On this post, i will introduce you to a mostly vegetable dish that I loved growing up in the Philippines. You can see that it has some resemblance to Thai curry dishes in look and taste. I replaced the kalabasa and sitaw with local US vegetables. To make the dish more authentic, you can use shrimp paste or fish sauce to add umami (savory taste). Good for us, these ingredients are now readily available at Amazon. As an alternative to shrimp paste, you can also use fish sauce. But both of these ingredients are optional.
A Bit of History
The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands. Coconut trees grow everywhere. This may explain why there are a lot of dishes and desserts made with coconut milk or coconut cream. The method of cooking with coconut milk most probably came from the Philippines’ trading relations wtith Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia long before the Spaniards came in the 16th century.
Unlike other people in Southeast Asian countries, most Filipinos aren’t fond of eating chili. But there is a part of the Philippines, the Bicol region, which uses a wider variety of spices. Like the folks in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, the people in the Bicol region use chili and coconut milk for a lot of their delicacies. One example of this dish is Bicol Express which is pork cooked in coconut milk and lots of chilis.
Coconut milk is a rich source of Manganese ((20% or more of the Daily Value, ) (44% DV) and an adequate source (10-19% DV) of Iron, Phosphorus and Magnesium.
Butternut Squash is a variety of squash that is easy to peel and has a mild, sweet taste. It is packed with Vitamin A. A cup of cooked squash has a whopping 457% of the recommended daily allowance. It is a good source of potassium and magnesium.
Howerver delicious this dish is, I give you a health warning: thick coconut milk is 20% fat and it has high levels of saturated fat. Eat this in moderation. If possible, as I suggested in the variations below, dilute coconut milk with chicken broth. You sacrifice some of the creamy taste but reap the rewards in a more heart-healthy dish.
Butternut Squash and Green Beans in Coconut Milk
A savory Filipino dish made with squash and green beans cooked in coconut milk.
- 20 - 30 pcs French green beans snapped into halves
- 2 cups squash cubed - to reduce prep time, I buy the peeled and cubed butternut squash in containers
- 1/2 lb of diced pork
- 2 cups coconut milk - 1 can of canned coconut milk is enough.
- 2 tbsp. shrimp paste optional - can be replaced with 1 tbsp salt
- 1 pc medium yellow onion sliced
- 1 cup spinach leaves
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/2 tsp Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pc chili pepper like jalapeno optional - slice into halves, remove seeds if you do not want it to be too spicy
heat the oil in a wok or medium sized cooking pot
saute the garlic and onion until the onion is translucent. About 1- 2 minutes
add the diced pork, salt and sprinkle ground pepper. Cook until the meat turns light brown
add the chicken broth to the pan and let it reach boling point
add the coconut milk, stir and let it boil again. Cover the pan and let it cook in low to medium heat until the pork is tender. About 3 to 5 minutes
add the squash, stir. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Test squash is tender with a fork
add the shrimp paste (optional). You may add salt here if needed and not using shrimp paste
add the string beans, stir and cook for 4 to 6 minutes
This dish can be cooked in an Instant Pot. You will reduce the cooking time by half.
Variations of Ginataang Kalabasa
This can be cooked without pork if you are vegetarian. The shrimp paste is optional and can be replaced with plain salt if not available. You can also use other types of squash instead of butternut squash. You may have to increase the length of cooking when using a different variety of squash. Take note also that other types of squash like the acorn squash and the calabaza squash have tough skin and are very hard to peel.
You can cook this dish with fresh shrimp. Dried fish is an option and just use less of salt or shrimp paste when cooking as dried fish is already very salty.
To lessen the fat content, you can reduce the amount of coconut milk and replace with chicken stock.
The French green beans can be replaced with plain green beans. I prefer the French beans because it is closest to the shape of the Asian string beans (sitaw) that we use in the Philippines,
You can add hot peppers if you prefer spicy food. The spice combines well with the semi sweet taste of the coconut milk and squash.
How to Serve
This dish is best served with steamed rice with the sauce drizzled on top of the rice. You can use brown rice or quinoa to make it healthier. If you cook it a little dry, it can be a side dish for meat like beef or chicken.
Dishes with coconut milk may not be good for outdoor consumption as the coconut milk may spoil. It is best served warm. It is good to bring for lunch at work as a topping for rice as it is easy to eat and it is also not so weird-looking.
My Best Memories of Ginataang Kalabasa
In this recipe, I used canned coconut milk. When I was young, that was not available and fresh coconut milk was preferred. My mom would go to the market and buy brown coconuts. She would go home, crack it open and use a grater to get the white meat of the coconut.
Then, she would mix some water with the grated coconut and strain it through a cheesecloth. This is the coconut milk that she would use for cooking. A whole of lot of work before she even starts cooking.
When my mom and dad came here in the US to visit me, they were shocked to find how we get coconut milk. My dad worked in the garage and came up with a homemade coconut grater! We used it for a while but then they went back to the Philippines and it was just too much work to grate coconuts not to mention get fresh brown coconuts.
My dad passed four years ago and I still have the grater in the garage. Maybe someday I will use it again.
What Do You Think?
This is one of the easiest Filipino dishes to make and it is very nutritious because of the squash and the green beans. If you have a baby who is starting solids, the mashed squash is a great option (without the chili of course). the ingredients can be easily tweaked to make it vegetarian or to make it healthier. Be bold and have a taste of Southeast Asia.
This dish can be cooked in an Instant Pot. You will reduce the cooking time by half. See my Instant Pot review. This is one appliance that I do not regret buying. It will help you tremendouslty in the kitchen and speed up your meal preparation.
Let’s eat! (Kain Na!).