We will start by letting everyone know that this is a vegan dish. We will also let everyone know (in case all the bacon posts didn’t give it away) that this is not a vegan, or even vegetarian, food blog. But we are mostly agnostic here at the farm, if we see a recipe that looks good we are going to make or adapt it. And in this case we saw a Sunset Magazine recipe combining squash or pumpkin, coconut and curry. As we like squash and curry dishes (see here), we figured we would tweak the recipe. It only occurred to us after making the dish that it was vegan. But since we never knows who is coming to dinner, we may as well have a few vegan recipes at the ready.
And, to be fair, we would make this dish any time. The sweet and hearty squash always seems to work with deep, spicy curry, and the coconut milk adds a welcome sweet and creamy dimension. We add spinach both for flavor and some extra greens. The bright, slightly bitter and astringent notes of the spinach play very well with squash and coconut (think Thai soups). We add some citrus for acidity and toasted coconut, dried fruit and peanuts for flavor and texture. Overall, this is a complete dish. Put the curry on some rice, maybe drizzle on some Sriracha, and you are ready to go.
The only issue with this recipe, and many vegetarian dishes, is that you do need to spend a little extra time to develop the flavors. Let’s face it, animal fat and protein have plenty of flavor and make it easy to quickly add depth to many dishes (think butter or bacon fat). With vegetarian cooking and/or using high-moisture ingredients like vegetables, a few extra steps and a little extra time are needed to remove water (water has no flavor) and concentrate flavor. In this dish, the key is to caramelize both the onions and the squash before adding the spices and coconut milk. The extra browning adds more sweet and umami-like flavors that bring this dish to life. It takes an extra 20 minutes or so, but it’s worth it.
And while this dish does take a bit of extra time, this is a very easy dish to make and all the ingredients are available year-round and in almost any market. You start by slowly browning some onion and then saving half for garnish and then mixing the other half with your spices to create something of a curry paste. Then add and quickly sauté some spinach until it wilts. In another pan brown some roughly diced squash or pumpkin until very well caramelized. Then add the spinach and curry mixture to the squash, pour in some coconut milk and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the squash pieces cook all the way through. Then adjust seasoning and serve over steamed rice (basmati is nice). Garnish with some of the reserved onion, peanuts, toasted coconut, herbs and/or dried fruit. In the end you get a very flavorful, and relatively healthy, meal. And now we have something to serve our vegan friends (hmm, do we have any vegan friends?).
(Adapted, very loosely, from Sunset Magazine)
Notes Before You Start:
- The recipe suggests winter squash or a good pumpkin. We suggest butternut, kabocha or acorn squash and red kuri pumpkin. But use any firm cooking squash or pumpkin you like.
- The recipe also suggests fresh curry leaves, but they are hard to find. We use dried bay leaves, but if you can find fresh curry leaves, please use them.
What You Get: A very flavorful vegan dish that will please any crowd.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? About 45 minutes. You need a little extra time to develop flavors, but still an anytime dish.
- 1 large onion, halved and cut into long slices
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
- 1 and 1/2 quarts, 1-inch diced winter squash or pumpkin (about 1, 3 pound butternut squash)
- 1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper minced (substitute a few dashes of hot sauce)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 dried bay leaves or 20 fresh curry leaves
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 bunch (about 3 cups) of baby spinach, washed and drained
- 1 can (14.5 oz.) coconut milk (you can use light coconut milk, if you like)
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, more to taste
- Any combination of toasted coconut, peanuts, cashews or dried fruit for garnish
- Cilantro, chives or Italian parsley for garnish
- Steamed basmati rice
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the sliced onion and sprinkle with one teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and soft, about 15 minutes. Reserve half of the onion for garnish and leave the rest in the pan.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the chiles, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, curry powder, turmeric, cumin seeds and ground cumin. Toast the spices until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach, stir and sauté until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, heat a very large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the squash pieces and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. Cook the squash, stirring occasionally, until it begins to darken and caramelize, about 10 minutes.
- Add the spinach and spice mixture to the squash pieces and stir to combine. Add the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the squash are tender all the way through, 15-20 minutes. Add a little water if you need a bit more liquid during cooking.
- When the squash is cooked, remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and the lemon/lime juice. Serve the squash over steamed rice and garnish with the reserved onions, toasted coconut, nuts, dried fruit and/or fresh herbs. Serve with Sriracha for an extra boost of heat, if you like.
- Thai Butternut Squash Soup (itsallaboutmefitness.com)
- Curried Red Lentil Soup (putneyfarm.com)
- Vegetarian Soup Recipes (vegetarian.answers.com)
- Curried Sweet Potato, Pumpkin and Coconut Soup with Wilted Spinach and Cashews (livelargespendsmall.wordpress.com)
- Thai Red Curry Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (twistedcheft.com)