Summer Meal Series #15: Butternut Squash and Carrots with Coconut Milk and Curry

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This summer, I’m going to be posting a series of fifteen low-cost, tasty, and easy-to-prepare meals that are literally straight from my own kitchen.

We’ve reached the end of this series, my friend, and so I decided to finish it off with a dish that bridges right into fall meals quite well. It also takes advantage of some later garden produce and, being vegetarian, it hits the “healthy” factor pretty hard.

Finished plate

Best of all, Sarah claims this to be the best meal she’s ever been involved in preparing in the kitchen. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I certainly liked this one, as did the kids. This was far and away the biggest vegetarian meal hit we’ve ever done for our family of four.

So what ingredients were in it?

Ingredients

In the picture above, we had decided to use some vegetable oil, but after some vegetable prep and just before food went in the pan, we stumbled across some extra peanut oil in our cupboard, so we used that instead. Here’s our ingredient list.

2 tablespoons peanut oil or other vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced and peeled
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
Salt and/or pepper for flavor, to taste
Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Our cost was $1.89 for the squash (it’s $0.99 a pound right now), $0.75 for the ginger root, and $1.42 for the coconut milk. We also used somewhere around $0.05 worth of oil, $0.10 of curry powder, and maybe $0.10 of garlic, all of which we had on hand. That adds up to $4.31 for the ingredients for this main course, and we had enough for two adults and two children, with enough leftovers for another adult.

With it, we also served brown rice (perhaps $0.35 worth, by my own estimation), green beans from our garden, and some leftover fruit salad. Each plate cost about $1 overall, in my estimation.

This recipe is based on the “Butternut Squash, Brazed and Glazed” recipe found on page 364-365 of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which really has been an excellent introduction to vegetarian meals for an omnivore like myself.

squash

The first step is to prep the vegetables – peeling and cubing the squash (doesn’t it look deliciously orange?), peeling and cubing the carrots, and peeling and mincing the ginger.

Minced ginger

We also minced the garlic right in with the ginger, so that’s why it looks like quite a bit more than a tablespoon there.

Often, prepping the vegetables is my favorite part of making a meal. The smell of fresh vegetables and herbs and spices, like fresh garlic or fresh onion, just makes your whole house smell great.

Curry

We put the oil, garlic, curry powder, and ginger into the skillet over medium heat and waited for it to color a little bit – about four minutes or so, by our estimation.

This part smelled great. The smell was so wonderful and strong that it brought our children downstairs to find out what was going on.

Curry starting

We then added the coconut milk, the carrots, and the squash, stirred it, then turned up the heat to medium-high until the liquid was boiling, then we dropped the heat down to low and covered it. We left it there for fifteen minutes, stirring it around every five minutes. That’s all it took!

For garnish, we chopped up the last of our cilantro (which has popped up in other recipes during this series).

Chopped cilantro

You don’t necessarily need a garnish – it just makes it look a little prettier as it adds a strong green color.

Green beens

On the side, we prepared some brown rice and used some of the green beans from our garden, steamed.

You’ll see above that most of the green beans pictured are long and thin. This year, we tried “asparagus” green beans in our garden and this is how they grew. They were okay, but not spectacular. I would probably choose the thicker green beans in the future (one of which is shown here, for comparison’s sake).

We also used up the last of some fruit salad prepared for a large family event the weekend before, giving this as our dinner plate:

Finished plate

It was a delicious all-around hit and a great summer-into-fall way to close out this series.

What comes next? Now that this series is over, what comes next in this time slot?

In a week or two (possibly next Friday or possibly the Friday after that), I’m going to start a photo-heavy series on something that’s quite a bit different than anything I’ve done as of yet on The Simple Dollar. It should run for about ten weeks. After that, I’m going to return to doing some Friday food posts on a semi-regular basis.

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62 thoughts on “Summer Meal Series #15: Butternut Squash and Carrots with Coconut Milk and Curry

  1. I’d love to try this, but I’m confused about the carrots (not on the ingredient list or in the instructions, but in the title and pictures. Do you add them at the same time as the squash?

  2. @KM they look like they were added with the squash in the photo after the ginger/garlic/oil/curry powder shot. I see little circles.

    Looks good to me. I would probably throw in tofu or some cubed chicken breast for an extra zap of protein.

    Sadly, that same brand of coconut milk is $2.99 a can at the grocery store I use here in Toronto. Oh to live in a LCOL area!

