Friday 1 January 2021, Bangkok, Thailand – Happy New Year to all of you out there! With all my heart, I am wishing all my readers a healthy, safe, and mindfully happy year to come.
It is obvious that 2021 will continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 situations, more cases and outbreaks, possibly more and longer lockdowns. And in such an unforeseeable future, cooking will still be pretty much on everyone’s mind. In fact, cooking is a way to keep us safe – in terms of health and physical for we don’t need to interact with others as much when we cook our own foods, except for the occasional trips to groceries. Psychologically, cooking provides peace of mind which usually take form when one is occupied with doing something. Financially, for cooking our foods proved time and again how much money one can save. And that’s handy given the situation that we are all in.
For those well in tune with Thai foods, you would have already known that a bowl of curry makes a scrumptious staple in a samrap which is the term we use to call a typical Thai meal consisting of individual servings of steamed rice along with a collection of savouries, to be followed strictly (my own policies) with sweets.
But then, Thai curry has a good variation, and one recipe that always came up to my mind is a red curry with pork and pumpkin. It is a taste of childhood with my mom’s version a beacon of ultimate deliciousness and comfort.
Above: A childhood dish of pumpkin and eggs, a staple in Thai kindergarten for its nourishing properties and mild tastes.
I am writing this post because, well, we are in January 2021, even in Bangkok, can be nice and cool. While those in the northern hemisphere talk about pumpkin at the first sign of autumn, Thai people eat pumpkin almost all year round. Our native pumpkin is huge, round, and flat, not unlike a balloon pushed down, and always too bulky for a single family to buy whole. At fresh markets in Bangkok, a veggie stand usually sets that whole gorgeous heft on top of a counter. The pumpkin is usually sold by wedges. We tell the seller how large a wedge we want, and they will cut it for you, like buying cheese from a cheesemonger, I’d say.
Above: Candied pumpkin makes a nice garnish in a bowl of coconut ice cream. Beside the pumpkin is candied palm seeds called Look Chid.
The whole handling process of a pumpkin is not for a faint of heart either. The Thai pumpkin has a rough, hard, and warty skin with deep folds, not unlike toad’s skin, hence the name ‘Fak Thong Kang Kok Dam’ or ‘Toad-Skinned Pumpkin’ ฟักทองคางคกดำ which is the name of the native pumpkin here.
From a large wedge, I usually cut it into halves, and then into smaller pieces before starting to peel the skin off with a sharp paring knife. Sometimes, the skin can be very hard, so I push the flat side of the pumpkin down onto the cutting board while peeling the skin off. I usually never handle the hard pumpkin in my hand while peeling it like I do mango because obviously, pumpkin can be slippery and dangerous. 😀
Above: Bua Loi in various colours. Bua Loi is Thai sweet dumplings usually made from rice flour mixed with various veggies. The yellow ones are from the pumpkin while the purplish ones are taro, also cut into pieces for extra textures. The egg is called Kai Wan, or sweetened egg, or fresh egg poached in syrup.
To save time, I usually prep my pumpkin by steaming it in a big batch and fridge-store it in a tight container. I toss it into my salads, and save some for the soup, or sometimes curries. I like pumpkin more when it is mushy with its bright yellow texture melting away into the soups, saving me the need to add any refined sugar. I made my curry that way, too. Instead of cooking pumpkin along with the chicken, I didn’t add it until the very end, merely to reheat it and allow a brief moment for the pumpkin to gel into the curry texture. This is a nice, hearty and definitely healthy bowl of curry, you can even skip the chicken and add more assorted veggies if you prefer to stay meatless.
From these pictures, you’ll see that pumpkin plays a big role in Thai cuisine. Pumpkin and eggs or Fak Thong Pad Khai ฟักทองผัดไข่ is a classic dish of our childhood, for it is a staple at kindergarten. Healthy, hearty, mild-tasting and delicious. The dish has a nice combination of toasted garlic, chunks of marbled eggs, and the sweet crunch of the pumpkin. People usually either like it or hate it, though! I personally hated it when I was younger, but recently, I had a big craving for it, made it, and was totally satisfied with the taste and all the memories it brought back!
HOW TO MAKE Thai Chicken Curry with Pumpkin
- Chicken breasts or thighs, with or without bones, or whole chicken chopped with bones if you are a hard-core home cook.
- A packet of red curry paste or make your own, about 50g. I use the brand Mae Pranom.
- Steamed pumpkin
- A can of organic coconut milk
- Garnishes: kaffir lime leaves, Thai eggplants, fresh chillies, basils, and Turkey berries.
- Cook the curry paste with the coconut cream skimmed off the top of the can. So, don’t shake the can before opening it in this case.
- Once the curry paste is fragrant, add the chicken, soy sauce, salt. Cook until the chicken is almost done, then add the rest of the coconut milk plus another can of water. Use the empty coconut milk can to measure water as a way to clean and sweep off all the clinging coconut milk.
- Simmer until the chicken is cooked and tender, add the steamed pumpkin. Adjust the taste. I never add sugar in my savoury dishes, and in this case, I’d strongly urge you to hold the sugar because the pumpkin’s natural sweetness should be more than enough.
- Add all the garnishes. In the case that you’re using fresh small chillies or Prik Khee Noo พริกขี้หนู, you can add the chillies at the beginning along with the chicken. The simmered Prik Khee Noo lends a unique fragrance and a bite into it with steamed rice is delicious.
- Serve with a plate of steamed rice, and a small tiny bowl of additional soy sauce and chopped fresh chillies.
- This makes a meal, but you can always accompany this curry with a plate of Thai-style omelette, fried dried and salted fish, or even soft-boiled eggs.