Eric Akis: B.C. squash with a touch of Thai

Warming and aromatic, this Southeast Asian-style curry gets added lift from roasting the vegetables first

Eric Akis

B.C.-grown squash is in season and I recently incorporated that vegetable into recipes for tacos and soup. Today, I continue to show squash’s versatility by giving it the lead role in a Southeast Asian-style recipe.

To prepare it, I roasted cubes of squash with ginger and a selection of other vegetables, including onion, red pepper and carrot. Beyond cooking it, roasting the squash deepens its flavour, allowing it to stand out more, even when added to a spicy dish.

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That dish was a coconut milk-based, red Thai-style curry. Its main flavouring, of course, is red Thai curry paste, which is sold in jars, pouches and/or tubs at most supermarkets.

That paste, similar to other types of curry paste, is flavoured with such things as garlic and spices. But it is called “red” Thai curry paste, because of the red chilies blended into it that give it, its reddish hue and spicy punch.

When making the curry, before I stirred in the coconut milk and other flavourings, such as Thai basil and fish sauce, I awoke the flavours in the curry paste by first cooking it in a bit of oil.

Because the squash and other vegetables were already cooked, I only simmered them in the curry a short while, just long enough to soak up its flavour. For added colour, I stirred some blanched green beans into the curry, and for another taste, some sliced bamboo shoots.

My Thai-style curry is a very flavourful, vegetarian dish that would make a nice, spirit-lifting dinner on a rainy autumn night. I would call the curry “medium” in spice.

If you like your Thai-style curry milder, or spicier, than that, simply add more or less red Thai curry paste. To further “spice up” the curry, I also give you the option to top portions of it with thinly sliced, fresh red Thai chilies.

Pumpkin is, of course, a member of the squash family, so I give you the option to use it in the curry, instead of squash. It’s something you might wish to do after your pumpkin has done its duty being a prop on Halloween night.

Thai-style curries are great served with coconut-flavoured jasmine rice.

Roasted Squash Thai-style Curry

In season, B.C. squash anchors this flavourful, coconut milk-based curry, rich with other vegetables.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 45 minutes

Makes: Four servings

3 cups peeled and cubed squash, such as butternut or banana (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, cubed

1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise, and then sliced widthwise on the bias

1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger

1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp vegetable oil (divided)

• salt to taste

2 Tbsp red Thai curry paste (see Eric’s options)

1 (400 mL) can coconut milk

1/2 cup vegetable stock or water

1 Tbsp Thai-style fish sauce

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest

2 Tbsp lime juice

8 fresh Thai basil leaves, thickly sliced (see Note 3 and Eric’s options)

1 (8 oz./227 mL) can sliced bamboo shoots, drained well

3 1/2 oz. (about 100 grams) thin green beans, each halved and blanched (see Note 2)

• small, fresh, thinly sliced Thai red chilies, to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place squash, onion, bell pepper, carrot, ginger and 1 Tbsp of the oil on the baking sheet and toss to combine. Spread vegetables out into a single layer, and then season with salt. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or just until the squash is tender. Remove pan from the oven and set it aside for now.

In a medium pot, heat the remaining 2 tsp oil over medium-high heat. Mix in the curry paste and cook and stir 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly whisk in the coconut milk, and then add the stock (or water), fish sauce, brown sugar, zest, juice and basil.

Bring the coconut-milk mixture to a simmer, and then mix in the roasted vegetables and bamboo shoots. Return to a simmer, and cook five minutes. Mix in the green beans and simmer two to three minute more.

Taste the curry and season with salt, if needed. If you like a very spicy curry, serve it with a small bowl of the sliced fresh chilies, for spooning on top.

Note 1: I cut the squash into one-inch cubes.

Note 2: Thin, French-style green beans are sold in small packages at some supermarkets. Regular green beans will also work in this recipe. To blanch the beans, which you can do while the other vegetables roast, plunge them into boiling water one to two minutes, until bright green and just tender. Drain well, cool in ice-cold water and then drain well again.

Note 3: Fresh Thai basil is sold in the produce section of some supermarkets. I bought it at a Fairway Market.

Eric’s options: For a milder curry, only use 1 Tbsp of curry paste. For a spicier one, use 3 Tbsp of curry paste. Instead of squash, try cubes of peeled, raw pumpkin in this curry. Cooking times remain the same. Instead of Thai basil, use 1/4 cup or more of chopped cilantro in the curry.

Coconut Jasmine Rice

In this recipe, aromatic jasmine rice is richly infused with the taste of coconut. It makes a nice side dish for the squash curry.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1/2 tsp vegetable oil

1 cup jasmine rice

3/4 cup coconut milk

3/4 cup water

1 Tbsp dried, unsweetened medium or large coconut flakes

1/4 tsp salt

With a brush, lightly oil the bottom and sides of a small to medium pot (see Note). Put the rice, coconut milk, water, coconut flakes and salt in the pot.

Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the rice does not stick. When boiling, cover rice, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and steam the rice, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, or until tender. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Note: The oil brushed on the pot, and the stirring at the beginning of cooking, should prevent the rice from sticking during cooking. The pot I used was 5 1/2-inches wide, and 3 1/2-inches tall.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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