Simple Eating

Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce

Ever since I started this blog, I have received different questions about Vietnamese cooking in general. One of those is how to prepare Vietnamese-style vegetarian food. Some questions even go a bit backward, is there a vegetarian cuisine in Vietnamese cooking? Yes, of course!!! Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine has been mostly emerged and developed through the popular practice of Buddhism in the country. The most accepted school of Buddhism in Vietnam, if I am not mistaken, is Zen Buddhism. And followers of this school believe that a vegetarian diet assist in meditation and harmonization with other creatures on Earth.

I first experienced vegetarian meals at the village pagoda with my grandmother. The vegetarian food there was very simple and pure, produced from very fresh and healthy ingredients. Almost everything was home grown and made on premises from the vegies in the garden, to kitchen essentials like tofu and sauces. Such spirit has also been preserved in vegetarian restaurants. Most of my friends in Vietnam associate vegetarian food with fresh and healthy eating. Although faux meat and seafood are common, all dishes are prepared with much care and mostly house made.

For me, vegetarian food is a form of nourishment. And more importantly, it should be prepared with great respect to ingredients. That´s why I am starting a series on Vietnamese vegetarian cooking. It´s also my effort to bring my home cuisine to all my vegetarian friends … I hope these posts will help you have a better understanding about the Vietnamese cooking.

Let´s get started, shall we?

Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce

The dish I am making today is Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce. Braising meat/fish in caramel sauce is a staple dish for Vietnamese household. The most famous version is using fish or pork. But using pumpkin really lifts this familiar taste to a different level. After braising, the pumpkin is soft and its sweetness blend so well with the darker caramel flavors (it´s like bittersweet). Serve it with some rice, and I will be more than happy. And don´t forget the sauce! Spoon it over the rice to savor the delicious sauce, too…

I have used the lovely Japanese pumpkin (photo), but you can use whichever variety available. Remember to keep the skin on. This helps the pumpkin wedges to stay in shape, and provide a little crunch for the final dish.

Japanese Pumpkin

Now, the caramel part! I have included two recipes for the caramel sauce. I personally prefer the dry method since it´s quicker. But if you are afraid of burning your pan, use the second one (almost fool proof). Whichever method you use, the final caramel should look something like the following photo. Don´t go lighter or the flavours will not be achieved.

Caramel Sauce (Nuoc Mau)

Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce

Recipe inspired by idea shared by ihi from TTVNOL


Pumpkin, about ¼ (400g), cut into large wedges

Caramel Sauce, prepared as two methods described below

Flour to coat the pumpkin

Little oil to panfry

Sea Salt, to taste

Sesame oil (optional)

Chopped spring onion* and/or shredded bell pepper to garnish

Ground Pepper, to serve


  1. Lightly coat the pumpkin with some flour. Shallow fry until reaching a golden color. (Don´t skip this step since it helps to flavor the dish).
  2. In a saucepan (heavy bottom preferred), arrange the pumpkin wedged. Pour in the caramel sauce (the caramel sauce should reach at least 1/3 of the pumpkin height). Add vegetable stock or water so that the liquid barely reach the pumpkin surface.
  3. Add salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn on very low heat. Simmer for 20-30 mins or until the pumpkin is cooked through… You can simmer a bit longer so the pumpkin is very soft, giving a creamy sauce in the end. Check seasoning. The dish is supposed to be lightly sweet and have deep caramel flavors.
  4. Just before serving, add spring onion and bell pepper garnish. Drizzle a little sesame oil. Add some ground pepper if preferred. Serve hot with rice.

(*): Vietnamese Buddhists avoid eating spicy and ingredients like onions, garlic etc. But I just include it here according to my taste.

Caramel Sauce

Dry method: Please go to this link. The quantity prescribed should be more than enough for this dish. This is my preferred method. Don´t burn the sugar since the caramel sauce is not supposed to be bitter!

Method 2: Please refer to the preparation here.I haven´t tested the recipe, but it sounds right!

Pumpkin Simmered in Caramel Sauce


This post is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, an event created by the wonderful Kalyn. The host of this week is Ulrike from Kuchenlatein. The round up should be ready on Monday next week. Don’t miss out! Also, we are all eager to celebrate the 2nd birthday of WHB. So please check out Kalyn’s blog for all the details!

44 Responses to Simple Eating

  1. Kelly Mahoney says:

    Mmmm, I love pumpkin everything.

  2. Lucy says:

    Well Anh, I for one am VERY excited you’ll be posting authentic Vietnamese veg dishes.

  3. tigerfish says:

    Last year, I picked a huge FREE pumpkin from the fields and did not know what to do with it. This year, maybe I will just get a cooking-type small pumpkin from the store and try some simple recipes like this.

  4. Sharmi says:

    caramel is sweet right and would make the pumpkin even more sweeter. so they eat it sweet! nice picture and info.

  5. Anh says:

    Kelly, I am big fan of pumpkin, too!

  6. Kalyn says:

    Oh my, this sounds just wonderful. I don’t know what that variety of pumpkin is (that type of vegetable is called winter squash in the U.S.)

