The highs have just barely broken 40F with gusting winds and enough showers to give us large pools of standing water at the intersections and now the itinerant snowflakes have made an appearance. Despite wearing multiple sweaters, waterproof jackets, and insulated boots my bones feel cold. What stops me from busting out some cheese and crackers to go with my whine is the poor pooch who’s essentially wet 80% of the day cuz by the time he’s dried out it’s time to take him for another pee walk. It’s another dark, dreary winter in the Pacific NW and while I can fondly reminisce over sunnier days, nothing says, “It’s all good,” like a spicy, steamy bowl of red curry. Although we live 8 blocks from a very delicious and traditional northern Thai restaurant, while they make a scrumptious green curry, they don’t have pumpkin curry on their menu. In classic Thai fashion, they’re so sweet and accommodating they’d probably whip us up a pumpkin curry if we asked but after many failed experiments, pumpkin curry is part of my limited Thai repertoire. Having lived in Chiang Mai for a month and St. Paul, Minnesota, (interesting factoid: St. Paul has, or at least had at the time I was living there, the largest Hmong population outside of SE Asia so the Thai restaurants there were just as good as the ones we ate at in Thailand) I became spoiled in my tastes. So when we moved out to Seattle, despite the Emerald City priding themselves on their Thai cuisine, I had to learn how to make my own curry cuz the Seattle style was overly creamy and soup-thin for my tastes.
Like many yummy and hearty dishes, this one may not look supermodel cover worthy, but it’s got a great personality and make you realize that looks aren’t everything 😉 I’ve roasted the kabocha first cuz they take forever to cook compared to the almost instantaneous chicken and curry sauce as well as roasting them really brings out that sweet starchy goodness that goes hand in hand with the rich, savory curry. The bright astringent zing of the fresh basil and bitterly tangy lime help to cut through the creamy coconut and give some added depth to this simple dish. After roasting the kabocha, except for the 20-30 minutes for cooking the rice which magically gets done while you’re doing all your multitasking and 20 minutes roasting the squash which also requires no supervision, this meal practically cooks itself and given our modern, hectic, double-booked lifestyle is always welcome in my book. So since everything is done simultaneously and with a minimum of fuss, the “active” time involved with cooking the curry is a whopping 15 minutes but you can still regale everyone with how you slaved over dinner, I won’t tell 😉
What if I don’t have a SE Asian pantry?
1) As with many Thai recipes, the ingredients here while not necessarily found in most pantries can be easily obtained at your local Asian grocery if you have one in your area and in many Western stores if you live in more urban areas. You can also buy fish sauce, coconut milk, and curry paste from internet-based companies.
2) Traditionally most Thai curry dishes also include kaffir lime leaves which can be difficult to find outside of Asia, even in well-stocked Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find kaffir leaves you can substitute regular lime leaves, lime zest (regular or kaffir zest) where 1 tsp of zest is about 6 leaves. Sometimes (which happens frequently) when I don’t have a lime hanging around and am too lazy to walk the 2 blocks to the store I’ll just use lime juice which gives you that slightly bitter tanginess to cut through the richness of the curry. If you’re lucky enough to have access to kaffir lime leaves 3-4 leaves should suffice for this recipe.
3) Is there a way to make this dish vegetarian or vegan? Possibly? Classically Thai curry paste recipes and commercial curry pastes are made with shrimp paste and curry sauces use fish sauce as the briny, savory element. You could try salt or soy sauce but since the fish sauce has a very distinct briny taste the dish will taste different but possibly good in a different way?
2 c kabocha, peeled and in 2-inch dice
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 13.5-oz can light coconut milk
1-2 tbsp red curry paste depending on how spicy you like it (I like Mae Ploy brand)
1 tbsp fish sauce (I prefer Three Crabs brand)
1 tsp packed light brown sugar
2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp lime zest
6 oz chicken breast, in 1-inch pieces (I like to use chicken tenders cuz they’re thin ~1/2-inch thick with no gobs of fat to remove)
3-4 sprigs fresh basil, stems discarded
Preheat oven to 425F. In a gallon-sized zip bag combine kabocha and vegetable oil. Seal and shake to mix, I find that leaving some air in the bag makes it easier for the squash to mix about. Roast on a baking sheet till golden brown and easily pierced with a fork ~20 minutes.
While the kabocha is roasting zest your lime and prepare your chicken into 1-inch pieces.
When 10 minutes are left in the roasting time for the kabocha, in a small ~1-2 quart saucepan heat coconut milk over med-hi heat till the coconut oil floats to the surface ~5 minutes. Add curry paste and simmer till aromatic 1-2 minutes. Stir in fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, lime zest, kabocha, and chicken. Simmer till chicken is cooked but still tender ~2-3 minutes. Stir in basil and remove from heat. Serve over steamed rice. I often like to add some 1/2-inch thick raw zucchini rounds or raw tomato slices to my bowl too. Makes 4 servings.
**By my calculations, 1 serving contains around 363 calories, 26 g fat, 8.4 g protein, 22.5 g carbohydrates, and 0.8 g fiber. If you serve it with 1 c of steamed white rice just add 205 calories, 0.4 g fat, 4.2 g protein, 44.5 g carbohydrates, and 0.6 g fiber.