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Ambal - Sweet and Sour Pumpkin

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

This one is a true Jammu/Himachal Pradesh special - and people give me weird looks when I tell them pumpkin can be prepared in a sweet and sour way. Needless to add, their minds get blown when they taste it.

Ambal is one of the triumvirate members that is common in pre-wedding ceremonies in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh, its' partner being Mhaa Chholey ki daal, which I've covered in another blog post. Be sure to check it out. Let's get down to how we can make it.


I'll split this into 3 sections - aromatics, spices and everything else, so it's easy to follow along.


  • Fenugreek/Methi seeds 0.5 tbsp

  • 3ish small-medium dried red chillies

  • Asafoetida/Heeng - 2 to 3 pinches


I've asked my elders for the amounts, and as you know with Indian cooking and them, everything else is just instinct, so adjust accordingly dear readers

  • Garam Masala - 0.75 tsp

  • Turmeric - 0.75 tsp

  • Red chilli powder - Adjust the quantity based on how sharp your dried red chillies are.

  • Salt - to taste

  • Coriander powder - 0.75 tsp

Everything else

  • Pumpkin or Butternut squash - around 500 gms, diced into 1" cubes

  • Jaggery - this is the sweet component - 4 tbsp but adjust to taste

  • Tamarind paste - 2 tbsp, but adjust to taste. I'll add a footnote to this blog on how you can extract this paste at home if you don't want to store-bought paste.

  • Mustard oil - "2 ladles" was the measure I was given.

  • 1 cup water

Down to business

  1. We start off by heating up the mustard oil on high heat. This is done to temper the pungency of the mustard oil. If you've cooked with mustard oil before, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, and you don't do this, you'll know what I'm talking about. Mustard oil has a very high smoke point,higher than butter or coconut oil so it might take a while.

  2. Once it's at its' smoke point, lower the heat to a medium and bring the mustard oil down a bit (to around 150 degrees celsius).

  3. At this point, introduce all the aromatics. Sauté the aromatics until they start to release their aroma. This usually takes around a minute.

  4. Heat goes back up to high and now the pumpkin/butternut squash cubes can be introduced along with the spices.

  5. Sauté everything for a little while and then simmer the heat and cover with a lid for around 3 to 4 minutes.

  6. After the 3 or 4 minutes have elapsed, uncover and give everything a nice mix again and cover things up for a few minutes.

  7. Keep an eye out and ensure your pumpkin is soft but doesn't get mushy. Butternut gets soft faster than pumpkin so keep an eye out.

  8. Now, the tamarind paste and jaggery can be added along with the water. High flame and bring everything to a boil.

  9. Once it's come to a boil, simmer the heat and you can stop cooking once your dish has reduced to the consistency you're after.

  10. Garnish with coriander and dry chillies, and we're done! If you ever decide to make it or if you have a variation to this, do let us know in the comments down below.

Tamarind paste

Right, so the alternative to store bought tamarind paste is to basically make it yourself at home. All you do is

  1. soak it in hot water for 3 to 4 hours so it softens up.

  2. Once it softens up, squeeze the tamarinds and run it through a sieve to remove things like seeds.

  3. If you feel there's more pulp to be extracted, you can repeat the process once more with the leftover tamarinds.

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