  7. Susan says:

    From the stunning photos to the scrumptious recipe to the informative opening, I just love everything about this post, Anh. I’m already anticipating another one! :)

  8. bhags says:

    Yum….looks wonderful. never had anything which was an authentic veitnamese dish

  9. Lydia says:

    Such an interesting recipe. It’s starting to be pumpkin season here in Rhode Island — and we have one local farm that grows more than 20 varieties of squash and pumpkin. I’m sure I can find one that will be delicious in this dish.

  10. Anh says:

    Kalyn, isn’t it great that food can bring such connection to your students’ culture? I have had similar experience… Food is just a very good topic to start off a conversarion with people from different background.

  11. Gattina says:

    so pretty, like gold! And good way to practise making camarel.

  12. Dayna says:

    I’m currently obsessed with all things pumpkin right now and this look fantastic, simple, complex and delicious all at once – and you did this with pumpkin!!! Wow!

  13. Kevin says:

    Great photos! This sounds very interesting. At first I thought it was a sweet desert but then there is pepper and green onions… Bookmarked to try when I get a pumpkin. The fish version also sounds good.

  14. Asha says:

    It’s beyond simple eating!!:))

  15. veron says:

    Anh – that caramel sauce sounds divine – and I do love pumpkin but I think I like fish better. I wonder if this is similar to my favorite food at the vietnamese restaurant called clay pot fish – it has a sweetish flavor to it too.

  16. Meeta says:

    What a divine combination. Pumpkins are so great and I love the idea of pairing them with a caramel sauce. Delish!

  17. katiez says:

    We love pumpkin and I have one huge and 2 smaller waiting in the garden right now. Just a few more days of sun should do it! I think I will continue to peel mine, though. This type has a rather tought skin!

  18. Graeme says:

    Great idea, Anh. Makes a change from roasting pumpkin with brown sugar.

  19. bee says:

    what a great recipe, anh. thanks foe sharing it.

  20. Deborah says:

    I am not very familiar with Vietnamese cooking, but if it’s all like this, count me in!

  21. Manggy says:

    Whoa, I’ve never seen this in a Vietnamese restaurant! Too bad ’cause it seems like the kind of thing I would order.

  22. eatme_delicious says:

    Oh my Anh!! I am so excited to read more of your vegetarian Vietnamese cooking posts. This dish looks and sounds really tasty!

  23. East Meets West Kitchen says:

    Came over to look at your squash dish.

  24. Mishmash ! says:

    Anh…I think your new series is going to be enlightening for most of us, so looking forward to more of that :) I have used caramel only in my desserts, praline being my favourite 😉

  25. winedeb says:

    Anh, I am thrilled that you will be posting dishes from your home country!

  26. Ulrike says:

    What a great dish! Thanks for your WHB entry. If I could only use chop sticks in the right way 😉

  27. Wandering Chopsticks says:

    I love squash! I would have never thought of kho-ing it. 😉

  28. Anh says:

    Gattina, it does look pretty right? I love how the green skin contrasts with the golden flesh!

  29. Nabeela says:

    Wow…what a beautiful food blog..I love south east asian husband even more so. So, I’ll definitely be dropping by here to check out your authentic dishes :)

  30. Maryann says:

    Great idea for a series :)

  31. Cynthia says:

    Oh my, my, my, I’ve never seen pumpkin so sophisticated!

  32. Kate says:

    this is probably the best way i’ve seen pumpkin being prepared. Not a big fan of it , but the way you’ve prepared it i’d definately have to give it a try :)

  33. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen says:

    That looks absolutely GORGEOUS Anh!

  34. Cris says:

    That is so interesting to eat this dish with salty food, we have caramelized pumpkin here, but it is just caramel and pumpkin and it is a dessert. I love mixing sweet things to my food, I am pretty sure I would eat this and beg for more!

  35. Lucy says:

    Well, it’s a beautiful recipe and we loved it!

  36. SteamyKitchen says:

    I was all set to make caramel sauce….

  37. Mike says:

    This looks really tasty and isn’t something I would have thought of for pumpkins. I’m not really familiar with Vietnamese cooking, but you’ve once again picqued my interest. :-)

  38. sher says:

    Wonderful post. I’m so glad you’re going to do Vietnamese vegetarian recipes. I love Vietnamese food–and I will enjoy seeing more healthy and delicious dishes from you. :)

  39. Blue Zebra says:

    Hi Anh, I’ve been meaning and meaning to visit your blog. Your comments on other blogs are always so lovely and well-thought. I love what I see so far and can’t wait to try the pumpkin dish. I heart Vietnamese food! We have a very large Vietnamese culture here in Houston (I think in part because of our coast)? They have added so much to our town, not least of which is incredible food! It is in my

  40. Cindy says:

    Anh, I’m thrilled that you’re undertaking this series! I’ve had limited success in finding meat-free Vietnamese dishes in restaurants and am keen to try it at home.

  41. Sophie says:

    That’s such a good idea to do a series on vegetarian dishes Anh! Pumpkin and caramel sounds delicious so this is surely an auspicious start to the series – am looking forward to reading the rest!

  42. Mango Power Girl says:

    This is a such a great idea to eat a seasonal item in a traditional way…looks great!

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