The so-called pumpkin in this dish is kabocha squash, a variety with orange flesh and dark green skin. It is sold year-round in Asian markets and is also often available in other grocery stores in fall and winter. (Butternut squash can be used in its place.) Kabocha squash varies significantly in size, but the good news is that if you have extra, the squash keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks even after it’s been cut open. The skin can be hard to peel with a vegetable peeler, but leaving a few stripes of green is perfectly acceptable. If planning to serve the stew the day after making it, keep the pumpkin separate from the pork until you reheat. (Cooked this way, the pumpkin also makes a nice vegetarian side dish with stir-fries.)
(Serves 4; 6 as part of a larger meal)
1 pound kabocha squash (about 1⁄4 of a medium squash), peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup canola oil
3 cups finely diced yellow onion
3 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 to 3 Thai chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)
1/2 cup mint leaves, for garnish
1/2 cup cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1 lime or lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish
To cook the pumpkin, cut the squash into wedges about 1 inch thick. If the wedges are longer than 4 inches, cut them in half crosswise. In a saucepan or pot big enough to fit the pumpkin, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden but before it turns brown, about 1 minute. Stir in the turmeric and remove from the heat. Nestle the pumpkin wedges in the pot and pour in enough water to cover (at least 3 1⁄2 cups). Add salt. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook until the pumpkin is almost tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the pumpkin cool to room temperature in the cooking water; reserve the water.
To make the pork stew, trim away the sinew from the pork, but leave some of the fat; it will add richness to the stew. Cut the pork into 1⁄2-to 1-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl and use your hands to mix with the salt and turmeric. Let the pork marinate at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients, or refrigerate it overnight.
In a 6-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and chiles and cook until most of the water from the onions has been cooked out and a glossy layer of oil has risen to the surface, about 10 minutes.
Add the pork and stir to coat. Ladle in 3 cups of the pumpkin cooking water (if short on pumpkin water, add tap water to make up the difference). Bring to a boil and then lower to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 11⁄2 hours.
Stir in the curry powder and fish sauce, and add the pumpkin and 1⁄2 cup of the pumpkin (or tap) water. Simmer gently until the sauce coats each piece of meat and the stew has thickened (it should not be soupy), about 10 minutes.
Ideally, let the stew sit for 20 minutes before serving to let the flavors meld. Bring to a simmer before serving and taste, adding more salt or fish sauce if desired. Serve with bowls of mint, cilantro, and lime wedges at the table.
Reprinted with permission from Burma Superstar, copyright © 2017 by Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.