It occurs to me that this might as well be named Butternut Squash Curry with Eggs. But I was inspired by the notion of making egg curry, a staple peasant dish of India that can incorporate as many spice blends and vegetable additions as to envelop winter squash from a foreign terrain. It is a decidedly vegetarian main course in a distinctively vegetarian (and vegan)-friendly cuisine, and I first learned about egg curry from reading short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, in which a character takes it out of his fridge to reheat day after day, in monotony.
This was back in high school, and it was Lahiri’s first story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. Egg curry did not sound at all glamorous in the story, but I wondered about it: what did that entail? Were the eggs fully cooked and separate from the sauce? Did the whites become stained yellow from turmeric? And, why haven’t I seen egg curry on Indian restaurant menus?
It seemed like I was stepping into a separate — and purer — landscape of Indian life. (And yes, this is exactly what the short story collection does as a whole.) Even though I had two best friends who were Bengali in high school, I’d never seen egg curry dished out in their household in America–and I’d seen a lot of food from that house. Something told me that this rustic dish was too innocent for foreign eyes, or too humble to really give a thought to. It struck a chord with a lot of the fried egg-topped rice bowls that I’d had prepared by my mother growing up, “when there was nothing else to eat,” in her explanation for their presence.
Of course, this made me want to think about the food even more. Especially when it was surprisingly good.
This curry is a lot like something you might make with the addition of chickpeas, or yellow lentils, except the protein in this case comes from just eggs. It has a basic flavor base, because I don’t have an extensive spice cabinet. In my friend Chitra’s recipe for egg curry on her blog, The ABCD’s of Cooking, she mentions adding tamarind paste for extra sourness, which sounded like a great addition. But I didn’t have it. So I took this in a sweeter direction by adding winter squash to the sauce, because it’s in season. In lieu of the ripe, colorful heirloom tomatoes that Chitra used from her CSA for the dish, this seemed like the only substitute that would be like-minded for this season’s local produce.
But I did add some fresh plum tomatoes, which were sad, pale-red bags of mush from a conventional grocery bin. Chopped up and cooked very long, I’d like to think this dish made the best possible use for them as well. I also added a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and some yogurt at the end, to thicken the sauce as well as add a little tang.
The winter squash was treated in two ways: roasted and scooped out of its skin, to blend into and thicken the sauce; and diced to braise until soft directly in the sauce, for chunkiness. This was achieved by halving one butternut squash to roast one half cut side-down on a pan, while the other was peeled and diced.
I understand now that most proper egg curries are made with hard-boiled eggs that are peeled and cut to stir into the curry, absorbing its flavors while adding hearty chunks throughout. But on a last-minute spur, I decided to poach some cracked eggs, shakshouka-style, gently in the sauce directly. If undercooked so that the yolks were still runny, this might even elevate the humble household-only food to more presentation-worthy status (as I’ve seen many a runny-cooked egg make their way onto menus lately). Or if the eggs were poached until thoroughly hard-cooked, the curry would be easy to chill and reheat in a similar state (if not better, because soups and curries always taste better after they’ve rested for a day or so).
Plus, I kind of like the ruffly texture of egg whites that have boiled a bit in liquid. It’s still egg curry, but now it’s accompanied by the sweetness of butternut squash, and classic dry spices.
Egg Curry with Butternut Squash
(makes 3-4 servings)
approximately 2-lb butternut squash
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
pinch of cinnamon
3 cups water or vegetable stock
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup plain yogurt
squeeze of fresh lemon juice (to taste)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from both sides. Rub 1 tablespoon of the oil on one half and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until flesh is soft throughout. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh from the skin and set aside.
Peel the other half of the squash and dice the flesh into about 1/2″ cubes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until softened and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add all the dry spices, garlic and ginger. Continue to cook another 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes. Add the diced squash, roasted squash flesh, and water or stock. Bring just to a boil, stirring, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the squash cubes are completely softened. Add salt, pepper and the lemon juice to taste. Stir in the yogurt.
Keep heat at an even, low simmer. Carefully crack the eggs and drop into the curry, keeping about one inch in between each egg. Let cook uncovered until the whites appear opaque throughout. Scoop out the mixture with one egg to each individual serving plate.
(for 3-4 servings)
2 lb squash: $2.50
1 onion: $0.40
2 plum tomatoes: $1.00
4 cloves garlic: $0.25
1 tsp fresh ginger: $0.10
3 Tb oil: $0.25
all dry spices: $1.00
½ cup yogurt: $0.75
4 eggs (at $6/dozen): $2.00
Four brownie points: This is one lean yet nutritious winter stew. Plenty of butternut squash lends a healthy dose of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Eggs provide protein albeit with some cholesterol. Serve with some brown rice to make a filling, well-rounded meal.
Seven maple leaves: This dish might sound a little exotic, but it actually incorporates winter vegetables like the squash and onion, albeit with some out-of-season ones thrown in (the tomato and lemon). Yogurt and eggs are always in season and easy to find from conscientious producers, though.