Sweet and Sour Pumpkin
The secret to preparing vegetables that mimic how meat acts and tastes in a recipe is pretty straight forward: just treat it like meat. What we mean by that is to just adapt and replicate the processes typically associated with cooking meats, when cooking plants. Our new series, “How to Replace Meat in Everything” explores just how to do that in an easy, unfussy and delicious way.
We know we’re not supposed to choose favourites, but braising is very high up there. It has the ability to transform vegetables to the same extent that it does meats - by creating layers of deep flavour and texture. In this recipe, pumpkin is pan seared until crisp then submerged in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and maple syrup. What you’re left with is a caramelised exterior that’s jammy and an interior that’s deeply savoury, sweet and sour. Basically, perfection.
There are many reasons why braising is high on my list of favourite cooking methods. Let's start with how approachable it is - it doesn't require anything more one pan and it's so simple to grasp. Once you understand what it is - a combination cooking method that consists of pan searing an item (typically meat) and then submerging it in liquid - you can use it intuitively in your every-day cooking. I rely on braising to cook anything from tofu and tempeh to carrots and fennel, when I'm after a simple flavour-packed dish that can bring excitement to a bowl of rice. As long as you remember the principle, you can apply it to close to anything. The great thing about braising vegetables in particular, is how little time it takes. Whereas braising meat typically involves a two to three hour slow cooking phase once the liquid is added in order to reach its ideal texture, vegetables reach that point a lot sooner and benefit from less cooking time in order to reach their equivalent 'peak' texture.
You'll notice there's also an additional recipe below. That's because, if you look in my cupboard there has never been a moment in the past year where there hasn't been a big jar of chilli crisp sitting there. I make it when I notice I'm starting to run low because it's THAT important to me that I'm never without it. I've included it within this recipe, because whilst I eat it on everything, it's a match made in heaven for this sweet braised pumpkin. I know, 400ml of oil sounds like a lot but trust me that you will never put oil to better use than this. Make a batch and use it all month long on everything you eat and make - from coating vegetables, rices and noodles to drizzling it on toast. It's crispy, salty, spicy, sweet, sour - basically, it's condiment crack. It is optional though, the pumpkin still tastes delicious on its own and if you're rushed for time, you can leave it out.
2 tbsp neutral oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
30g ginger, finely chopped (around 5cm piece)
700g pumpkin or squash (one small)
3 tbsp soy sauce/tamari
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 chilli, thinly sliced
Chilli crisp, optional:
(Fills a 500g jar)
5 shallots, thinly sliced
400ml vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
60g ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp soy sauce/tamari
1 tbsp maple syrup or sugar
1 tsp rice wine vinegar (or white distilled vinegar)
200g cooked rice
Spring onions, sliced
10g fresh coriander
Start by making the chilli crisp. Add the shallots and vegetable oil to a saucepan and heat over medium low heat. Cook the shallots in a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the sliced garlic. Cook the shallots and garlic until golden brown - around 20 minutes.
While the shallots and garlic cook, combine the ginger, chilli flakes, cumin, soy sauce, maple syrup and vinegar in a large bowl and stir. Place a fine mesh strainer over that bowl.
Once the shallots and garlic are golden brown, strain them over the bowl, allowing the oil to cover the ginger chilli mixture. Let the shallots and garlic cool and crisp for 15 minutes before adding them to the oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste - adding more soy sauce, maple syrup, vinegar or chilli flakes to taste. Transfer to a sterilised jar and store at room temperature for up to a month.
Next prepare the pumpkin. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger and sauté them for 6-8 minutes, until soft.
In the meantime, slice the pumpkin into pieces that are roughly 8x3cm and 1.5cm thick. Carefully place them into the pan, side by side rather than overlapping. Do this in two batches if your pan is too small for them all to fit comfortably.
Cook the pumpkin for 6-7 minutes, until starting to crisp and brown on the heat facing side. Carefully flip the pieces around, and cook them for 6-7 more minutes, until crisp on both sides.
In the meantime, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, maple syrup and chilli in a bowl along with 3 tbsp of water.
Add the soy mixture to the pan and gently shuffle the pieces of pumpkin to allow some liquid to run beneath them.
Cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat to medium low, and let the pumpkin cook for 7-8 minutes - until a knife can easily slice the thickest piece.
Drizzle the sesame oil in and let the pumpkin cook without a lid for or 4-5 more minutes, until the liquid has reduced and the pumpkin is sticky.
Remove from heat and serve over cooked rice. Top with sliced spring onions, a spoonful of chilli crisp and fresh coriander.
by Valentina Concordia
Valentina is our Food Editor, who dreams up our tasty dishes and recipes for our social channels. She has loads of experience cooking up a storm in Italian kitchens, so it’s no surprise she can’t live without good-quality olive oil (don’t come between her and her olive oil) and fresh pasta.