Exquisitely Flavored Winter Squash and Wild Mushroom Curry

Curry is one of those dishes that one either loves or loathes. The mere mention of the word curry either makes one person’s mouth water and whips up an appetite, or elicits the “Yuck!” factor in another person. Some people find the taste and aroma of curry tantalizing, and some find it repulsive. What is curry—and why does it evoke reactions that are on opposite sides of the spectrum?

Curry is a dish that originated in India, and consists of a combination of spices or herbs, which usually include turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin, and fresh or dried chilies. The dish was named after the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), a tree native to India, whose leaves are often used in curries.

Curry is generally prepared in a sauce (wet) or in a spice mixture (dry). Wet curries contain ample amounts of broth-based gravy or sauce made of coconut cream, coconut milk, dairy cream, yogurt, sautéed crushed onion, or a purée of legume or tomato. Dry curries are cooked with a small amount of liquid which is allowed to evaporate, leaving the other ingredients coated with the robust flavor of the spices.

Curry dishes usually contain either fish, meat, poultry, or shellfish in combination with vegetables—or could also be entirely vegetarian. According to a Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey, 31% of Indians are vegetarians.

Fun Fact: The country of India has the lowest rate of meat consumption
in the world. In India, being vegetarian usually refers to
lacto-vegetarianism—that is, a vegetarian whose diet includes dairy
products, vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts.
By that definition, Indians who call themselves vegetarians are not vegan.

There are literally thousands of types of curries–not just from India, but also Thailand, China and Sri Lanka, to name a few. As part of the Underground Health Reporter’s Meatless Monday issue, I’m featuring an Indian-style curry dish made with winter squash and wild mushrooms. It’s a vegan comfort food that’s perfect for a fall or winter evening. You can use your choice of mushrooms—such as shiitake, small portobello (crimini), or trumpet—and an assortment of wild mushrooms, too, if they’re available at your local food store. You can make the dish as spicy or mild as you wish. The cayenne and green chilies in this recipe are designed to complement the creamy coconut milk sauce—and the result is an exquisitely flavored dish that even curry haters could love.

Winter Squash and Wild Mushroom Curry

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep/Cooking Time: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 ounces butternut or other winter squash, peeled and diced in ½-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 small whole green chilies, such as jalapeño or serrano
3 medium shallots or 1 small onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves, optional
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 pound mushrooms, preferably a mix of cultivated and wild, trimmed and sliced 1/8-inch thick
¾ cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


1) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add squash cubes in one layer. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 2 minutes, letting cubes brown slightly. Then, flip and cook for 2 minutes more. Use a slotted spoon to lift squash out, and set aside.

2) Cut a lengthwise slit in each chili to open it, but leave whole. (This allows the heat and flavor of the chili to release into the sauce without making it too spicy.) Add shallots to skillet, salt lightly and cook while stirring for 1 minute. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Then add garlic, coriander, cayenne, turmeric and chilies. Stir well and cook for 30 seconds more.

3) Add mushrooms to pan, season with salt and toss to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

4) Return squash cubes to pan, stir in coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium and simmer for another 5 minutes. If mixture looks dry, add a little water. Season with salt to taste.

Just before serving, stir in lime juice. Transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with basmati rice, rice noodles or mashed potatoes.