Sunday, October 14, 2012

Butternut Squash Tikka Masala

Autumn is beautiful…

A long time ago, I read a letter from my special friend, Sally, describing the glorious beauty of leaves changing color. Looking back on that moment, I remember the deep sense of longing and despair that I felt when I thought that never in my life will I ever get the chance to see autumn leaves falling. But I was wrong. Sally made it happen for me and helped me come to America.

Now, this is my sixth year of experiencing fall and my breath still catches every time I see how beautiful everything is. The leaves changing from green to different shades of fiery yellow, orange, or red; the crunch of dried leaves on the ground; and the cold nip in the air during early mornings and evenings make my heart skip.

Fall outfits are awesome too, especially scarves! I love the warmth that these soft pieces of cloth bring around my neck. Back in the tropics, scarves rarely belonged in anyone’s wardrobe. It would be utterly ridiculous to wear scarves when it’s 80 degrees F year-round. Tucking skinny jeans into my boots is my other fall standard… boots are definitely way more comfortable than heels or even ballet flats.

This special season brings warmth to my heart. It makes me want to hide in my kitchen and dig my hands into soft dough , stare inside the oven to wait for cookies to bake, or stand in front of the oven stirring a pot of soup.

So, with all that said, I bring to you my first autumn recipe to celebrate and welcome the season… Butternut Squash Tikka Masala. The butternut squash is cooked in a hearty and creamy, Indian spiced cream and yogurt tomato sauce.

Butternut squash is top among my list of favorite fall produce. It is versatile and can be added to any dish, savory or sweet, and is just as good by itself. That is why I decided to showcase it in this dish and have it be the main star with no competition (save for the husk cherries).

Husk cherries are so awesome! I found them at the Hillsboro Farmers Market in Portland last weekend and they are a treasure. They look like little tomatoes underneath a dry husk but taste surprisingly like a tropical, slightly acidic, sweet fruit. They vaguely remind me of ripe mangoes.
So delicious and addicting. These husk cherries added sweet bursts of flavor in the Butternut Squash Tikka Masala.

The masala (spices), which consisted of garam masala, cardamom, cinnamon, chili powder, and paprika, added a depth of flavor to the dish. I love how the combination of these warm spices made for an earthy, smoky, and flavorful sauce. It also made our kitchen smell like an inviting, Indian restaurant. 

Lime, cilantro, and Thai basil play an important role in the dish as well. The lime adds a nice, zesty tang; the cilantro brings an earthy-peppery flavor; and the Thai basil gives an aromatic and sweet, herby flavor. This trio of garnishes makes the dish come together perfectly, so don’t forget them!   

Exotic and familiar at the same time, Butternut Squash Tikka Masala, is the kind of food that brings you warmth and comfort. It serves as a reminder that fall is a great season… a time to harvest, to celebrate the bounty of the year, and to share good food with loved ones gathered around.


Butternut Squash Tikka Masala (Makes 8 servings)

Masala (Spice Mixture):
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp brown sugar
cardamom seeds from 3 pods
¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp paprika
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 and ½ inch nub of garlic, crushed and minced
2 and ½ lbs butternut squash, chopped into ½ inch squares
masala (see mixture above)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup plain yogurt
¼ tsp salt (or more to taste)
½ cup husk cherries (cherry tomatoes may be used as substitute)
1 lime, cut into wedges
fresh cilantro, leaves chopped with stems removed
fresh Thai basil

Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and sauté until shiny and translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger until fragrant, about a minute. Mix in the masala and stir for a minute.

Add the tomato paste and stir until everything is coated, about a minute. Pour in the water and stir continuously as it fast boils within a minute. Stir in the heavy cream and allow it to boil gently, just about a minute. Add the yogurt and stir for another minute.

Gently mix the chopped butternut squash into the sauce. Stir everything well until all the squash cubes are coated with the sauce. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until the squash is just tender. If it starts to boil over before the 15 minutes is up, partially open the cover.

Remove the cover after 15 minutes and season with salt. I found that ¼ teaspoon was just right, but you may add more to taste. Keep the cover off and cook for about 8 more minutes, until the sauce thickens. Be careful not to overcook because you don’t want the squash to get too soft. Toss in the husk cherries and cook for another minute or two, uncovered.

Turn off the heat and serve warm, garnished with a lime wedge, cilantro, and Thai basil.    

Best when served warm on top of hot rice!

Based on personal experience, this dish is more even more enjoyable when savored while sitting on the couch with your toes tucked under a blanket. Make it and allow yourself to feel loved and comforted!

Have a great week everyone!


  1. This looks delicious! What a perfect fall dish. I'd love to eat that on the couch!

  2. I'm so glad you're getting to experience fall! It's such a great season. Tikka masala is a favorite of mine and I think butternut squash is the perfect pairing for it!

  3. Fall is all about squash! The tikka masala looks perfect for the first chills!


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