Ottolenghi's Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds

Oh, I may have mentioned the abundance of squash from the CSA box. And still, still I cook on. The squash never seems to diminish, and that's a good thing for, indeed, I do love it. This fall I have wrapped it in pastryroasted it with dates and thyme, and pureed it into soup. However, this recipe catapaults squash into a new dimension. Sure, one could serve this dish as a side to a more elaborate meal. However, I served it as recommended--with a side of curry rice (recipe forthcoming here)--and hoo-boy.  What a meal it was.

Yes, this is another Ottolenghi recipe (from Plenty More, no less). Yes, it is a bit of an addiction.  However, when his cooking is just so good and it uses my plethora of squash, I have to keep on keeping on. 

Let's focus on what makes this recipe distinctive: the nigella and the cardamom seeds.

Nigella seeds do, indeed, add a distinctive flavor. If you can, avoid substituting them. (However, if you must substitute, try celery seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, or just plain oregano.) The seeds, which are native to southwest Asia, are delightfully triangular in shape and are a deep black. They have a slight onion-y and oregano-y flavor, and they pack a pleasing pop. They are often mistakenly called black onion seeds, black cumin seeds, and black caraway--however, they only share a flavor profile, not a close relationship, with these other seeds. If your local grocery doesn't carry them, here are a few places that do mail order.

Further, cardamom shines in this recipe. Cardamom shares a connection with ginger, as they all hang out in the same family, and the plant itself is anchored by (like ginger) a rhizome. However, unlike with ginger, we eat the seed (not the rhizome) of cardamom. Often used to mask bad breath because of its strong smell, cardamom has a distinctly herbal flavor that makes up the floral note in chai, and the Good Life coffee shop in Mendocino sells the best chai in the state (or so I would argue), in part because their mixture is quite liberal with the cardamom. Fun fact:  behind saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the world's most expensive spice (by weight).  I always knew I had expensive taste.  

So, let's wrap it up here and bring this blogpost home. This is a great recipe: I got to use more squash, I got to play with nigella seeds with their onion-y pop of flavor, and I got to munch on cardamom with its heady herbal note. I got to cook more Ottolenghi. I got to eat and eat well. Not a bad way to spend a December evening.

Ottolenghi's Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds
Adapted from  Plenty More

Serves 6

1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2.75 pounds)
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1 ¼ tsp nigella seeds, plus extra to garnish
½ tsp each ground cumin and coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 large cinnamon stick
1 green chile, halved lengthways
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup l vegetable stock
½ to 1 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan, and sauté the onion over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until soft. Add the squash, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash starts to color and just begins to soften.

3. Remove from the heat and add half a teaspoon of salt, the pumpkin and nigella seeds, spices, chile and sugar. Mix and transfer to an ovenproof dish large enough to hold everything snugly. 

4.  Pour in the stock and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, by which point the squash should be tender and all the liquid absorbed or evaporated.

5. Serve warm with yogurt spooned on top, a sprinkling of chopped cilantro and a few nigella seeds.  Ottolenghi recommends serving with rice, particularly the curry rice (recipe to be added at a later date), in order to make a full meal.


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