There is an art to the multi-dish meal. In my formative experiences of Australian food culture we hadn’t yet embraced the multiple room-temperature dishes and condiments that can make up a meal on tables around the world. Here, we tend to focus on a singular plate along with an obsession with sterilisation. Food is often served at a temperature where I view attempting to eat it as more of a dare than a pleasure. Perhaps it’s a backlash from a time with more questionable food production practices? But I believe I can draw a direct correlation between the word “boiled” and a lack of enjoyment.
I love the choose-your-own adventure of many focused flavours. Some hot, some salty, some sour, some cooling. I find it enables each item to be a bit more bold and a little more expressive. It puts the power in the hands of those eating a meal to balance for their own taste, and along the way it also creates more interaction, tasting and consideration.
My most fulfilling and nourishing meals in memory have been centred on cooked and seasoned room-temperature vegetables, and preserved fish and meats, seasonings and condiments. A version of this pumpkin curry, which I have adapted, was served to me as part of an incredible lunch in an organic tea plantation in Sri Lanka. It was served with soured buffalo curd, “Maldi” fish (salted and dried tuna from the Maldives), multiple preserved vegetables, sambols and herbs. Everything stands alone but, when brought together with rice, they zing and pop.
Prepare this ahead of time. You can then eat it from the fridge or heat it up as part of another meal. More power to the not-hot foods.
Serves 4 as part of a meal
– 1 small Japanese pumpkin (the key is edible skin)
– 60g fresh turmeric
– 60g fresh ginger
– 4 shallots
– 5 large garlic cloves
– 2 green chillies
– 5g whole black peppercorns
– 5g fenugreek seeds
– 500ml coconut cream
– 100ml grapeseed oil
– 100ml fish sauce
– 2 limes, squeezed
– palm sugar, about 50g
– 1 cup curry leaves
– 100g pumpkin seeds
– 50g fresh shaved coconut flesh
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Cut the pumpkin into wedges about five centimetres wide or follow the ridges on the vegetable with your blade. Place these banana-shaped pieces onto a roasting tray skin-side down and roast for about 25 minutes or until the pumpkin has started to colour and become a little soft while still retaining its shape.
Peel the turmeric, ginger, shallots and garlic, then cut into thumbnail-size pieces along with the chilli. Use either a mortar and pestle (in batches) or a food processor to blend these ingredients into a paste. Toast the peppercorns and fenugreek in a pan briefly before grinding them to fine powder, then add to the paste.
In a heavy-based pot pour 100 millilitres of the coconut cream and 50 millilitres of the grapeseed oil. Cook on a medium heat, stirring regularly, until the coconut cream has split and started to toast lightly. Add the paste and continue to cook on a medium heat with regular stirring, ensuring that you scrape the bottom of the pot as the paste will stick a little. Once this paste is cooked to the right point it will start to foam. At this point add the fish sauce and let it reduce slightly before adding the rest of the coconut cream. Simmer gently for five to 10 minutes. Once this is cooked, remove the sauce from the heat and season with the lime juice, palm sugar and more fish sauce as needed, being mindful of the intended pungency of the result to help season the pumpkin.
In a wok or a small frypan add the remaining 50 millilitres of grapeseed oil and bring up to a medium heat before adding the curry leaves. Be wary because these will pop and carry on a little. Agitate and stir with a fork until they start to become translucent, then strain the leaves and retain the oil in a steel container. Return that oil to the pan and add the pumpkin seeds. Fry the pumpkin seeds for about one minute before transferring them out of the pan into a storage container together with the oil. Spread the shaved coconut onto a roasting tray and toast in an oven at 130ºC for 15 minutes.
Take each piece of pumpkin and run a knife around the inside of the skin to remove the flesh. Dice the flesh into five or six pieces then roll them through the finished sauce. Let them sit for five minutes before finalising the seasoning, then place the pumpkin skin on each plate before reassembling the flesh loosely back on top of the skin. Top with a little more of the sauce and finish with the pumpkin seeds, toasted coconut and fried curry leaves.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 27, 2019 as "Curry not in a hurry". Subscribe here.