are popular with CSAs and are likely to linger around the kitchen for some time while cooks wait for inspiration.  This handout aims to provide some of that inspiration!

In South and Southeast Asia, where there is no winter, squash is available year-round, and there are many exciting squash dishes.  Of course there are many varieties of Asian squash that different in shape and somewhat in texture than those found in the US, but among squash there is, in my experience, almost total inter-changeability.  Although pumpkin skin is softer than other winter squash, it is interchangeable.  Sweet potatoes are also interchangeable!  Obviously, the taste will vary somewhat depending on the type and do note that pumpkins sold to be Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins don't have great taste, since they are bred for shape, size, and thin(ner) rinds. 

Avoid cutting or peeling raw squash where you can.  In recipes calling for purees, you can substitute time for effort by roasting the squash and scooping out the cooked interior. This cooked flesh, well mashed, can take the place of canned pumpkin or mashed sweet potato, opening up a wide range of possibilities.  Because normal people don't usually spend two hours cooking dinner, and because roasting a squash can take 45 to 90 min., I suggest roasting your winter squash whenever you know you are going to be home for a couple of hours – after dinner, for example. You can then keep your whole cooked squash in the refrigerator (if you are in a hurry to get to bed), or scoop the flesh into a bowl, and use it any time in the following week.



The only real toughie is butternut squash, the chopper’s bugabear, because of its thickness and density.  The most important consideration is keeping the squash as stable as possible while you’re cutting. If you have a silicon mat, put it on the counter under your cutting board to keep the cutting board from slipping.

The first slice to take is from the bottom of the squash, to help keep the squash stable. Then, gently work your knife down from the top to bottom.  Some people also prefer to remove the neck first, if it is long, and then to split the neck and the body of the squash separately. 

Other squash is generally easier to chop.

I used to compost my squash skins until, in researching this handout, I found this fascinating admonition on the website

Only the stalk goes waste in the big pumpkin—remaining entire pumpkin may be used for cooking. Cut the pumpkin from the centre or cut along the natural marks on the pumpkin. Remove the seeds with a knife and collect them into a plate. Observe that some fiber is also attached to the pumpkin. Take a sharp edged spoon and scrape the fiber from the pumpkin.

Do not throw away the seeds and fiber---they would be useful. Now peel the skin of the pumpkin using a peeler---if not possible with a peeler, peel it with a knife. Grind these peels along with the fiber and seeds of the pumpkin to a smooth paste and freeze till use. Use this paste in any gravy vegetables like aloo matar or paneer mater to enhance the taste of the dish. This paste also works as a gravy thickener.”  I shudder to think of all the squash skins I’ve thrown away over the years.


A word about Asian and Indian recipes

Many people are put off by the long lists of ingredients that they don’t have, or techniques that they have never used.  In the several recipes below, I’ve tried to recommend substitutions or changes in technique that make these more straightforward.  If you like them cooked the ‘modified’ way, you can in due course collect the ‘authentic’ ingredients and follow the recipe to the letter. 

Indian recipes in particular often call for many different spices, or a mix of spices.  You can cheat by using a ‘curry powder’ (something that doesn’t exist in India!) or simply leaving out spices you don’t have.  If you look at recipes on the internet, you’ll see a huge variety: each cook develops her or his own seasoning anyway, and palates, especially for spiciness, vary widely.  So experiment.  If it tastes good to you, it’s right!


Thai-Style Squash Soup-- Adapted by Dee Greenwood from Cooking Light


1 qt. vegetable stock

16 oz. pumpkin or butternut squash puree

12 oz. mango nectar (1 can)

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 Tbs. rice vinegar

1 1/2 Tbs. minced scallions

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. grated orange rind

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 garlic clove, crushed

Salt & pepper

Chopped fresh cilantro


Combine first three ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.  Combine 1 cup pumpkin mixture and peanut butter in blender and process until smooth.  Add mixture to pan.  Stir in vinegar and next 5 ingredients and cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Salt to taste.  Garnish with cilantro.

