Local writer Michael Hopping offers a vegetable soup that pops with spice and the warm Thai flavors of coconut milk and kaffir lime.
“Thai-dyed squash curry came to me from Gene Stratis, a character in one of my short stories. The sidelong stares end when people taste his soup. The only question I tend to get after that is whether I’ll share the recipe.” — Michael Hopping
1 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced in ½-inch cubes (6 cups or so)
8-10 kaffir lime leaves
4 tablespoons butter
1¾ cups chicken stock (1 can)
1 cup daikon radish, peeled and diced (other radishes work as well)
1 large Asian or smallish purple globe eggplant, sliced thin and chopped (salt and drain if bitter.)
½ medium onion, sliced and coarsely chopped
½ red bell pepper, sliced and coarsely chopped
1 can (14-ounce) coconut milk
Thai red chili paste, start with 3 tablespoons and adjust from there. (Total wusses start lower)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, broiled and sliced thin across the grain when cold
Handful of snow peas, coarsely chopped (optional)
Thai basil, or regular basil, to taste. (If using dry basil, at least 2 tablespoons)
Salt to taste
To make: Reserving one cup of butternut squash, place the remainder in a large sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter, kaffir lime leaves and 1 cup of stock. Cover and cook on medium heat until soft, maybe half an hour, stirring occasionally. Toward the end of cooking, remove the cover and allow liquid to steam off, stirring frequently, until the residual liquid is the consistency of jam. Discard lime leaves. Meanwhile, cover and microwave the reserved cup of squash and the daikon until cooked but still firm, maybe 5 minutes. Set aside. Sauté the eggplant and onion in the rest of the butter. Salt to taste.
When vegetables are cooked through, remove from the heat, add chopped red bell pepper and set aside. Purée the jammy squash in a blender with coconut milk, adding stock as needed to achieve a pleasing creaminess.
Place the purée in a stew pot and heat on medium heat. Add curry paste and basil, adjusting the amounts to taste. Add the microwaved daikon and squash chunks, sautéed vegetable mixture, chicken and snow peas, if used. Adjust seasoning until sweetness and chili heat are balanced and the herbal overtone is almost, but not quite, recognizable. Remove from heat when chicken and peas are hot. Serve in bowls or over rice. Makes 4 to 6 entrée servings.