  3. 10 cents for 2 tablespoons of curry powder?! I’d expect to pay at close to a dollar for that much. Then again I like strong curry, so I’d probably make heaping tablespoons.

  4. Trent – another good cookbook along these lines is an oldie you might want to try to locate – The Gradual Vegetarian. I inherited a copy that was inadvertently left behind by previous owners of the first house I purchased. As the title references, it’s a plan to gradually decrease & eliminate meat from your diet. Everything we’ve made from it the past 25 years has been tasty.

  5. Heh. For lunch today I had a bunch of sauteed vegetables cooked with coconut milk and curry powder and curry paste over brown rice. We used potatoes, a sweet potato, an onion, some carrots, a green bell pepper, a red bell pepper, a can of chick peas, some cubed fried tofu, and a zucchini that didn’t quite match the flavors but which was about to go bad in our fridge. It made enough for several lunches each for the two of us, and it’s easy, healthy and delicious.

    Others will probably point out that coconut milk, while absolutely delicious, is about the least healthy vegetarian ingredient out there. It has a ton of saturated fat – 16% of your daily value of saturated fat *per tablespoon*. Vegetarian food, especially veggie-heavy food that’s light on the dairy, is pretty low in saturated fat in general, so I don’t worry about a dish like this in my overall diet. Others might want to use less than a whole can and sub in some vegetable stock or yogurt or something.

  6. @Jackie, if you’re in a somewhat urban area see if you can find an Indian grocery store with bulk spice bins. We got about 7 different spices in quantities that have lasted us quite a while for less than $3, including curry powder (we actually bought the component spices to make our own curry powder, too).

  7. Some other random thoughts:

    If you tired or in a hurry or unexcited by the thought of peeling, seeding, and chopping a butternut squash, here is what you do: Cut the squash crosswise where the straight neck meets the round base. Put some plastic wrap on the cut side of the base and save it for another time. Cut the neck again right at the top to remove the stem. Peel the neck in long, straight strokes, cut it crosswise into “coins,” and cut each coin into quarters (or ninths, if it’s a big squash). This only takes about two minutes, and you’ve got most of the edible part of the squash.

    You can turn this into a Thai curry by using curry paste instead of curry powder. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own curry paste, or you can buy it in a can or a jar, but be careful: The spiciness level of packaged curry paste varies a lot. If you don’t like spicy food, proceed with caution.

    You can also turn it into (an approximation of) a Brazilian dish called “Moqueca” by: replacing the peanut oil with palm oil if you can find it, omitting the curry powder, and adding some canned diced tomato and some lime (or lemon) juice at the same time as the coconut milk. Real Moqueca is made with seafood; I make it with tofu and vegetables.

    @Adam P: Try looking in ethnic food stores (like Indian or Chinese). That’s where I find the cheapest coconut milk in my area.

  8. @cv: I’d recommend against anyone watering down the coconut milk (especially if you’re already using “lite” coconut milk, as is shown in the picture). If you’re going to use coconut milk, do it right. If you’re worried about saturated fat, make coconut-based dishes less often.

  9. Trent, what is that big executioner-style chopping tool that you use? It looks like fun! :)

    I’ve never seen those before. Can you tell me what it is & why you use it/why you like it?

    By the way, I don’t think it looks unappetizing. But my wife and I are adventurous and don’t mind ethnic style foods. Maybe Robert just wants to stick to American cuisine?

  10. How funny that my first thought was “This looks Divine!” and then the first comment posted was that this “looks gross”. I think this looks so good that I’m planning to prepare it for dinner tomorrow night.

    And I echo commenter #12 Paul Williams – tell us more about that chopping tool. It looks heavy-duty.

  11. Finally a vegan meal! Definitely would add some marinated and grilled tofu, or fried tofu for special occasions. Dahl on the side would also be yummy. And the small amt of fat in the coconut milk is still far and away better for you than the fat found in animal products.

    We love red thai curry in our home, so I would use that instead, but it would taste good with green or traditional yellow curry too.

  12. @Gretchen: People associate melons with picnics in June and July, but peak melon season, at least in my area, is actually in late summer. Like butternut squash, melons are hard-skinned, mature fruits, so they come into season at about the same time.

    Strawberries, on the other hand…

  13. Trent, what brand of curry powder did you use for this recipe, and did you like it? I’ve been on the hunt for better curry powder than McCormick, which I don’t care for.

