Many years ago the top Sichuan restaurant in Los Angeles—which is to say in the San Gabriel Valley, which is to say in the US—was Chung King in Monterey Park. In the early 2000s we ate there almost as often as we now do at Grand Szechuan here in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, when we left Los Angeles for Boulder in 2003 there was a period when if one of us had to go back to L.A for a few days they were tasked with picking up an order of our favourite dishes the evening before their return, freezing it and bringing it back in their suitcase. We’re not as insane anymore—and, of course, Chung King’s heyday faded long ago, as they moved, lost their chef and closed; and as newer and, let’s face it, even better Sichuan restaurants opened in the SGV (your Chengdu Tastes and your Szechuan Impressions). Why am I going on about Chung King? Well, because on one occasion we saw a special come out of the kitchen and head to another table: it looked like a kabocha squash stuffed with meat. We managed to order one too and it did indeed turn out to be kabocha stuffed with highly spiced ground pork and cooked together. The only other thing I remember clearly is that it was dynamite and that we never had any luck finding it again.
Even as the particulars of the flavour profile of that dish have faded from my taste/memory in the last 20 odd years I’ve harboured the desire to make a pork and squash dish of my own as faint, distant tribute. A couple of months ago I finally did. And it came out rather well and so I am sharing the recipe with you. It is a sort of Indo-Sichuan fusion dish with a couple of Sichuan ingredients (Sichuan peppercorn, Chinkiang vinegar), a bunch of crossover ingredients (onion, ginger, garlic, cumin) and a few Indian ingredients (curry leaves, haldi). But it all comes together really well in my opinion. Give it a go and see for yourself.
- 1 lb boneless pork loin, cut into small cubes
- 3/4 lb or so of squash, cut into small cubes (buttercup or kabocha are best)
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tspn freshly pounded garlic
- 1 tspn freshly pounded ginger
- 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- The following lightly toasted over low heat, cooled and ground to a powder: 1.5 tspns cumin seed, 1 tspn coriander seed, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 1 tspn Sichuan peppercorn, 1/2 tspn fenugreek seed, 3 byadgi chillies or similar [affiliate link]
- 1 tblspn jaggery/brown sugar
- 1 tblspn Chinkiang black vinegar [affiliate link] or balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 tspn cumin seed, roasted over low heat till dark, cooled and ground very coarsely
- Heat a couple of tablespoons of a neutral oil (grapeseed or avocado oil or similar) over medium heat and add the curry leaves.
- As soon as the curry leaves turn glossy (very soon) add the chopped onion and saute for 5-7 minutes.
- When the onion has begun to brown add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute.
- Add the pork, the haldi and the salt, mix in thoroughly and saute, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ground spices, mix in thoroughly and saute, stirring often, for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the Chinkiang vinegar and jaggery/brown sugar and mix in well.
- Add the water, mix, cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low and cook till the pork is just beginning to become tender.
- Add the squash, mix in gently, cover the pan again and cook till the pork and squash are both done. Uncover the pan from time to time and stir to make sure nothing is sticking at the bottom. If necessary add water a 1/4 cup at a time to prevent scorching. However the dish should be dry at the end.
- When the pork and squash are done transfer it all to your serving dish and sprinkle the coarsely ground roasted cumin over.
- Texturally, buttercup or kabocha will probably be the best choices. But if butternut is what you have by all means use that. Or if you’re the kind of deviant who likes to peel delicata or acorn or carnival squash, knock yourself out. Of course, if you have access to ambercup squash it won’t even need to be peeled.
- This is not a very hot dish as presented here. Byadgi chillies are not very hot. You could certainly make it hotter with hotter chillies or more pepper but I rather like the balance of this dish.
- I quite like this alongside rice and dal (for example, this chholar dal). But it’s also excellent rolled up in a paratha or a large tortilla.