My Mother’s Stir-fried Pumpkin in Black Bean Sauce

Nowhere does the principle that necessity is the mother of invention apply more than to this recipe, in which my mother combines sweet pumpkin with a savoury black bean sauce. In China, a variety of squashes and melons is available and enjoyed. However, in Chicago’s Chinatown, with its long, cold Midwestern winters, we were limited to a narrow range of Chinese vegetables. Out of necessity, we learned to adopt local American vegetables and adapt them to our taste.

My mother stir-fried and then braised pumpkin until it was tender, as in this simple recipe. Sometimes she would add a small amount of fried minced beef, but often it arrived at the table as a tasty vegetarian dish. While my American schoolmates were using pumpkins for their Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, at home we were enjoying this treat. It was like having their pumpkins and eating mine, too.


  • 1×675 g ( lb) pumpkin (unprepared weight)
  • tablespoons oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fermented black beans
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil


Remove and discard the hard skin of the pumpkin, as well as the fibres and seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 5 cm (2 in) pieces.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the shallots, black beans, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute. Then toss in the pumpkin pieces and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Finally, add the rice wine, chilli bean sauce, soy sauces, sugar and chicken stock. Reduce the heat, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Turn the heat back to high and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the sesame oil and give the mixture several good stirs to mix well. Serve at once with a meat dish.