this is a Thanksgiving curry

The gastronomic traditions of the stereotypical American Thanksgiving feast have never really worked their way into my family. Because my church back at home held annual winter retreats during Thanksgiving, most of my childhood and teenage Thanksgiving meals consisted of Chinese take-out or cafeteria-style comfort food served en masse at campsites up in the Santa Cruz mountains. It wasn't until my sophomore year in college that I had a taste of what I thought a Thanksgiving feast should taste like, and that was at the home of my photography professor. 

That Thanksgiving was one I will never forget. My roommate and I had both decided to stay on campus, even though most students returned home for Thanksgiving. Our homes were farther than most, and out of convenience and frugality, we traded airplane rides and family members for movies, which we borrowed from the university library and watched one after the other on our pink, stained futon (the movies were memorable; we watched Amelie, Ghostworld, Breathless, Clueless, and Requiem for a Dream, among others). On Thanksgiving night, we headed over to my professor's house in Cambridge - and though the food that graced the table was, in a sense, conventional: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes (with the exception of a delicious and buttery carrot-turnip mash, which is supposed to be a specialty of Isle of Man, where my professor grew up), pumpkin pie, and pecan pie; the company was not. My British professor, a short, gap-toothed man who spoke always with sharp wit, dry humor, and a cunning smile, his American wife, his half-Asian, flamboyantly gay stepson (who showed us that he had embroidered his name onto the back of his jeans; we also braided his hair that night much to his delight), and his British friend, an older bachelor who otherwise would have spent Thanksgiving alone. The food alone was sufficiently memorable, especially as a first American Thanksgiving feast, but the company made it even better - which is true of any situation, really. The people matter most.

It might seem strange that for having partaken in such non-traditional Thanksgivings, Thanksgiving is actually one of my favorite holidays. But I think the spirit of it is unmatched in its simplicity and parity. Thanksgiving is not as commercialized as Christmas; it is the beginning of the holiday season. It is warm and cozy, and the message is simple enough to be both thought-provoking and understood. The real challenge is carrying that message in action and thought beyond Thanksgiving days - to times when gratitude is difficult and loved ones are too faraway to be appreciated in an immediate and palpable way. 

Thanksgiving this year was particularly special because I spent it with my family back home in California, and my mom and I cooked a simple but comforting meal that combined elements of a traditional American Thanksgiving meal with Asian home-style cooking. It epitomized the culture I grew up in - one that I considered an amalgation of the best things both American and Asian culture have to offer - and for that, I will always be indebted to my unconditionally loving parents. This was one dish that I made that the family enjoyed alongside rice and vegetables. It was based off of a recipe from the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit, but I did away with the pumpkin puree and included an entire roasted butternut squash instead. It has the warm, rich flavor of pumpkin which is made even richer by the creaminess of the coconut milk - both of which are enhanced by the spice of the red curry. This is a great dish for fall or winter, to be enjoyed as a hearty stew or as leftover lunch for a cold day.


Butternut Squash Shrimp Thai Curry
adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
serves 4
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 small tomato, diced
1 small butternut squash, roasted and diced* (about 3 cups)
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock.
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
2 Tbsp fish sauce (optional)
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
Lime Juice

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-heat.
2. Add onion to pot and sautee for about 8 minutes until translucent.
3. Add garlic and ginger. Sautee 2-3 minutes until slightly browned.
4. Add tomato and butternut squash. Sautee for 5 minutes until tomatoes are soft and butternut squash begins to break down. The goal here is to let the flavors of all the ingredients meld together and create a deep, rich stew-like thickness over time.
5. Add stock, coconut milk, curry paste, and fish sauce to the pot. Stir continuously for a few minutes, and then bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn down heat to low and let simmer with lid on for at least 30 minutes - the longer the better. I let the curry sit for about 2 hours with the lid on. It will get progressively thicker.
6. 10 minutes before you plan on serving the curry, bring the curry to a boil, add the shrimp, and cook for 5 minutes.
7. Serve curry with rice, lime juice, and cilantro.