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Thai Thanksgiving Dish

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, November 4th, 2010

At Thanksgiving time there’s a great option for a main course at your Thanksgiving feast – it’s Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry.

Ingredients

Ingredients for curry

It’s  that time of year again when pretty winter squashes in different sizes, shapes and colors attract my attention at produce markets near my home. I can’t  resist picking up an assortment to take home to brighten up the greenhouse window in my kitchen. Most of them sooner or later end up in the pot, pan and wok, adding sweetness, richness and the golden color of autumn to comfort foods that warm the cool evenings of the season.

Ingredients

More ingredients

Though not as colorful and outwardly pretty, my favorite golden squash for cooking is still the Japanese kabocha, as its flavor, smoothness and creaminess are closest to the tropical “pumpkins” I grew up eating in Thailand. Although it is available year-round in the Bay Area, at this time of year, riper and tastier ones are easier to find. I look for squashes that have a good weight for their size and whose color has turned from the deep green of summer to a grayish green splashed with the golden hues of the season. The outside peel of ripened kabochas may feel a little sticky to the touch, revealing that the sugar is well-developed and sweetness is assured. (See Kasma’s blog on Kabocha Squash.)

Ready to Cook

Ready to cook

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

The bright golden flesh of kabocha cooks to a smooth and creamy consistency and is delicious paired with coconut milk in desserts and in rich, warming soups. It can also be cut into sticks, coated with seasonings and fried to make a tasty snack, served with a tamarind dipping sauce. As Thanksgiving approaches, I like to pair the golden squash with roast duck, simmering them in a spicy curry sauce to serve up as a main dish with rice. My husband, in fact, finds the combination perfect for the season, and calls it our “Thai Thanksgiving curry.”

Frying Curry Paste

Frying curry paste

The curry paste I prefer with duck is red curry. Unlike Indian curries where dry spices figure prominently, the popular Southeast Asian red curry is decidedly herbal with the majority of ingredients comprised of moist tropical herbs and roots, such as lemon grass, galanga, kaffir lime peel, cilantro roots, kachai (an aromatic ginger), garlic and shallots. To these are added a few varieties of dry seeds, such as peppercorns, coriander and cumin, and fermented shrimp paste. It is “red” from both fresh and dried red chillies, and although other curries may have a reddish color, red curry is a particular combination of ingredients that makes it more herbal and lighter-tasting than say, massaman and panaeng curries, for instance.

Cooking Curry

Duck & squash added

Several brands of red curry paste are imported from Thailand, available in plastic pouches, plastic tubs, glass jars and tin cans. I generally do not like canned pastes as canning tends to destroy the subtle flavors of more delicate herbs in the paste. My favorite brand is Mae Ploy  in small and large plastic tubs. This is a spicy and salty paste that probably will not require the addition of fish sauce during cooking. It is readily available in Asian markets that carry Thai ingredients. (See Kasma’s Favorite Brands.)

Red Curry

Ready to eat!

Save yourself the trouble of roasting the duck for the curry by buying one of the beautifully roasted ducks seen hanging in front of duck shops in Chinatown or in the cooked foods section of large, full-service Asian supermarkets. Have the duck chopped up for you into bite-size pieces, but tell them you do not need the sauce. Cook the duck with bone in and skin on to impart a rich roasted duck flavor to the curry sauce. Before serving, skim off and discard the duck fat that has melted into the sauce during cooking.

Of course, other kinds of winter squashes may be used for the curry, so if you have a preference for others of autumn’s golden fruits, try them in this curry. The calabasa now available in many farmer’s markets is delicious and should not be missed.

See our website for more in Thai recipes.


This recipe is also available on our website – Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry


Roast Duck and Pumpkin Curry – Gkaeng Ped Bped

A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit

Ingredients

  • An approximately 1 1/2-lb. kabocha or other winter squash
  • 4-5 cups coconut milk (use two 19-oz cans of the Mae Ploy brand)
  • 4-6 Tbs. red curry paste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs. palm or coconut sugar
  • Fish sauce (nahm bplah) as needed to desired saltiness
  • 2 1/2 to 3 lb. roast duck, chopped through the bone into small chunks
  • 2-4 red hot chillies, cut into thin slivers with seeds (optional)
  • 2 cups Thai basil leaves and flower buds
  • Basil sprig(s) for garnish

Cut the kabocha in half, scoop out the seeds and pith. Placing the cut ends flat on a surface for balance, peel and discard the greenish skin. Then cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch chunks.

Do not shake the cans of coconut milk before opening. Spoon 2/3 cup of the thickest cream off the top of a can into a large pot placed over medium-high heat. Reduce cream until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), then add the curry paste. Stir and mush the paste into the coconut cream and fry for a few minutes until it is very aromatic and darkened in color. Then pour in the remaining milk from both cans, stirring well to dissolve the paste to make a smooth rich sauce.

Add 1 1/2 Tbs. of palm or coconut sugar, stirring well to blend into the curry sauce. Taste and add fish sauce only as necessary to salt to the desired saltiness (may not be necessary with some brands of curry paste which are already highly salted).

Add the kabocha chunks and duck pieces. Stir well into the sauce. If there is not enough curry sauce to cover most of the duck and squash pieces, add more coconut milk; or if the sauce already looks plenty rich, add 1/2 cup of water instead, as the squash and duck will thicken and enrich the sauce even more when they are cooked.

