Coconut-Smothered Pigeon Peas with Pumpkin

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

When my mother made steamed rice cakes, she usually prepared this legume curry to go along with them, altering the vegetables to fit the season (as you should). Any vegetables will fit the bill, especially if they are the root variety. We all loved the vegetable called “drumsticks,” but it was my brother Bhaskar who always ended up with the biggest pile of fibrous sticks on his plate. We teased him about being as slender as a drumstick.

To reconstitute coconut, cover with ½ cup boiling water, set aside for about 15 minutes, and then drain.

My friend Don grew up with “drumsticks” meaning parts of chicken legs, so when a drumstick curry landed at the table, he said, “What, no chicken?” To us Indians this drumstick is a woody vegetable that looks like overgrown okra—about 12 inches long, ½ inch thick, with tapered ends. To eat it (it’s usually cut crosswise into smaller pieces), split it open with your finger, scrape the inside pulp against your teeth, and discard the woody exterior. It is juicy and has a slight musky flavor and aroma, reminiscent of fresh asparagus spears. In fact, you can use cut-up asparagus as a perfectly acceptable alternative, should you wish to make the curry on this page without a trip to the Indian grocery store.

Makes8 cups


Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Courseside dish

Dietary Considerationvegetarian



Taste and Texturehot & spicy, nutty, savory, spiced, tart

Type of Dishvegetable


  • ½ cup oily or unoily skinned split yellow pigeon peas (toovar dal), picked over for stones
  • 1 walnut-size ball dried tamarind pulp, or 1 teaspoon tamarind paste or concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons Sambhar Masala½ teaspoon ground asafetida
  • 1 cup cut-up cauliflower (2-inch florets)
  • 4 ounces fresh pumpkin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 10 to 12 pieces frozen "drumsticks" (each 3 to 4 inches long; no need to thaw; see Notes)
  • 15 to 20 medium-size to large fresh curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons unrefined sesame oil or canola oil
  • ¼ cup raw cashew nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 4 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed
  • 1 cup shredded fresh coconut; or ½ cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted (see Note)
  • 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt


  1. Place the pigeon peas in a small saucepan. Fill the pan halfway with water and rinse the peas by rubbing them between your fingertips. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now add 2 cups water and bring it to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender, about 20 minutes.

  2. While the pigeon peas are cooking, pour 4 cups water into a medium-size saucepan. If you are using the ball of tamarind, add it to the water and allow it to soften, 15 to 20 minutes. Then, using your fingers, break it apart and coax the pulp to leach and dissolve into the water as you massage the pieces. Once the water is light chocolate-brown and tastes tart, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer to separate out the pulp and any fibers; discard the pulp and fibers. Reserve the tamarind-infused water. If you are using tamarind paste, simply whisk it into the water to dissolve it.

  3. Sprinkle the Sambhar masala and asafetida over the tamarind water. Add the cauliflower, pumpkin, “drumsticks,” and curry leaves. Heat to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium and simmer the thin brothlike curry, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. When the pigeon peas are tender, set the saucepan aside.

  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cashews, coriander seeds, and chiles, and stir-fry until the nuts and seeds turn reddish brown and the chiles blacken, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the skillet’s contents into a blender jar, and add ½ cup water and the coconut. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to form a slightly gritty paste. Add this paste to the pumpkin mixture. Pour ½ cup water into the blender jar, swish it around to wash the jar out, and add this to the pumpkin mixture.

  6. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Add this spiced oil to the pumpkin mixture.

  7. Transfer the cooked pigeon peas, with their cooking water, to a blender and puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, until smooth. (If you have an immersion blender, you can puree the peas and water right in the saucepan.) Pour this thin, creamy-yellow broth into the pumpkin mixture, and add the salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Then serve.



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