From The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. © 2005 by Joan Nathan. Used with permission.
Marla Gooriah, who was born on the island of Mauritius, off the coast of Africa, came to the United States in 1979. Like most immigrants, she has learned to add American ingredients to her native food.
For Thanksgiving, for example, she always makes this dish, typical of her African, Indian, and Irish heritage. The slight sweetness of the butternut squash marries well with the mustard seeds, ginger, and curry leaves, grown today in California and Florida. I serve it as a side dish with grilled meat or fish. Leftovers go nicely on garlic bread or bruschetta. Adjust the amount of hot pepper to your taste—and remember, it's easier to add hot pepper than to remove it.
When I visited Marla at her home in Virginia she showed me a time-saving technique. She mashes fresh garlic and ginger together in the food processor, then keeps the mixture in a jar in her refrigerator.
6-8 side-dish servings
1. Slice the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and the pulp with a spoon and discard them. Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. Heat the olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven or casserole over medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and mustard seeds until the seeds start to pop, about 3 minutes. Add the pepper flakes or chilies and continue cooking until the onion is translucent, about 3 more minutes.
2. Add the squash, tomato, salt, pepper, and water to the onion in the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, and mash the squash with a potato masher Add the sugar and cook until the water has evaporated and the squash is cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, sprinkle the cilantro over the squash, and serve in a large bowl.
"Globally, 95 percent of our calories now come from 30 species," says journalist and educator Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate. "Three-fourths of the food we eat comes from 12 plants and five animal species."