This simple fresh curry paste takes only minutes to prepare. It envelops sweet, golden chunks of butternut squash with a beautiful and savory green sauce in the time it takes the accompanying rice to cook. Try making it with any prepared curry paste for an even simpler dish (see note).
Trim off the stem and blossom end of the butternut squash. Halve lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds and fibers. Cut into large chunks and carefully peel each chunk. Cut the peeled chunks into 1-inch pieces. You will have about 4 cups. Set aside.
In a small food processor or the jar of a blender, combine the shallots or onion, garlic, ginger, chilies, the 3 tablespoons water, and 1/2 cup of the cilantro. Grind until you have a fairly smooth paste, pulsing the motor and stopping often to stir down the sides of the container and incorporate all the ingredients. You will have about 1/4 cup bright green paste. Set aside.
Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/2 cup into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and releases its sweet fragrance, about 3 minutes.
Add the curry paste and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, mashing, scraping, and stirring until the paste is dissolved into the coconut milk and is heated through. Add the remaining coconut milk, the remaining 1/2 cup water, the sugar, salt, and butternut squash. Raise the heat to high and bring the curry to a rolling boil. Stir well, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and continue cooking until the squash is tender and the sauce is smooth and evenly colored a soothing green, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut all but a few of the basil leaves crosswise into thin strips. When the curry is cooked, stir in the basil strips and the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the reserved basil leaves and serve hot or warm.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: This recipe makes a moderately hot curry. If you like your curries very hot, increase the amount of fresh chilies to suit your palate. To substitute prepared curry paste (any type will do; see the Basic Recipes chapter), omit the shallots or onion, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, water, and cilantro, and begin by cooking 2 tablespoons prepared curry paste in the 1/2 cup coconut milk. Butternut squash and other hard winter squash are a challenge to peel. Use a chef's knife or a Chinese cleaver if you are handy with either one of these tools, or use a good paring knife, holding each chunk steady on your cutting board and cutting down along its side to remove the peel.
Real Vegetarian Thai
by Nancie McDermott
Chronicle Books, $11.95
256 pages; May 12, 1997
Recipes and photos reprinted by permission.
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