One of the fun things about teaching is that it often reintroduces me to my own long-forgotten creations. And if it hadn’t been for my class at the Institute of Culinary Education last year, the inspiration for this Thai pumpkin curry recipe would have never meandered into my stomach.
A few years ago I had the OMG honor of meeting Gretchen Rubin, one of my personal wellness heroes and the original gangster of happiness who inspired my project. I recently paged back through her book about finding better ways to arm wrestle our habits into submission.
One of the dichotomies that caught my eye was that some of us are naturally creatures of familiarity, and others are slaves to novelty. If you’re a familiarity lover, you might be prone to re-reading the same book or, say, re-making the same recipe over and over again. Novelty lovers on the other hand are driven by an inner compulsion to never do the same thing in the same, boring way. (You can read more in this blog post).
Though my takeout orders may be the only thing that doesn’t reflect this (thanks to my old friend, Mr. chicken pad Thai), I am a tried and true novelty gal. On the surface, my career as a blogger is fueled by this impulse; I get to constantly be coming up with new, creative ideas to feed you wonderful folks on this site. But on the flip side of that food coin, is all the development that sometimes goes into certain recipes, which can mean testing the same dish over and over, and then subsequently eating that same damn dish for weeks.
When these recipe relay periods are over and done with, I often go into a novelty overdrive that can last months. Or, in the case of this vegan pumpkin soup recipe, years.
Five years ago, I took on a recipe development project for Food & Wine’s website that involved creating ten pumpkin recipes, half of which ended up being variations on this soup. I’m pretty sure that some of the fruits of this labor are still in quart containers dying a slow death in my freezer.
Though dairy-free pumpkin soup made thick and creamy with coconut milk, spiced with diced jalapeno, and jazzed up with fresh ginger, is one of the easiest and tastiest fall meals around, after October 2013, I never wanted to see its smug orange face again.
Unfortunately, as someone with a healthy appetite for newness, I’ve had to learn the hard way that teaching a professional cooking class is not the time or place to let novelty man the gear shift. So when I was putting together my menu for a new Super Food Feasts class at ICE, I knew that my vegan pumpkin soup would be a perfect addition. Considering the pounds of it that sloshed around my kitchen in October 2013, it better be pretty close to foolproof.
When I taught the class this past March, my students raved over the soup. But I couldn’t bring myself to have more than a sip of the finished product (instead, I inhaled this and this). In September though, as the weather was just starting to turn, I was tempted to see if pumpkin soup and I could get over our petty beef. And sure enough, time healed those old, tongue-scalding wounds, and I fell back in love with this old, familiar meal.
Instead of throwing in chunks of pumpkin or butternut squash, like most Thai pumpkin curries do, I decided to use pumpkin puree to add a silky thickness to the usual base of coconut milk, red curry paste, and ginger. I always get annoyed when my Thai curry takeout requires a spoon, or a vat of rice, in order to suck down all that spicy, vibrant broth. (Probably why I opt for noodles every time).
This Thai pumpkin curry recipe solves that problem, and I love how the thick sauce coats every last shrimp and layer of bok choy. More importantly, this dish reconciled both the novelty and familiarity lover in me. Which is a huge relief, since recommitting to my healthy pumpkin habit was on the to-do list for January.
With health and hedonism,
Thai Pumpkin Curry with Shrimp and Bok Choy
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil divided
- Sea salt
- ¾ pound large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 2 baby bok choy quartered lengthwise
- 1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 tablespoon Thai yellow Penang, or red curry paste
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- One 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree
- One 15-ounce can coconut milk
- ½ pound Chinese long beans or French green beans Cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons chopped Thai basil mint or cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped peanuts
In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil over a high flame. Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Stir-fry the shrimp until pink and curled, 2 minutes. Season with salt and remove to a plate. Set aside.
- Add the bok choy to the pot and cook until lightly browned and the greens are wilted, 5 minutes. Remove to the plate with the shrimp.
Heat the remaining oil and sauté the red pepper, ginger, garlic, red curry paste, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon sea salt until very fragrant, 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin, coconut milk, and green beans. Bring to gentle simmer and cook over medium-low heat until the beans are tender and the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the herbs, lime juice, bok choy, and shrimp.
- Ladle the Thai pumpkin curry into bowls, garnish with peanuts, herbs, and lime wedges, and serve alongside brown rice.