“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” – William Shakespeare
Autumn has arrived and, with it, my need for soup. It is a truth universally acknowledged that soup and pumpkins are two autumnal favorites. That, and maybe standing over a cauldron, stirring up something wickedly potent.
To me, nothing says “cool weather” like perusing a pumpkin patch and warming up with something hot and delicious afterward. Really, though, I just want an excuse to make some sort of curry, a common dish in my house growing up. Thai ingredients amplify the subtle flavor of pumpkin to make a perfect bubbling curry. (Say that 10 times fast.)
This particular dish epitomizes fall with its warm spices, tender pumpkin pieces and even offers some hidden health benefits just in time for sick season. Thai basil and turmeric (when combined with black pepper) have strong anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, and both are high in antioxidants. Additionally, garlic, ginger and Thai basil boost digestion and immune system function. Enjoy this wellness potion – I mean, a perfect dish to share with friends and family at the end of a chilly day.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Total time: 40-45 minutes
3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1 small edible pumpkin of choice (Jarrahdale, Kabocha, Kuri, acorn, butternut)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 inches ginger root, finely minced or grated
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
3 ounces Thai red curry paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves and stems separated
16 ounces coconut cream
24 ounces vegetable or chicken stock
1 head broccolini or broccoli
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium carrot (optional)
Sriracha to taste (optional)
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Uncooked rice of choice, ½ cup dry per serving
Large enamel or thick soup pot with a fitted lid
Stable cutting board
Sharp chef’s knife
Start the rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop. If opting for instant rice, cook it after the pumpkin curry is ready.
In a small bowl, juice the limes and add the brown sugar and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.
Julienne the red bell pepper and carrots. Trim the ends of the broccoli and split larger pieces down the middle. Set the vegetables aside to clear the cutting board for the pumpkin.
Place the pumpkin on its naturally resting flat side. Halve the pumpkin carefully with a sharp chef’s knife. To do this safely, place your nondominant hand flat to one side of the pumpkin to hold it firmly in place. Using your dominant hand, create an incision using the knife tip on the opposite side. Do not pull the knife out of the pumpkin once it has cut through the tough skin. Cut down firmly, rocking the knife gently if needed, maintaining awareness of fingers at all times. (No need for this to become a slasher flick.)
Once it has been halfway cut, remove the knife and turn the pumpkin 180 degrees and repeat the process until the pumpkin has been bisected. Scoop out any stringy flesh and seeds and discard. If opting for a squash with inedible skin, peel the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler. Cut the pumpkin into any shape you prefer. I like to follow the line of the vegetable and keep the pieces in crescent shapes, about 3/4 of an inch at the widest point. Cubing the pumpkin would also work. Set the pumpkin pieces aside.
Prep the garlic, shallots and ginger by peeling and discarding any inedible layers. What are left are the aromatics. Mince the garlic, grate the ginger and finely chop the shallots. In a large enamel or soup pot with a fitted lid, add the cooking oil. Turn the burner to low heat and bring the oil to temperature. Once the oil is fully preheated, add the aromatics. Saute on medium low until soft, moving the mixture around with a spatula so as not to burn it.
After 2 minutes, add in the cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper. Combine with the aromatics. Allowing the spices to bloom in direct heat is very important when building flavor. After a minute of frying, add in the red curry paste and combine. Cook the paste for a couple of minutes before deglazing the pot with stock. Be sure to scrape any browned bits at the bottom of the pot.
Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then take the lid off. Simmer for 10 minutes; in the meantime remove the basil leaves from the stems and rip any large leaves in half. Add the pumpkin pieces to the liquid and simmer with the lid on low for 4-5 minutes until the pumpkin is soft but still has its shape. Some squash may take a minute or two longer. Check if the pumpkin is tender; a fork should easily poke through.
Next, add the coconut milk, carrots, broccolini and red bell pepper. Simmer on low with the lid for up to 5 minutes more, until the vegetables are softened but still have their color.
Finally, add in the lime juice mixture. Taste for salt and spice and adjust the flavor as needed. If including Sriracha sauce, add now or the curry will not be spicy. To finish, add in the Thai basil leaves and gently stir. Once the basil is slightly wilted, the curry is ready to eat.
Serve immediately with rice, or reheat to serve at a later time. Natural separation of coconut fat and water may occur – this is normal. Be sure to mix thoroughly after reheating.
Where to Find:
Red curry paste: Red curry originates from Thailand and can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store. It is not spicy, but it is very strongly flavored. Coconut cream and fish sauce are also found here.
Pumpkins: Edible pumpkins are hidden in plain sight, typically in beautiful grocery store displays. Seek varieties like the Japanese Kabocha or Kuri pumpkins, Jarrahdale and buttercup, or substitute with acorn or butternut squash. Ripe pumpkins will have very firm skin. When picking out a pumpkin, try to penetrate the skin with a fingernail; if you cannot push through easily, the pumpkin is ripe. Avoid cooking with carving pumpkins, as they are tasteless and watery.
Thai basil: Spicy with a licorice taste, do not skip out on the Thai basil in this recipe. Thai basil can be found in the produce section with the rest of the packaged herbs.
Tips for Success:
For this curry, I use coconut oil, but any neutral oil with a high smoke point will do just fine. Refined or unrefined both work, but be aware that unrefined coconut oil has a slight coconutty flavor.
Important reminder: Sharp knives are safer than dull knives because you are far less likely to lose control with a tool that is properly sharpened and in good condition.
Personally, I love powerful flavors like fresh lime juice, chili sauce and especially the fermented umami flavor of fish sauce, but for some it may be somewhat strong. Season to your liking.
If you want a pumpkin patch next year, toss the scraps in the garden. Otherwise, dispose of them in the regular garbage.
Winn is a home cook and pumpkin prophet. She can be reached at @food_for_winners on Instagram or at firstname.lastname@example.org.