Makes 7 one-cup servings.

Sweet Pumpkin curry with Coconut, adapted by JHR from 

Serving Size: 4


Sweet pumpkin cubes- 3 cups

Jaggery or sugar

Big lemon sized tamarind OR 1 tsp tamarind extract

Turmeric powder- 1/4 tsp

Tamarind- Small lemon sized

Salt- 2 tsp or to taste

Grated coconut- 3/4 cup

*Udupi sambar powder*- 4 tsp heaped

(this is a mixture of red chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander and fenugreek seeds.  Red chilies are the biggest ingredient so you can substitute chili powder in a pinch).

Seasoning ingredients: NB, can add these directly (without cooking separately—this is technically anathema but if it makes the recipe easier…)

Cooking oil- 2 tsp

Mustard seeds- 1/4 tsp

Split black gram lentil- 1/4 tsp

Broken red chilly- 1 

Curry leaves- few


1.      Cook pumpkin cubes adding a cup of water, turmeric powder, jaggery and a strand of curry leaves.

2.     When the pumpkin cubes are soft, add tamarind extract and only one teaspoon of salt to it. The salt added now is just for the pumpkin cubes to absorb.

3.     Add coconut and sambar (or red chili) powder to pumpkin curry. Also add remaining salt and water as per the consistency. Mix well.

4.     [this step can be shortcut by adding spices directly] Heat a seasoning pan adding all the seasoning ingredients in the order mentioned, when the mustard seeds splutter and split black gram turns slightly brown, temper the sweet pumpkin curry (ie add the spices). Serve it with hot steamed rice.

Note: Make sure the sweet pumpkin cubes are cooked well before adding tamarind. Some varieties of pumpkin will not get cooked in tamarind.


Gummadikayi Koora (Pumpkin Curry from Andhra Pradesh), adapted by Julia Harrington Reddy from the website

  • Pumpkin – 550 1 pound
  • Cumin Seeds – 1/2tsp
  • Mustard Seeds – 1/2tsp
  • Fenugreek Seeds – 1/8tsp
  • Fennel Seeds – 1/2tsp
  • Nigella Seeds – 1/2tsp
  • Turmeric Powder – 1/8tsp
  • Salt – To Taste (1tsp)
  • Red Chili Flakes – 1tsp (Or To Taste)
  • Oil – 2 Tbsp


Cut the pumpkin into even sized pieces. Take a microwave safe bowl and add the pumpkin pieces into it. Add water to the pumpkin pieces and place this bowl in microwave oven. Cover the bowl partially and cook the pumpkin pieces on high power for 5 minutes and allow 5 minutes standing time. After five minutes of standing time remove the bowl from oven and observe that the pumpkin pieces are just cooked---that is the texture we require. Mix cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and nigella[1] seeds in a plate.


Heat a pan and add oil to it. When oil is hot add the mixed spices (mixture of cumin seeds, mustard seeds etc..) and fry till the seeds start spluttering. Then add red chili flakes and mix. Now add the cooked pumpkin pieces and mix again. Now add turmeric powder and salt and mix well. Cover the bowl and cook on medium flame for 3 minutes. Remove lid and mix well. Again cook covered on medium flame for 5 minutes or till the curry is dry. Once all the moisture is evaporated from the curry stir well and transfer the curry to a serving bowl. As pumpkin has a sweet natural taste the spices added enhances the taste of the curry. Serve hot this curry with rice or roti.

Serve hot this dish with rice or roti.


Pumpkin and Split Peas with Camphor Basil, adapted by Julia Harrington Reddy from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cookery

Sometimes people are put off cooking Indian food because they think they need to prepare 3 or more separate dishes. But see below from Julie Sahni:

“Some Indian dishes are meals in themselves, or at least so hearty that all one needs is a loaf of bread and some salad to complete the meal.  These dishes often contain several ingredients and take extra care to prepare.”  This applies to this recipe, and the following.

