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Meatless Thai curry counters season's dietary excess

Amid the season’s dietary excess, squash can be the saving grace.

It’s easy to keep several varieties of hard-shell squashes on hand and almost as easy to incorporate them into a variety of dishes, including icons inspired by global cuisines. Inspiring posts to this blog over the past year are squash lasagna, chicken udon, pappardelle pasta and that standby, stuffed acorn squash

Why squash as a foundational food? Simple. It’s a good source of fiber, potassium and magnesium, as well as an excellent source of vitamins A and D. With its balance of sugar and starch, squash is supremely satisfying on wintertime menus.

And squash can be interpreted loosely in many recipes. Anytime pumpkin is listed as an ingredient, cooks can read that as butternut. If a squash is simply going to be peeled and diced, then simmered in liquid, almost any variety will work, excepting spaghetti squash, which separates into its namesake strands. Kabocha is notable because it doesn’t need to be peeled, and some thinner-skinned specimens can skip that step, too.

If a squash is too thick-skinned for peeling (Hubbard comes to mind), halve it and roast it before scooping from its shell. If a squash is too unwieldy to even cleave in half, simply poke holes through its skin in several spots before roasting it in the oven. When the squash emerges, it will be soft enough to cut through.

Although this Thai-style curry calls for pumpkin, I most recently used butternut in a variation prepared with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. I like combining the squash with brassicas, such as broccoli and cauliflower or bok choy, which are more seasonal. Frozen green beans could be substituted for fresh in this recipe courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Thai Pumpkin Curry

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced

2 1/2 cups peeled and cubed kabocha squash or pie pumpkin

8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 red chili pepper, sliced (optional)

2 to 3 tablespoons Thai red or green curry paste, or more to taste

1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooked rice, for serving

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots and cook until softened, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric and saute for 30 seconds.

Add the bell pepper, pumpkin, green beans and chili pepper, if using, and saute for 1 minute longer.

Add the red curry paste, coconut milk and 1 cup water; stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until pumpkin is tender and sauce has thickened, for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm over the steamed rice.

Makes 6 servings.

Tribune News Service photo