  14. The knife used is an ulu knife.

    The curry powder brand we used here is Tone’s. We usually use some unmarked curry powder that we get at a spice shop that sells spices in paper bags or small unmarked plastic ziplocs.

    Sorry, I forgot to mention the carrots. I edited the post a bit to clarify – they were cooked at the same time as the squash. That was one of the things we kind of just tried as we went along.

  15. Rebecca: the ratatouille two weeks ago was also vegan.

    Johanna: I just can’t get into tofu. The texture just seems way off in my mouth. The only way I can do it is in “soyrizo” form where it’s basically in very small pieces already, seasoned like crazy, and used as a small element in something else.

  16. Tara: we were out of our usual curry. We usually go shopping at a spice store that sells spices in little baggies at good prices. We’ll pick up Tone’s stuff at the local store if we’re out of a particular spice and aren’t going to drive a (very) long way to do some spice shopping.

  17. Maybe I’m too Midwestern. . .I’ve never heard of coconut milk and wouldn’t know where to find it! Don’t think I’ll make this recipe. . .don’t have all the ingredients–including the tofu. Love brown rice, though.

  18. @Trent: The texture of tofu changes dramatically depending on how you prepare it. Have you tried it shallow-fried? I don’t know if that’s the right term for it, but you do it like this: Put a little oil (just enough to cover the bottom) in the bottom of a wok or frying pan, heat it to about medium-high, toss in some tofu cut into 3/4-inch cubes (you can put more tofu than covers the bottom of the pan, but not so much that you can’t stir it without stuff jumping out), and cook. At first, it might look like it’s going to turn into a mushy mess as the water seeps out of the tofu and boils away, but once most of the water is gone, the tofu will start to turn golden brown. As that happens, you want to keep stirring it so that all the pieces cook evenly on all sides.

    That’s my favorite way to cook tofu. My second-favorite way (only because it’s more work) is to slice it very thin (1/4 inch or thinner), spread the slices out in an oiled nonstick baking pan, pour some sauce over the top (anything you’d use to marinate meat would probably work well), and bake. It’s done when there’s no visible liquid in the bottom of the pan. I’ve made it this way for my meat-loving family, and they’ve enjoyed it.

    It’s also important to get the right kind of tofu. There are two basic kinds, found in two totally separate parts of the grocery store. There’s “silken tofu,” found in shelf-stable cartons that look like horizontal juice boxes. That’s NOT the kind you want – it’s good for smoothies and sauces, but not for this. The kind you want is sold in the refrigerated section, packed in water, usually in plastic tubs with clear plastic film across the top. (But sometimes silken tofu is sold that way too, so make sure it doesn’t say “silken” anywhere on the package.)

    Another fun vegetarian protein food is seitan, or wheat gluten. You can buy it prepared (although it can be expensive and hard to find), or you can make it yourself from vital wheat gluten flour or even ordinary wheat flour. Instructions are all over the internet, I’m sure.

  19. That looks good.

    I have to side with Trent I can’t handle the texture of tofu. I’ve tried to eat it prepared in several ways and prepared both in restaurants and at home and I just can’t get past the mouth feel.

    But I’m very very particular when it comes to textures, especially when it comes to food. I can only eat a few strawberries at a time before the feel of the seeds starts to get to me.

    On top of the fact I do not like the taste of tomatoes (even fresh from the vine, heirloom tomatoes), the texture of a sliced tomato makes my skin crawl – like fingernails down a chalkboard.

    Tofu isn’t that bad for me but it’s pretty close.

  20. @Johanna:

    I think the term you’re looking for is “stir-fried.” For a bit more detail on the tofu, tofu is made from soymilk by a adding a coagulant (traditionally magnesium chloride, nigari in Japanese) poured into a cloth lined mold (flour sack towels work well), and then weighted. The mold for regular tofu has holes in the sides and bottom to allow the water to drain out. How firm the tofu is depends on how long it’s drained. Silken tofu is pressed in a solid mold so that the water isn’t lost.

    @cv:

    Most of the health hazards associated with saturated fats are actually a result of artificial hydrogenation which creates all those nasty trans fatty acids. This means that naturally occurring saturated fats like butter and coconut oil aren’t nearly as bad as their reputation because they don’t have all the trans fatty acids. I also recall reading once somewhere that the negative effects of saturated fats can be offset by vitamin B6 of which coconuts also have copious amounts. Mind that was in a dead tree resource and I don’t remember what it was, but it was also before research pinned most of the health issues on trans fats.