Cooking pumpkin with yellow split peas is extremely popular all through eastern India.  In Assum, near the Bumra border, they add a local herb, camphor basil.  Since it is not sold in the US, use a mixture of sweet basil and star anise.  The result is unbelievably good.

For 4-6 people.


1/3 cup packed fresh camphor basil leaves OR 1/3 cup packed sweet basil leaves and 4 start anise sections

1 cup yellos split peas (from the supermarket)

pinch of turmeric

3 bay leaves

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 cups of water

2 pounds of pumpkin, butternut squash or other squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

1 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste

For 'spice perfumed butter', also called ‘tempering’ in Indian cooking.  If this step seems onerous, you can add individual ingredients directly to this dish; some of the flavor of cooking the spices in the higher heat of oil will be lost, but it still works.

5 tablespoons ghee (OR oil)

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 Tbsp shredded fresh ginger OR ginger paste

2-4 green chillies, diced

1. Chiffonade (roll up like cigars and slice very thinly—I learned the word for this technique from Dee!) the basil leaves; set aside.

2. Cook split peas, turmeric, bay leaves, onion, and star anise (if using sweet basil) in a pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

3. Add the pumpkin pieces along with 1 cup of water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and continue cooking, covered, for 20 more minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Transfer to a serving dish.

4.  Measure out all the seasonings for the spice-perfumed butter and put them near the stove.  Heat the ghee or oil over high heat.  When hot, add the cumin seeds.  When these turn dark brown (about 15 or 20 seconds) add the ginger and chilies.  Reduce the heart to low and let the herbs sizzle for 30 seconds.  Add the camphor basil (or sweet basil) and fry for 30 seconds.  Pour oil over the pumpkin, mix with a  fork just to 'streak' through.  Serve immediately. 

Dhan Shak

Dhan shak is the famous dish of the Parsis of Mumbai.  The Parsis are a religious sect, followers of Zoroaster, who emigrated from Persia to escape religious persecution.  Chan Shak means a combination of grains and vegetables. The vegetarian version is made by cooking together several varieties of lentils, beans, peas, and squash in a spicy blend of ginger, garlic, chilies.  It is the classic Paris spice blend dhanajeera that gives the characteristic flavor to this robust dish. 

for 4-6 persons:

For cooking the beans:

34 cup yellow split peas (channa dal)

1/4 cup yellow mung beans (moong dal)

3/4 cut pink lentils (masar or Masoor dal)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (or ginger paste)

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (or garlic paste)

2 tsp Parsis dhanajeera or garam masala

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1/2- 1 tsp red pepper

2 bay leaves

4-8 green chilies, chopped
2 tsp sea salt or to taste

For the vegetables

3/4 pound tomatoes, chopped

3/4 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 in cubes

1/2 pound yellow squash or zucchini, cut into 1 1/2 in cubes
3/4 pound egglplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/12 in cubes

1 large onion, cut into 1-in pieces

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

8-12 spinach leaves (fresh or frozen)

For flavoring

5 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 cup finely chopped inion

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

1. Put all the ingredients for cooking the beans into a big pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook, partially covered, for 25 to 40 minutes or until the beans are fully cooked but not totally liquified.

2. Add the vegetables along with 2 cups of water and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked but still hold their shape.  Turn off the heat. 

3.  Measure all the spices, heat the oil in a small frying pan.  When oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.  Keep a pot lid handy, as the seeds when added may pop and fly all over. When the spattering begins to subside, add the cumin.  When the cumin turns a little dark, add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until it turn brown.  Add the garlic and let it sizzle for 10 seconds.  Add the lemon juice and coriander and immediately pour the entire contents of the pan over the vegetable stew.  Mix gently to distribute the seasonings.

Usually such a complex dish would be accompanied by simple rice.  


[1] English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called fennel flower,[3] nutmeg flower,[3] black caraway,[3] and Roman coriander.[3] Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are black cumin,[3] onion seed and black sesame (Wikipedia)