You can make this vegan squash in coconut milk with plantain using either squash or pumpkin, whichever is in season at the time. In the UK, we tend to be able to get butternut squash all year round in the supermarkets, but other squashes can become a little more elusive until they’re in season. I would say use whichever one is around at the time. Sweet potato is also a great substitute if you’re coming up short.
I’ve yet to find plantain in the supermarket, but a lot of independent greengrocers stock it. I prefer it when it’s not overripe (really brown in lots of places), but just about ripe (slightly brown in a few places). Although plantain is a type of banana, it differs in skin thickness and flavour. It’s certainly not easy to peel it like one. You’re much better off slicing off each end and then cutting through the skin lengthways, that way you can peel the skin off like a jacket. In this recipe the plantain are fried in a lightly seasoned flour until fairly crisp, and served on top of the main dish. This helps the maintain their crispness and isolate their sweet flavour.
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This Southeast Asian inspired recipe is quite sweet overall, owing to the blended coconut milk and dates, but also has a lovely warming spice to it from the madras curry powder blend. It is very much like a spicy, coconut stew that you can ladle into a bowl and top with the plantain. Warming, sweet, hearty and full of flavour, this dish is ideal if you’re looking for an alternative comfort food.
What you need for this Squash in Coconut Milk with Plantain.
Canned coconut milk:
You can get canned coconut milk in any supermarket, usually with the rest of the Asian foods. It’s about £1 to buy and is used in a variety of dishes, particularly curries.
Basil isn’t just for Italian cooking. Southeast Asian recipes make good use of the herb as well. Here it is blended in with the coconut milk.
Fresh turmeric is, in my opinion, quite a bit milder in flavour than its ground counterpart, and is therefore perfect for when you want the turmeric flavour but not the heat. Turmeric is related to ginger and has many health benefits, having both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Most supermarkets sell it these days, as well as your local greengrocer. A word of caution: it stains you fingers yellow when prepping it.
Dried dates are used a lot in vegan cooking as a natural sweetener with added depth of flavour. This is why I’ve used them in this recipe, both blended in the sauce and chopped in the dish.
There are ingredients from various regions in this dish. This sort of fusion cooking is something I very much enjoy doing and I believe adds power and interest to a meal. It doesn’t always work, but can often be very harmonious. Plantain is popular on the African continent, whereas dates are very much favoured in the Middle East. Combining their sweetness, however, makes for something magical. As stated in the introduction, plantain is a little harder to get hold of in the supermarkets but is readily available in a lot of greengrocers. I go for ones that are just slightly brown in a few places.
Vegan Thai fish sauce:
This is a fantastic ingredient if you’re into Asian cooking. It adds a mild fish sauce flavour without the fish. You can buy it either on Amazon or Waitrose and a bottle will last for 6 months.
Squash in Coconut Milk with Plantain
For the Sauce:
- 1 can coconut milk
- A large handful of fresh basil leaves set some aside to garnish if required
- A 2 inch piece of fresh turmeric peeled and grated
- 10-12 dried dates stones removed
- 1 heaped tbsp madras curry powder
- 3 tbsp vegan Thai fish sauce
For the Veg:
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 600 g squash or pumpkin flesh peeled, deseeded and diced
- 1 large orange/yellow pepper diced
- 8-10 dried dates stones removed and roughly chopped
- 8 black kale leaves stalks removed and leaves cut to I inch pieces
- 3 tsp garlic puree or 3 cloves fresh, chopped garlic
- 2 tsp ginger puree or a 1 inch piece, peeled and grated
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 veg stock cube make sure it’s vegan and gluten-free
- 4 tbsp tamari gluten-free soy sauce
- The juice of ½ a lemon
- A splash of cold water
For the Plantain:
- 65 g gram chickpea flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 whole ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
- Enough vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying
- First make the sauce by putting all of the sauce ingredients in a blender and pureeing until completely smooth. Once done, set the sauce aside.
- To cook the vegetables, heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan or wok (make sure you can put a lid on it) and cook the squash or pumpkin on a gentle heat, with the lid on, for about 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Remove the lid and add the pepper and the dates and cook for another 4 minutes or so, stirring often (add a little more oil at this point if needed).
- Now put in the kale leaves and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until the leaves have softened, then add the garlic and ginger puree and give it another couple of minutes.
- Once the garlic and ginger aromas have been released, it’s time to pour in the coconut milk spice mix you made earlier. Add the second can of coconut milk to this as well, plus the veg stock cube, the tamari and the lemon juice, stir through and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. You can add a splash of water about halfway through if the sauce gets a little too thick.
- While the main dish is cooking you can prepare and cook the plantain. First mix the gram flour with the salt and smoked paprika, then toss in the plantain until each slice is fully coated. I do this by putting it all in a container with a lid and then shaking it.
- Fill a saucepan no more than half full with the vegetable or sunflower oil and bring up to frying temperature. You can test this by putting a slice of the dusted plantain into it. If it floats to the surface and starts to gently bubble the oil is hot enough. If not, give it a little longer. Shake the excess flour off the plantain and gently place into the oil. Do this in batches if you need to to avoid overcrowding the pan. Fry the plantain for about 5-7 minutes, or until they are browned and crisp. Drain with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Serve the squash in coconut milk into large bowls and top with a few of the fried plantain slices. Garnish with a few basil leaves if required.
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