This roasted butternut squash main course is packed with contrasting flavors and textures. Chunks of velvety butternut are roasted with cayenne pepper and turmeric. It’s paired with chickpeas crisped hot and fast in butter. And a richly spiced, creamy sauce boosted by hot bird’s eye chilies. Serve with rice for one deliciously rich meal that’s very easily turned vegetarian.
Makhani. The word comes from the Punjab in northern India and means “butter”. And along with plenty of heavy cream, there’s certainly a bonanza of butter in this outstanding sauce.
Outstanding? For sure. A couple of world-famous Indian dishes also feature a very similar sauce — murgh makhani or butter chicken, and that great, black lentil dish, dal makhani.
Much as I enjoy spicy butternut squash soups as an appetizer, this roasted butternut squash dish is most definitely a main course. I particularly like how the butternut keeps its texture because it’s roasted in bite-sized chunks — rather than being blitzed into a purée. And its generous coating of cayenne and turmeric emphasizes the sweetness that comes from cooking the butternut pretty fast in a hot oven.
A trio of flavor and texture contrasts
As well as retaining some structure, the roasted butternut squash keeps those spicy and sweet flavors because it’s served on top of the sauce as opposed to being cooked in it.
The second contrast in this dish comes from the chickpeas. They also get treated separately: Hot-fried generously in butter, they have a slightly crunchy ‘shell’ a bit like good popcorn. But their insides stay soft and nicely floury. That’s sort of two contrasts for the price of one. And they stay that way since they’re only added to the sauce once it’s cooked.
And then there’s the makhani sauce. Contrast number three. This is so good that I’d very happily eat it on its own with, say, some plain rice or naan bread. A buttery, slow-cooked base of onions, chilies, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes forms a platform to showcase spices like cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cilantro, fenugreek, and garam masala. And a heft of heavy cream. That’s hardly surprising because the Punjab is famed for its dairy produce and how it’s used in the region’s cuisine. It’s so good with the roasted butternut squash.
A simple switch and its fully vegetarian
Just swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock — that’s all it takes. And as a card-carrying carnivore, this roasted butternut squash dish — without a trace of meat in it — still ticks all the right boxes for me. That’s saying something. I can probably count on the fingers of one finger (yep) the number of days in a year that I don’t eat meat or fish.
It’s the sheer variety of delights in this dish that makes it so appealing. I like it with plain, boiled basmati rice alongside. And that’s fitting since basmati is the rice of the Punjab.
Serve this dish to anyone who raises an eyebrow at the prospect of a hearty, deeply satisfying, vegetable-only meal and watch their skepticism melt away. Especially when they ask if there might happen to be a few spoonfuls more.
Cayenne-Roasted Butternut Squash With Hot Makhani Sauce
- 6 red bird’s eye chilies finely chopped seeds and all
- 2 heaped teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 medium-size butternut squash peeled, de-seeded and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1 can can chickpeas 15-ounce can, rinsed and very thoroughly drained
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes roughly chopped, skins and all
- 1 can peeled tomatoes 15-ounce can
- 2 ounces tomato puree
- 2 medium-size yellow onions peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 4 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil odorless cooking variety is grand
- 4 bay leaves
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger grated
- 1 1/2 ounces fresh cilantro 2/3 very finely chopped, stalks and all –1/3 roughly chopped to garnish
- 8 green cardamom pods left whole
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 heaped teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 heaped teaspoon garam masala
- 2 heaped teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock for an equally good vegetarian version
- 1 1/2 cups heavy full cream
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 cups cooked basmati rice
Cooking the hot makhani sauce
- Set a good-sized saucepan on medium-high heat, add 4 level tablespoons butter and a level tablespoon coconut oil. Athe butter/oil mix foams, add the onions and a heaped teaspoon salt. Stir well and drop the heat to low-medium. Gently fry the onions so they turn soft and golden – about 7 minutes or so.
- Now add the chilies, ginger, garlic, cardamom pods, and the ounce of finely chopped cilantro. Drop the heat to low, stir well, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
- Add the bay leaves, a heaped teaspoon black pepper, and all the dried spices except the cayenne pepper and the turmeric – they’re going with the roasted butternut, not into the sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes on that low heat. The mix is going to be fairly dry now, so stir so that it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the tomato puree, cherry tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and sugar. Stir well and turn the heat to medium-high. When the sauce starts to bubble, stir again and drop the heat to low. Cook for another 20 minutes on that low heat, stirring every so often until the cherry tomatoes lose most of their body.
- Stir in the chicken stock – or veg stock if you prefer – and cook on low until the sauce just begins to bubble. As soon as it does, remove the pan from the heat and cover it. Now’s a good time to check for saltiness – add some more if necessary according to your taste. The cream only goes in later – once the butternut and chickpeas are ready.
Roasting the butternut squash
- Put a large baking tray in your oven set to 450F. The tray needs to be heated before you add the butternut – we’re roasting hot and fast here.
- While the oven’s heating, put the chunked butternut into a good-sized mixing bowl and pour in a level tablespoon melted coconut oil. Stir thoroughly so that the chunks get covered in the oil. Now stir in the cayenne, turmeric, and a heaped teaspoon each of salt and black pepper – making sure all the chunks are well coated in that spicy mix.
- Remove the hot tray from the oven and quickly spread the butternut squash evenly in a single layer across the tray. Return the tray to the oven on a high shelf and let the butternut roast for 15 minutes. Then remove the tray and turn the chunks before returning them to the oven for another 15 minutes’ roasting. You’re aiming to get a dark golden colour on the chunks, so roast for a little longer if need be. Turn off the oven, open the oven door a little and let the butternut sit there to keep warm. Time now for the chickpeas.
Crisping the chickpeas
- Set a good-sized skillet (nine-inch is grand) onto a high heat and add ½ tablespoon butter. As soon as it foams, add the chickpeas and drop the heat to medium-high. Let the chickpeas sizzle in the butter for another 4 minutes and then give them a good turning stir. Continue to cook for another 4 minutes, then stir again. You want to get a nice crisp outer on them but not for them to take on much color. Done. You’re nearly ready to serve.
Bringing it all together
- Return the makhani sauce to a high heat and bring it to a bubble. Now drop the heat to low and stir in the cream. As soon as the sauce starts bubbling again, remove from the heat and gently stir in three quarters of the crisped chickpeas. Time for plating in good-sized, nicely warmed soup bowls.
- Pour a generous amount of the sauce into each warmed bowl. Top the sauce with chunks of roasted butternut and the remainder of the chickpeas scattered over the top. Serve with basmati rice alongside.