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MasterChef Finalist Saira Hamilton: Guest Blog

9 October 2017 / Food and Drink /

Saira is a chef, food presenter and author best remembered as a finalist in MasterChef 2013. She won high praise from judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace as well as Michellin-starred chef Atul Kochhar for her beautifully presented, flavour packed Bengali-inspired food. Saira uses the best of British, seasonal produce combined with the spices and cooking techniques of her Bengali heritage to create fresh-tasting Indian dishes with a modern twist. Leaving behind a 20 year career in law enforcement, Saira now cooks for private clients all over the country, hosts supper-clubs and Chef residencies as well as running cookery masterclasses at several UK based venues. 

Autumnal produce

So now we are into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I obviously can’t express myself as beautifully as John Keats but autumn really is a special time of year. October marks the beginning of the autumn food season, and pretty much every chef I’ve ever met says autumn is their favourite time of year. It’s the sheer variety of ingredients that come into season during autumn that is the real boon for chefs. As well as game meats, which aren’t available fresh at any other time of year, there are also dozens more: apples, squash, celeriac, kale, wild mushrooms, chard, parsnips, cabbage, Brussel’s sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and, of course, the chef’s black gold, truffles.

Halloween inspired dishes

And of course we also have Halloween to contend with in October – you can’t really avoid it. I hear a lot of oldies, and I include myself in that number, bemoaning the rise of Halloween as an event in the British calendar, but you have to say it really has caught the public’s imagination. The shops are full of Halloween paraphernalia and all the young people I know are particularly keen on the whole thing. Last year my daughter was on a school trip in Canada, and was bowled over by how huge Halloween is on the other side of the Atlantic. They were even taken to the pumpkin patch, picking out the best specimens for their carvings. I have been impressed by the massive choice of pumpkins on offer over here too. In fact, the amount of pumpkins I’ve seen over the last few weeks makes me think that every man, woman and child in Hertfordshire must be carving a jack-o-lantern this year.

And so if your jack-o’lantern is young enough to yield some edible flesh when you scoop out its innards (mmm, nice!) I thought I would give you a pumpkin curry recipe which is very easy to make and will help keep out the chill as the nights draw in. This recipe includes prawns which is quite a traditional combination in Bangladesh, but if you want to keep it vegan just leave them out. This works equally well with butternut squash if you just want to buy ingredients for cooking with rather than cutting into scary shapes. Happy Halloween everyone!


Inspired by the ‘mishti kumra’, or sweet gourd that is popular in Bangladesh, this is a delicious autumn recipe, perfect for using the abundence of pumpkin and butternut squash. Still delicious, this can be an entirely vegetarian dish by simply leaving out the prawns.
This recipe was first published in Saira’s cookbook ‘Kitchen Favourites with Saira: Garlic’


2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped in small dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
500-600g pumpkin or butternut squash cut into in 3cm chunks
240g large raw prawns (frozen is fine but defrost before using)
1 green chilli, sliced in half lengthways
Chopped fresh coriander to garnish


// In a medium-sized saucepan, fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Cook until the onion is softened and an even golden-brown colour.

// While the onions are cooking, measure to all the spices out and mix together in a small bowl or jar. Once the onions are cooked, sprinkle in the spice blend and allow to cook gently for 30 seconds or so. Then add in the pumpkin pieces and chilli and stir well to coat the vegetables in the spiced oil.

// When the pan is back up to heat, add a splash of water (no more than 100ml) and put the lid on the pan. Cook on a medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Try not to stir too often as the pumpkin can break apart quite easily.

// Add in the defrosted prawns. Stir carefully to mix. Cover the pan again and cook for another 5 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked to your liking and the prawns are pink and cooked through.

// Garnish with some freshly chopped coriander and serve with plain rice or chapattis.

Saira Hamilton’s Pumpkin and Prawn Recipe (PDF 572kb)

Join us at The Grove to sample some of Saira’s best loved dishes in The Glasshouse from Monday 6 November – Friday 11 November.

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