  21. @24 Deb, I think you’re missing out on something wonderful, if you don’t ever experience coconut milk. It’s sweet, creamy and a wonderful addition to a lot of sauces. Mostly, I use it as a substitute for cream (for example, in a soup that I make) because my daughter is unable to eat dairy. Happy sigh.

  22. I live in the midwest (WI) and we know about coconut milk!

    I really didn’t like the texture of tofu till I found a method of prep that made it very chewy, called “dry frying”

    First, like Johanna said, DO NOT use Silken! I like extra firm tofu. I toss the whole container, water and all in the freezer till solid, overnight, then thaw the tofu and slice into half inch slices. Freezing changes the texture completely. Layer the tofu in between some clean cotton towels, or use paper ones, and press firmly to get out any remaining water. Then heat a non stick skillet up and without any oil, brown the tofu in the pan till crispy on each side, using a spatula to press down on the slices frequently to get the moisture out.

    Then I cut it up and add it to whatever I want. Or just dump a bunch of BBQ sauce over it and simmer. Even my very meat eating husb will eat it this way.

  23. This looks good and tofu would make it great.

    As a longtime vegetarian, my all-time favorite and most-used cookbook is A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop.

  24. Tried to e-mail the story to myself. The “please type characters” image was unreadable. Said to reload page to change, did, didn’t change.

  25. Mmmm, curry. This sounds great. And, best of all, even though it’s more expensive this way, I can buy the butternut squash pre-cut up. I’ve tried cutting one up, and it was just way too hard. I was afraid I’d cut myself!

  26. @ #30 Rachel – Get a rice cooker. We got one for less than $20 at Christmas time (day after Thanksgiving door-buster sale), and it has been a LIFESAVER! You can also cook Quinoa in it. Worth every penny.

  27. Trent! I am so happy now! You’ve finally put up another dish that is veggie heavy but low on the carbs and cheese. I am glad to hear your family loved it. If I could get butternut squash here I would use this recipe. However, I think I could substitute potatoes and zucchini.

  28. thank you……….
    this dish is very colourfull. a already tried it in my home. its realy a very good and a new dish….
    thank you to introduce this new dish.
    i am waiting for your next dish, please tell me when you are going to make a new dish?

  29. thank`s to this series. i am going to try it too. i am waiting for the next series.
    my husband is liked this series very much.
    have it.

  30. trent! this a tasty, healthy. low cast, series. and it is very easy to prepar.
    thanks, thanks a lot.

  31. Thanks heaps for this recipe, it will make a nice change from soup the next time I find a (very rare here) butternut.

    As a life-long ovo-lacto vege (never knowingly eaten meat), I have to say an extra big thanks for all the vege meals here, even the dairy-heavy ones. :) Oh, and I cannot stand tofu, however it’s cooked. That and soy-protein mince (we know it as tvp) was equivalent to tongue and kidney for my sisters and I as kids – we hated them, but were forced to it them because they’re ‘good for you’.

    Thanks also Johanna for the seitan suggestion, I had no idea it could be home-made.

    And finally, the idea for semi-regular food posts is a great one. :)

  32. Trent, it would be good to compile your summer recipes in one issue – probably without pictures – so readers can print the ones they want to make and have each on a piece of paper in the kitchen.

  33. Just tried this recipe. It’s delicious and it really does only take 15 minutes to cook. In fact the brown rice took longer to cook so maybe put that on ahead of time. I really liked Trent’s comment about prepping the vegetables. I’ve never really appreciated that part of cooking before

  34. @Gretchen: We’ve still got plenty of strawberries and melons growing in our community garden (in Nova Scotia, average daytime high 66F right now). So yes, strawberries and melons are in season in many places. Re: strawberries: there are different varieties–most mature earlier in the summer, but others mature later.

  35. My everbearing strawberries are still producing here in the upper midwest.

    Here’s another idea for butternut squash. We make squash soup frequently in the fall and winter and I like to make squash puree ahead of time and freeze it. I cook the squash on low in the crockpot all day. It doesn’t need to be peeled, just cut it into slices, remove seeds and stick it in the crockpot with a little bit of water and whatever seasonings you like. Once it’s done cooking, scoop the flesh out, give it a whirl in the food processor and freeze. This makes it very fast and easy to whip up a batch of soup.

  36. The whole plate looks yummy, but the rice looks exceptional! Please, please tell me how you prepare your brown rice to get it to come out as separate fluffy grains instead of the lump of messy mash that I always seem to end up with. I must know about this rice! (thank you!)

