Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.


Thai-inspired butternut squash curry.

It’s always a bit sad when I use the last vegetable of the season from our CSA share. This year it was a bit later than usual, as it was a whole butternut squash so it lasted, and I got busy with Thanksgiving and other events.

Because I read a lot of cookbooks and thus get ideas, I will often poke around the kitchen to see what inspires me. I had some Thai red curry paste in the fridge and some coconut milk in the freezer, and thought I’d see what I could do with those ingredients for a vegan meal. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I did use a tablespoon of fish sauce, but that can certainly be omitted.)

I felt like I could do something with these ingredients and it sounded good to me, although I am also mindful of sensitivities around cultural appropriation, that a dish I come up with may not be seen as fully authentic. Again with the cookbooks — I really do read them, not just the recipes, but the narratives as well, and with food and cuisines, I am not sure it is all so cut and dry as to what is and is not “authentic.”

I remember one cookbook in which the author and his father recreated with great care the food they remembered from the region in China where both had been born. And then, when the author returned there decades later, the cuisine had changed so much that the food he and his father had made was authentic, but to something in the past. I have read in many cookbooks how the (often sad) history of conquest and colonialism and trade and migration has blurred the defining lines between the culture of food among different peoples and places. And I’ve lost track of how many immigrant cookbooks discuss iconic recipes using substitute ingredients that became family traditions, from back in the day when specialty ingredients were hard to find, and you couldn’t order almost anything with the click of a mouse.

So I went ahead with the recipe I devised, and I loved the spicy flavor with the sweetness of the squash. The leftovers were even better the next day, when the flavors had a chance to meld a bit more, so if you have a really big squash, perhaps increase the amounts of the other ingredients and enjoy it over a couple of days!


Serves 2-4, depending on whether as a side or main course


1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch thick half-moons (or use pre-peeled, pre-cut squash)

3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil, divided

1 shallot, cut lengthwise into slivers

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste

1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar

1 tablespoon southeast Asian fish sauce (omit for vegetarian/vegan)


Preheat oven to 425 F.

Drizzle about half the oil over the bottom of a large baking dish or small roasting pan. Spread as much of the butternut squash as possible into a single layer, and then place the remaining pieces on top. Scatter the slivered shallot on top, drizzle with the remaining oil, and sprinkle with salt. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk, vinegar, curry paste, sugar, and fish sauce, if using, in a small bowl or glass measuring cup (at least 2-cup size), and whisk to combine.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the sauce over the squash. Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil, taking great care as the pan is hot.

Return to the oven and lower the heat to 350 F. Cook for another 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and if the sauce seems too thin, return to the oven for 10 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce a bit.

Serve with rice, or something similar, to soak up the sauce.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.