Pumpkin rice rice is a dish I only just started to appreciate after having it at an “Island Grill” fast food joint in Kingston, just over a year ago. Though that pumpkin rice was rather bland, it worked well with the side of spicy jerk chicken and creamy coleslaw or maybe I was terribly hungry after a day with friends exploring the sights and sound of Jamaica. I recall our dad speaking about this dish when we were growing up and how good it was with pieces of “saltfish”, but I don’t ever recall my mom making it. The two main rices dishes in our home were cook-up rice and the king of rice dishes.. pelau. Even if our mom did make pumpkin rice, it would be her and the old man eating it alone as you couldn’t force us to eat pumpkin as kids.
2 cups diced pumpkin
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 scotch bonnet pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt *see note below
2 cups brown rice (long grain)
tablespoon olive oil (veg oil or butter)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
3 – 3 1/2 veg stock *see note below
Notes: By using the whole scotch bonnet pepper in the dish I got the flavor and not the heat. Break open the pepper near the end if heat is your thing. I used vegetable stock as I wanted to keep this dish vegetarian and I also wanted a mild stock which wouldn’t over power the pumpkin. You’re free to use chicken or beef if you prefer, but be aware that the overall flavor of the dish will be changed. I used Calabaza (Cucurbita moschata), also known as West Indian, Cuban, or Caribbean pumpkin, but I think butternut squash would make for an excellent substitution. Be aware that a lot of stock comes loaded with sodium, so if you’re not familiar with the stock you’re using, add half the salt and adjust near the end of cooking.
* Be sure to watch the video at the bottom to see how I peeled and cubed the pumpkin and for general instructions on cooking this tasty vegetarian pumpkin rice dish.
Start by peppering everything for cooking. Peel and dice the pumpkin, dice the garlic and onion and grate the ginger. Then in a deep pot, heat the oil on a med/high heat and add the diced onion, garlic and the thyme. I left it on the sprig as I wanted the flavor from the stems and near the end of cooking I have the opportunity to remove the stems from the pot. Allow this to soften up on a med heat for a couple minutes.
Now add the grated ginger and black pepper to the pot and give it a good stir. After cubing the pumpkin do give it a good rinse under cool water and drain. Now you can add the diced pumpkin pieces and give it a good stir. With your heat at a med/low setting, allow this to cook for a couple minutes to infuse all the wonderful flavors. As this cook, be sure to wash your rice (see video below) as we’ve done in the past. Basically all you’re doing is… place the rice in a deep bowl and cover with water, now using your hands do a sort of massage motion to allow the grains to work between your fingers. You will notice that the water will go cloudy… pour out and repeat until you have clear water. usually 3-4 times.
With the rice now washed/drained, add it to the pot and stir. Pour in the stock, add the salt (remember my note above) and plop in the scotch bonnet pepper into the pot.
Bring this up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot to cook off the liquid and get the rice nice and tender. After about 10 minutes or so you’ll notice that your liquid would have reduced, the pieces of pumpkin will start to fall apart and the rice grains will start to get plump.
Here is where this can become a bit tricky as the brand of rice you use may have a bearing on this part going forward. After 18 minutes of my rice simmering away I noticed that the rice grains were almost all the way cooked and I still had some liquid. So I turned up the heat and burned that off… remember to stir or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. I like my rice a bit grainy so I had to account for it cooking further in it’s own heat, even after I turned off the stove. If you like you rice creamy, give it a bit more time cooking to really plump up the rice. The texture and consistency of the final pumpkin rice dish will depend on your own liking. remember to now remove the whole pepper and sprigs of thyme. Check for salt and if you want a blast of heat, do burst open the pepper.. but be warned.
There you go, a hundred times better than what you’d find at Island Grill and be sure to add a pinch or nutmeg and/or allspice (pimento berries) to really give this a wicked flavor infusion.