Fall is well underway, butternut squash is seasonally available at farmers’ markets, and it’s prime time for the white shrimp harvest here in Florida. So of course I’m making Ginataan Kalabasa at Hito tonight. Never heard of it? Well, let me go back a step then.
I spent eight years living and working on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao in the 1980s, where I became an instant admirer of the wonderful, but slightly odd, Filipino cuisine. It combines traditional Malayo/Polynesian-style foods with Spanish-influenced dishes that reflect the Philippines’ nearly 400-year history as a Spanish colony. For example, one might eat empanadas or rambutan fruit as a snack, caldereta for a main course, stir fried banana blossoms as a vegetable, and flan for desert. Ginataan Kalabasa at Hito, or kabocha squash with shrimps in coconut sauce, comes from the Malayo-Polynesian side of the equation. It is a much-loved Filipino comfort food and is also one of my favorites.
This recipe is an adaptation of the dish I learned to cook, Pinoy-style, in the Philippines. Here I have taken the liberty of adding more spice, less garlic, fresh herbs, and whatever other vegetables strike my fancy. In the below recipe, I have included green beans but at other times have also used ichiban eggplant, sugar snaps peas, or even spinach.
1 tablespoon light-tasting vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely minced
1 fresh hot pepper, finely sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 two-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 pound small fresh green beans
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and tailed
12 fresh baby plum tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 fresh red bell pepper, cored and sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (patis, nam pla, etc), to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
(optional) 1 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped
Salt, to taste
- In a large wok or stock pot, sauté onions and garlic in oil at medium-high heat until golden. Add ginger and fresh hot (or crushed red) pepper and sauté for one more minute. Add squash and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer covered for 5 minutes.
- Add beans, shrimp, tomatoes, red bell pepper, fish sauce, and sugar. Simmer covered for an additional 10 minutes or until the squash is just (important!) fork tender and the shrimp cooked though. Add salt and/or additional fish sauce, to taste, and optional coriander if used. Serve with plain rice. Serves 6-8.
If you’re out of rice, or simply don’t like it, this dish can be easily converted to a stew. Just add 1 cup chicken broth or water, correct the seasoning, and serve in bowls with a side salad.