  37. I love how you prepared the squash in curry! I do that all the time too, but I usually have to add some chicken in there for my meat eaters.

    If you still have some of those long asparagus beans (we call them sitaw) try this recipe that I came up with which also uses up tomatoes from the garden. You can also try them with peanut butter which the kids might like especially if you don’t make it too spicy.

    BTW, I’ve loved reading your summer meal series! Thanks. Also, I started making and freezing burritos like you do, and my daughter loves taking it for her lunch!

  38. Tofu is great marinated in soy sauce or another Asian sauce like teriyaki and then fried and browned as others have suggested. One time I also had it marinated and then covered with yeast powder and fried and that was delicious!

    You can also use tofu in smoothies and I’ve even seen recipes to make chocolate pudding with tofu. You can’t even taste the tofu and it has a great consistency.

  39. My first thought was about how wildly imbalanced this meal is. It has very little protein. I would also add tofu, tempeh, or soy beans (edamame). The tip you already got about freezing tofu is great!

    I have converted many tofu-haters with this method: Buy extra-firm tofu, and 15 minutes before you want to use it, put it on a plate and set a cutting board on top with something heavy on top, like your toaster (this can be kind of a balancing act!). Let it sit until you’re ready for it, then pick up plate, cutting board, tofu, and all, sandwiched together and give them a good gentle squeeze over the sink to pour off the rest of the water. Then chop into cubes and saute in a pan with enough oil to keep it from sticking, until most sides of the cubes are golden.

    One of my biggest gripes as a vegetarian is that people try to feed me a meal with no protein. (Here! It’s pasta with rice with veggies! You’re a vegetarian, right? ughh….) I’m still a human being! I’d be hungry in an hour again no matter how much I ate of that curry (and it looks sooo delicious!). A great way to plan a balanced meal is to include a protein source, a grain of some kind, preferably whole, a green vegetable, and a vegetable of another color.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  40. I’ve had tofu the way Jen has made it.

    For me it’s barely tolerable. I can eat it and get through it but it’s not an enjoyable experience.

    I also found I don’t like the texture/taste of tempeh no matter how I had it prepared. Although I have never tried seitan.

    When I was a vegetarian I ate some fake meats mostly Quorn products because the taste/texture was better than other brands. But mostly I just avoided tofu and tempeh completely.

    Although now it’s less of an issue for me, I was recently diagnosed with an illness –well a syndrome and it’s exacerbated by many foods including highly acidic things as well as soy products.

    So that’s out of my diet. Unfortunately so are a few my favorite fruits.

  41. Yum! I love coconut-curry foods. I have a couple cases of coconut milk in the basement from when I was once able to get it for $0.75 a can (still good for a couple years though!).

    We can’t commonly get butternut squash here but we have 50lbs (or had, lol!) of buttercup squash, so I am going to try that instead.

  42. Vegetarians do not eat protein ? this meal looks incomplete to me…. as was your ratatouille meal. I would be hungry after an hour.
    But it does look good.

  43. Seitan is good – I’ve only had it a couple of times, but I enjoyed it. I like tofu, though, too, especially when it has been fried. For me, the key is buying the extra firm variety.

    And I agree with Courtney: butternut squash is wonderful for the soup. You can add garlic and ginger for a delicious wintertime meal.

  44. I hate the texture of coconut but can tolerate the taste if not too strong so my question is – does coconut milk in this recipe give it a strong coconut flavor? I love butternut squash. Thanks. And Trent I have enjoyed the series also.

  45. I made this recipe (using red curry) for friends last night and it was a HUGE hit. Don’t be afraid to use bigger quantities of the spices. This is a keeper!

  46. Just made it! It’s an absolute keeper! Will serve it again to all my vegeterian friends! I didn’t have fresh ginger; used the ground one, and it still tastes great…

  47. @Jessica: You don’t have to use squash if you don’t like it – you can use whatever vegetables you want. I just made a curry very similar to this with tofu, red bell peppers, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and zucchini.

    @Karen: The coconut flavor in coconut milk is fairly mild. The dominant flavor is going to come from the curry powder.

  48. @Heather K: I think of stir-frying, rightly or wrongly, as a quick-cooking technique that uses very little oil. What I do with the tofu uses more oil (I don’t measure it, but probably several tablespoons at least) and more cooking time (depends on the water content of the tofu, but it can be 20 minutes or longer).

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