In Holiday Traditions I'll be reworking and tinkering with classic recipes that have been handed down through each side of my family. I come from an ethnically mixed background, something I've written about on this blog before. My father's family is mostly based in the panhandle of Florida, the most Southern part of the state that there is. Without too much concrete knowledge of my father's family's before they came to North America, the family is deeply rooted in a rural farming background, with culinary influences from the Gulf Coast. Holiday meals from this side of the family, and all meals that I've had with this side of the family, reflect that heritage. Fried fish with hush puppies, candied yams, cornbread stuffing, field peas, butter beans and more.
My mother's side of the family is Laotian and Thai. While her immediate family, and many of my cousins, aunties and uncles are now here in the US, many moving here during the tumultuous and terrifying 1960's and 1970's in Southeast Asia, many family members are still spread across the globe. Holidays and special occasions are full of som tom, yum nua, pad thai, nua kem, lod chong nam ka ti and other Thai and Laotian dishes.
What I've learned growing up is that many of the same ingredients, or similar iterations of recipes, cross the cultural gap between each side of my family. For example, the idea of using the entire animal when creating a meal is something both sides of my family partake in. Whole hog roasts find their place in Southern cuisine via BBQ, and whole roasted pigs find their place in Southeastern Asian cuisine through my memories of my grandfather's pig roasts and making tangy and searingly hot chili lime pig's ear salad.
Being that my sister and I are a perfect mix of parts from each side of our family, we inhabit a cross cultural space that neither sides of our family can fully interact with. We eat at both my Father's family and my Mother's family's tables. We know a good creamed corn and pineapple upside down cake - made from scratch, always - just as well as we know a proper amount of fish sauce to add to yum nua and how to eat dishes with sticky rice and your hands, and nothing else.
The story of each side of my family can be told through food, and it's these crossovers and similarities between each recipe, each meal that gets my mind going. So, for the holiday season I thought it would be interesting to delve into those similarities - and differences. To see how each side of my family takes an ingredient, a preparation, a dish and to explore what they do with it. Because, if I really am what I am eating, then the more I know about the food that makes up my family's dinner table can tell me so much more than just if I'm full of good eats or not.
First up, a recipe for Thai Pumpkin Red Curry. While overly sweet pumpkin spiced everythings have been flooding your social media feeds this fall, this recipe takes a more savory approach to the kabocha squash - a small winter squash used often in Japanese, Thai and Laotian cooking. The red curry paste gives a spiced kick that blends with the ginger, yellow onion and coconut milk to make a soothing, creamy bowl of spicy sweet pumpkin. When I was younger, my mom's yellow chicken curry was one of my favorite meals. Slices of young bamboo swimming in the golden coconut milk were my favorite bits. Now that I'm older, I've broken out of my go-to yellow curry. This iteration of red curry is a new favorite.
Pumpkins, sweet potatoes and yams all take center stage during the colder fall and winter months - and while this recipe may seem non-traditional to you and your family, it's using ingredients that you can find easily at your local farmer's market or grocery right now. Ingredients that you may even use for dessert or side dishes come Thursday, but we'll get to those dishes in my next installment of Holiday Traditions, when I cover a recipe from my father's family that I've loved ever since I can remember peaking over the stove top to ask for seconds.
Thai Pumpkin Red Curry
1 Can of Chaokoho Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons of Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste
1 Kabocha Squash
1 Can of Bamboo Shoots
1 Can of Baby Corn
2-3 Kaffir Lime Leaves or Juice from 1 Whole Lime Only if you can't find the kaffir lime leaves.
1 Bunch of Thai Basil
1/2 of a Sweet Yellow Onion
1 Green or Red Bell Pepper
1/4 of an inch of Ginger
Fish Sauce This can be found at your Asian grocery. I use Golden Boy brand fish sauce.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a hot pan, I used coconut oil. Slice ginger, bell pepper and onion. When the oil begins to shimmer add in the ginger and onion. Stir.
- When the onions have just begun to sweat, add in the curry paste and stir fry until fragrant. When fragrant, add in drained bamboo shoots and baby corn. Stir constantly.
- Add the coconut milk and bring to a fast simmer. Clean and cube your kabocha squash, leaving the skin on if you'd like (it's edible!), and reduce to a medium simmer.
- Add sliced kaffir lime leaves or lime juice and bell pepper and cover. Leave to simmer for at least 15 minutes to soften the squash. The longer the curry simmers the thicker it gets. You can cut the thickness of the curry with a little water if it has reduced too much.
- After the curry has thickened and the squash has softened remove the curry from the heat and add fish sauce to taste. The fish sauce adds a pungent salty flavor to the curry. Julienne the Thai basil and add to the curry, submerging it to release the flavors into the curry.
- Serve with warm jasmine rice. You can add fresh Thai chili peppers for added heat.
Since this is a vegetarian dish, the cost is kept quiet low. If you buy the largest container of Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste, it's still only around $2.00 for 14 ounces, far more than you'll need for this recipe - meaning that you can use it for future meals as well! I also buy my rice in bulk. This way I'm never short on rice and I get it at a better price, especially if I'm buying it from an Asian grocery versus a large grocery chain. Make these small specialty stores your first stop when cooking Thai food - the ingredients will always be cheaper there.
In all, the ingredients for this meal totaled about $20.00, breaking down to about $5.00 per serving - way cheaper than delivery or eating out!
Recipe and Photography by Lauren Durden