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Image / Editorial

What’s for dinner? Sri Lankan Pumpkin Curry

by Meg Walker
08th Nov 2018

My dad’s favourite curry, this dish is so tasty and easy to prepare. Serve it with roti and coconut sambal, or with another curry. The coconut rice powder can be used in any curry, to thicken it and enrich the flavour.

Peter Kuruvita’s Pumpkin Curry

Serves 6

Preparation 20 minutes
Cooking 30 minutes

500g Japanese or Kent pumpkin, washed well
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 fresh curry leaf sprig, leaves picked
2 small Indian green chillies, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp Dark roasted curry powder (see recipe below)
½ cinnamon stick
1 litre coconut milk
Coconut sambal (see recipe below), to serve

For the coconut rice powder
100g long-grain white rice
100g freshly grated coconut, or desiccated coconut
1 fresh curry leaf sprig, leaves picked
1 tsp green cardamom pods

For the mustard paste
1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
2cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2½ tbsp coconut cream

For the coconut rice powder, dry-roast all the ingredients in a frying pan over medium heat until the rice and coconut have turned dark brown, stirring regularly so the coconut doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, then grind to a powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Set aside.

Place all the mustard paste ingredients in a blender. Add 125ml water and pulse until smooth. Set aside. Leaving the skin on, cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes, removing the seeds. Place in a large heavy-based saucepan, along with the onion, curry leaves and chilli. Add all the spices, the coconut milk and 2 tbsp of the coconut rice powder and bring to the boil. (Store the remaining coconut rice powder in an airtight container in a cool dark place for next time.)

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is just tender.

Stirring continuously, add the mustard paste and bring to just below the boil.

Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with coconut sambal.


Dark roasted curry powder

This powder looks good and tastes amazing, and is wonderful sprinkled over your finished curry, or even a salad. When cooking a meat-style curry, this is the one to use.

Makes 250g

90g coriander seeds
3 fresh curry leaf sprigs, leaves picked
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp green cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
2 tsp raw rice
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
50g cumin seeds
5 dried red chillies, crumbled (including the seeds)

Toast the coriander seeds and curry leaves in a dry heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. After ?a couple of minutes, add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and rice and toast until golden brown.

Now add the fenugreek, mustard, fennel and cumin seeds and dry-roast for a few more minutes, or until fragrant, taking care not to burn them. Finally add the chilli pieces and toast for a minute or so.

Tip into a small bowl to cool. Grind to a powder, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and store in an airtight container.


Coconut sambal

In Sri Lanka, this fresh sambal is served with nearly every meal. We loved putting a big spoonful of it on our bread, still hot from the bakery next door. You really need fresh coconut for this sambal. When we first arrived in Australia in 1979 it was very hard to get a fresh coconut, so we’d reconstitute the desiccated version with warm water. Not as good as fresh, but acceptable.

I have used paprika here solely to give the sambal its distinctive rich red colour; you can use extra chilli powder if you’d like it very hot.

Serves 6

Preparation 15 minutes

1 tsp black peppercorns
60g chopped red onion
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 large fresh coconut, flesh scraped, or 100g desiccated coconut soaked in 100ml water
juice of 1 lime

Using a large mortar and pestle, grind the peppercorns. Add the onion, crushing it well. Stir in the chilli powder and paprika and work the mixture into a coarse paste.

Add the coconut and pound together, so the coconut and paste are thoroughly combined.

Add the lime juice a little at a time, making sure the sambal doesn’t taste sour, and season to taste with salt.

This sambal will keep in a clean airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.


Extracted from Lands of the Curry Leaf by Peter Kuruvita (Murdoch Books, approx €29). Photography by Alan Benson. Food styling by Vanessa Austin.