Return to a boil, then lower heat to medium, or just enough to boil the sauce gently. Cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, or cooked to your liking (15-20 minutes or more). Taste the sauce and adjust as needed with fish sauce and palm sugar to the desired salty-sweet combination. If more hotness is desired, stir in the slivered chillies.

If a lot of fat has cooked out from the duck, skim out the oil floating on top of the curry sauce. Then stir in the basil until it wilts to a bright green color. Turn off heat and spoon curry into a serving dish. Garnish top with basil sprig(s).

The preferred canned coconut milk for this recipe is Mae Ploy and Kasma’s preferred curry paste is Mae Ploy – found in plastic tubs in many Asian Markets. (See Kasma’s Favorite Brands.)


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, November 2010.

Southeast Asian Ideas With Pumpkin

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, October 15th, 2010

Winter squashes are used for various dishes is Southeast Asian Cooking.

With the autumn leaves rustling, orange and golden colors are appearing all around us. On tables at farmer’s markets, produce counters in supermarkets and seasonal pumpkin patches at corner lots, the colorful winter squashes are the smash of the season’s harvest. Seeing them all around stirs up delicious memories of the golden squashes I grew up with and the wonderful dishes in which they reveal their glory.

Golden Squash

Golden squash, Sukhothai

The squash I grew up knowing as “pumpkin” is a much different variety from the bright orange ones that are carved and decorated as jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. Smaller, flatter and more disc-shaped, its mottled dark green peel turns to a dull greyish green, tinged with spots of yellow and light orange as it ripens. Inside, the flesh is a vibrant golden yellow, hence we call it “golden squash.”

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Luckily there are now so many different varieties of winter squashes to choose from in Bay Area produce markets. Relatives to the golden squashes of home are the kabocha and the kalabasa. Tasty and sweet, both these varieties revive recollections of my favorite flavors from childhood. Brought to us here by Japanese American farmers, the kabocha (meaning “little pumpkin”) is now widely available not only in Asian markets, but in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores as well. It is prized by Southeast Asian immigrants as can be seen by its availability in most of their markets, to the exclusion of other “pumpkins.” Kalabasa, on the other hand, is only beginning to become popular and its availability is still limited.

Kabocha Squash

Cut kabocha squash

I love kabocha. A fully ripe one has a delightful natural sweetness. Cooked, its smooth, creamy texture melts in the mouth, revealing a rich and nutty flavor. Without the stringiness and sponginess of common varieties of pumpkins, some of my friends tell me it makes an exquisite pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Squash Carving

Carving a squash


Southeast Asians also carve their pumpkins, but in floral designs on the outside, while the cavity inside is used as a bowl to hold a sweet coconut-egg custard that is steamed until both pumpkin and custard are cooked through. This is sliced and served in small wedges, the golden flesh of the pumpkin surrounding the caramel-colored custard – a lovely and delicious dessert. (See Coconut Egg custard (Sangkaya).) Instead of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, we make bite-size pumpkin cakes with rice flour and shredded coconut steamed in small banana leaf cups, (See a picture of Steamed Pumpkin Cakes (Kanom Faktong).) and a sweet soup of pumpkin sticks in coconut milk. (See Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk (Gkaeng Buad Fak Tong).) As you may have guessed, coconut is a favorite companion for our pumpkins.

Custard

Custard in squash

Besides desserts and sweet treats, we use golden squashes in different stages of ripeness for a wide variety of dishes, including soups, salads, appetizers, pickles, vegetable courses and curries. Try the recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tong). It is simple and nutritious, but because it is very rich, in the tropical heat, we usually eat only a few mouthfuls of it along with rice, much as we would eat curry and other dishes at a meal. With the colder Northern Californian climate, however, the richness of this soup can be fully appreciated, giving warmth and comfort. Try this soup with some of the hearty sourdough bread for which the Bay Area is known.

Pumpkin Soup

Golden Pumpkin Soup

For a delicious pumpkin soup, use a ripe kabocha squash – one with peel that has turned a light greyish green, splashed with splotches of yellow and orange. But it shouldn’t be so old that it has dried out. Pick one with a good weight for its size. If the squash is under-ripe (i.e., still deep green in color), use a natural sweetener such as palm or coconut sugar to help bring its nutty flavor through the coconut milk. A green kabocha squash will ripen when stored in a well ventilated area for several weeks, or even a few months, so I always have one on hand. It is pretty to look at in the hanging basket in my kitchen. If you are not able to find kabocha, substitute with a good variety of winter squash that has a sweet and buttery flavor.


Here are links to recipes mentioned in this blog:


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, October 2010

Steamed Pumpkin Cakes (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Kanom Faktong – Steamed Pumpkin Cakes

Steamed Pumpkin Cakes

A delectable Thai treat

This is a picture of Kanom Faktong – Steamed Pumpkin Cakes in Banana Leaf Cups. I love it when Kasma has her advanced students make one of my favorite kanom from Thailand: it reminds me of being there. She teaches this one in her Advanced Set F class. The banana leaf cups are essential: they add a distinct flavor that’s part of the snack.

Readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for Thai kanom (or snacks). One of the pleasures of market walking is to see the huge variety of snacks that are available: every year I see things I’ve never seen before.

Check out my blog entry on Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wahn.

Here’s a previous photo of Kasma making a Thai snack.


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.