Warm Up with Pumpkin Massaman Curry This Fall

Chef Nikky Phinyawatana combines her Thai and Texan roots in this cozy dish.

pumpkin curry thai massaman
Photos courtesy of Nikky Phinyawatana; Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Nikky Phinyawatana thinks pumpkin pie is severely overrated. Maybe it’s the way the custard is overly spiced, or the lack of texture in each bite. “I’ve tried it so many times and it’s just not my favorite,” the Dallas-based chef behind restaurant group Asian Mint explains. It’s not that she doesn’t like pumpkin—Thai-style pumpkin custard graces her menu in the fall, and she loves slurping a bowl of kaeng buad fakthong, a Thai dessert of soft pumpkin in a sweetened coconut broth. To her, there are just so many other applications of pumpkin that are better—including savory options.

“I think Americans associate pumpkin with sweet dishes more than savory here,” she says. That is not the case in Thailand, where pumpkin—or more typically kabocha squash—is stir-fried with eggs, floated in simmering hot pot broths, or added to spicy curries (it’s important to note that in Thailand, the word for pumpkin is interchangeable with most autumnal gourds, including squash). This deviation from American cuisine was the inspiration for Phinyawatana’s pumpkin massaman curry, a dish that’s introduced in the fall at her restaurants and combines the comforting sweetness of kabocha squash with fragrant spices of massaman curry paste.

“We roast the squash-slash-pumpkin before we put it in our curry and that’s how our pumpkin spice-inspired massaman curry came about.” The curry also features cashews for texture and nuttiness, creamy coconut milk, and the zip of tamarind that’s often found in Thai cooking.

Phinyawatana not only wants people to abandon preconceived notions of what pumpkin can and can’t be, she wants the same for Thai food. “Even today, people don’t really know what Thai food is all about—and I think it’s a misnomer,” she says. So 17 years ago, using both her experiences growing up in Bangkok and as a Texan, she decided to commit to cooking, education, and nourishing others through food. There’s her Chef Nikky YouTube page that details travel vlogs and video recipes, her cooking classes, and a sauce line to help home cooks uncomplicate Thai recipes. As a result, she feels like the Dallas area is now much more familiar with Thai cuisine.

“I know what Texans like and I know what the Thai palate should be, and I combine the two,” she explains. The fact that pad Thai is now considered a comfort food to Americans across the nation—especially the Texans that visit her restaurant—is a point of pride for her. “I’ve always loved to feed, I love to serve, and I really just want to represent Thai cuisine the way that I actually grew up eating it in Thailand and share it with the world over here.”

Sharing this massaman curry recipe is a step in the right direction.

Thai Massaman Curry by Chef Nikky of Asian Mint

Feeds 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ medium kabocha squash, cut in 2 inch pieces
  • 10 oz skinless, boneless chicken; lean beef or pork, sliced thin; shrimp; or cubed tofu
  • 1 can of coconut milk (19 ounces)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons tamarind juice concentrate (1 ounce of tamarind paste mixed with 2-3 ounces of water)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ yellow onion, sliced
  • 3 Tablespoons Massaman curry paste, Mae Sri or Mae Ploy brand preferred
  • ¾ cup cashew nut
  • Garnish: green onion and cashews

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the squash and cut into 2-inch pieces. Bake in the preheated oven until tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add massaman curry paste and stir to release the fragrance, about 10 seconds.
3. Add protein of choice. Cook until done, 3-5 minutes. Add coconut milk, water, tamarind juice, paprika, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil.
4. Add onions and half the cashew nuts, as well as the squash. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with jasmine rice. Garnish with scallions and the rest of the cashews.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn