I was first introduced to kabocha squash when my dad started growing a variety called “Black Forest” in our garden more than 10 years ago. Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash, with a flavor I enjoy much more than some other popular winter squash like butternut or acorn squash. The kabocha squash has a nutty flavor and firm flesh that holds up really well in stir fries and other dishes. I’ve seen this squash used in a number of Thai dishes, including a popular ‘dessert’ which involves filling the center of the squash with a coconut custard and steaming until firm, then slicing it open. Very pretty, but I haven’t had time to attempt that!
I made two savory Thai dishes this weekend using the kabocha squash. First, a beef and kabocha stew, made by stewing pieces of marinated beef in coconut milk and adding kabocha cubes, see recipe below.
Beef and Pumpkin Stew (Kean Bah-Shaw)
1 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. peppercorns
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 lb. top sirloin, cubed
1 can coconut milk, plus enough water to equal 3 c.
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Thai chiles, sliced thinly with seeds
1 1/2 c. cubed kabocha squash
Toast the coriander seeds and peppercorns in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and starting to brown a bit. Grind these in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add sea salt, garlic and cilantro and grind into a paste. Rub this paste into the beef chunks, cover and refrigerate overnight to season.
Bring coconut milk and water up to a boil, then add the beef chunks. Simmer, covered for 1 hour. This step should make the beef very tender. Add the fish sauce and chiles, then season to taste with additional fish sauce (for saltiness) if needed. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add kabocha squash, cover and simmer 15 more minutes. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro.
Adapted from: “Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking” by Su-Mei Yu
With the remaining cubed kabocha squash, I made a red curry vegetable and tofu curry dish. The recipe for this is pretty informal and doesn’t really include amounts, since I kind of made it up as I was going! I had a bunch of vegetables and tofu that I needed to use, so here’s what I did;
Drain and cut the tofu into cubes, saute in vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet until it starting to brown. Add slivered onion and kabocha squash cubes and stir fry for another 4-5 minutes, until the onion is getting translucent. Add eggplant chunks, mushrooms, and sweet corn kernels and stirfry for a few more minutes. Here’s what it looked like;
Then, heat one can coconut milk in another pan, and add about 3 Tbsp. red curry paste, or more to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until it is all well-dissolved and starts to thicken a bit. For salt, add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and a couple dashes of soy sauce.
For something I made up, I think it turned out pretty tasty! Maybe not “officially” Thai, but it followed the basic principles of making a curry from canned curry paste, as I also described in my post on green curry. As I said then, the method of making a coconut-based curry is actually very easy and quick when you use the canned curry pastes, feel free to experiment with ingredients that you have on hand.