Vanilla, Cardamom & Coconut Pumpkin


This pumpkin dish is an example of the kind of sweet-savoury combos that characterise Zanzibari cooking and I'll admit that I was a little wary of mixing the constituent ingredients together at first. While similar things were delicious when eaten on holiday, was I going to equally keen on them out of context and back at home? Pumpkin is one of those cross-over vegetables that gets the sweet treatment quite often – at this time of year, the obvious example is in American Thanksgiving dinners – pumpkin pie, pumpkin and marshmallow, all that kind of thing. Problem is, I have a fear of pumpkin in these forms that borders on the profound…

However the spices save the day and work to strike the right balance in this dish. Vanilla and cardamom are pretty flexible and work in contexts both sweet and savoury. Similarly, coconut can be taken one way or the other. With a good sprinkle of salt and pepper added, and a garnish of coriander leaves, the pumpkin really works as a vibrant and surprisingly refreshing side dish. 


(Serves 4 as a side)

  • 20g butter
  • 1 medium-sized pumpkin
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 200ml water
  • Salt & pepper
  • Handful of fresh coriander leaves to garnish

Cut the pumpkin in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, as well as the fibrous layer directly beneath the seeds. Use a sharp knife to carefully remove the skin of the pumpkin, and then cut the flesh into 3cm cubes.

Melt the butter in a large casserole pan over medium heat. Add the cardamom pods and gently stir these around for a minute, before adding the cubes of pumpkin. Fry these gently, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the vanilla pod.

Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways and, using a knife with a sharp point, scrape out all the tiny black vanilla seeds inside. Add these to your pumpkin, along with the empty vanilla pod, which will continue to add flavour as the pumpkin cooks.

Now add the coconut milk and water, along with a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Cook until the pumpkin is soft all the way through, approx. 20 minutes, (a small knife inserted into the centre of one of the cubes will confirm this).

To serve, arrange on a platter, or in a large bowl, and scatter over the fresh coriander leaves. I think that, when possible, it is always nice to display the whole spice where these have been used, so I leave the cardamom pods in, and would suggest placing the vanilla pod atop as a garnish. Alongside the bright orange of the pumpkin, and the green coriander leaves, the deep wood colour of the pod looks rather nice I think.