Recipe: Mom’s Pumpkin Dal

Pumpkin daal

By Soni Satpathy-Singh


Cooler temperatures, color changes in the environment, with deep oranges, browns, and mustards in the trees and on the ground, and the crisp acoustics of crunchy leaves underfoot once seemed to be the natural heralding of Fall. No more. Fall has become a fluid season in that it begins at the mercy of Starbucks and the offering of its cult favorite, the Pumpkin Spice Latte. That’s right, the coffee Juggernaut has replaced Mother Nature. Since “PSL” hijacked the market eleven years ago, it seems that everything– from espresso, donuts, breads, and beers– to non-edibles such as candles, lotions, and air fresheners, are severely pumped with the overly saccharine pumpkin-spice notes.

Numerous media outlets such as The New York Times, Buzz Feed, and Huffington post have tried to pinpoint the psychology of this craze and why it seems to have such a strong holding on consumer heart and purse strings. Most have concluded that the notes of pumpkin and spices in a drink drum up the senses towards nostalgia and the yearning for tradition and comfort, you know of pumpkin pie and simpler times, of hearth and home.

I can dig it. I, too, associate pumpkins and spices with the Fall, but not pumpkin spice. Rather I associate it with spiced pumpkins.

For me and my very desi household, Fall didn’t equate pies and soups. Our kitchen saw daals and curries simmering with roasted cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves and garam masala.

I grew up in Tennessee where the food culture was always farm to table, local, fresh and all those buzzwords that are so hip now! My mother would thus have an abundance of pumpkin, squash, and gourds at her fingertips to make all the hearty dishes she missed from Odisha. It was a different sort of nostalgia by way of pumpkins. I miss those aromas now, too, and long for the earthy aromas of our version of Fall foods.

Though I’m probably coming off as a spiced pumpkin ethnocentric elitist, I must confess, the Western preoccupation with pumpkin has me dreaming up some very fusion Indian goods. I’m not completely above jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve been known to play with pumpkin chutney, pumpkin paratha, and yes, even pumpkin samosas. But not now. I want the traditional “stuff” of my childhood. Out of nostalgia and my own longing for my mother’s home cooked, spiced-pumpkin meals, I share with you her un-adulterated Pumpkin Dal!


masala mommas_PumpkinDaal_image2_800x600

Pumpkin Dal

Serves 4

Notes: To cook it like an authentic Aunty, soak 1 cup chana dal for 30 minutes. Discard water before cooking. You’re going to also want to get out a heavy bottom pot with lid, small skillet, and a sauté spoon or spatula. Get that chopping out of the way. Peel and dice 1 pound pumpkin. Do the same with 1 large red potato and tomato. Get your masalas ready before turning on the stove.


Ingredients: masala mommas_PumpkinDaal_image3_800x600 (1)

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 cinnamon sticks

6 small bay leaves

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

2 red chillies

½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 tablespoon canola oil

½ teaspoon ghee.

Now you’re ready to cook!



  • Boil 40 ounces water and turmeric in the heavy bottom pot.
  • Add chana dal and continue boiling for 7 minutes.
  • Add cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and boil for another 7 minutes.
  • Add pumpkin and potatoes, reduce heat to medium-high, cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Increase heat/flame to high. Add tomatoes, garam masala, and salt and continue cooking for 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat canola oil separately in the skillet. Add red chillies and cumin and fry for 2 minutes.
  • Add fried cumin-chillies to pot of dal in its last 2 minutes of cooking. Stir in ghee.

You’re ready to eat!

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