Ensalada de Calabaza

Cuban Pumpkin Salad

There are many Cuban recipes for cooked vegetable salads, but I especially like this exotically seasoned pumpkin one, inspired by versions served at Cucharamama in Hoboken, New Jersey, and El Bambu, the vegetarian restaurant at the National Botanical Gardens in Havana. Calabaza (West Indian pumpkin) is a variety of squash widely used in Cuban cooking. In the United States, calabazas are sold at some Latin American grocery stores and may also be ordered (see Sources). Though the flavors are slightly different, small pie pumpkins, sold in October and November, and butternut squash, available year round, are good substitutes for calabaza.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound calabaza, pie pumpkin, or butternut squash
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press
  • teaspoons sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon mild paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small sweet yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves

Method

Remove the seeds from the unpeeled calabaza and cut it into 1½-inch chunks. Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the calabaza is just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Drain the calabaza and set aside until cool enough to peel.

Meanwhile, in a medium-size mixing bowl use a fork to mash together the garlic, sugar, ginger, salt, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and pepper. Whisk in the vinegar, then gradually whisk in the oil.

Peel the pumpkin and add it to the dressing in the bowl. Add the onion and cilantro. Toss the salad gently and serve on the lettuce leaves.