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.