This Thai-inspired Butternut Squash Curry is pretty much my ideal meal:
- Easy but gourmet: This one-pot curry is easy to make, not complicated, and can be made in 45 minutes (if you use pre-chopped squash) with less than 15 minutes of prep time. But, it also delivers gourmet flavors and is special enough to serve to guests.
- Maximal flavor: Packed with the flavors of ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and lemongrass, this dish evokes the incredibly fragrant, aromatic curries I happily devoured in Thailand. More on that in the next section.
- Indulgent yet healthy: This curry is oh-so-creamy and tastes decadent. But it’s also really nourishing and packed with antioxidants, protein, and fiber, thanks to a garlic-ginger duo, a plentiful amount of chickpeas and butternut squash, and a helping hand from baby greens.
- Meal prep-friendly: This dish makes excellent leftovers and will stay good in your fridge for 4-5 days and freezes well too.
While butternut squash and chickpeas are not traditional in Thai cuisine, I’ve combined them into this hybrid/fusion dish to bring you everything I love about Thai curries in a wonderfully balanced dish you’ll eat again and again. I think the result is fantastic, and hope you’ll love it too!
And if you’re in the mood for even more curry, check out my Red Lentil Curry!
How to make a flavorful Thai curry
During my month in Thailand, we ate the most incredible Thai street food. And we also got to take a few Thai cooking classes. What I learned from Thai cooking is that every dish should be well-balanced in flavors: a little spicy, a little sweet, a little sour, and plenty of umami.
Here’s how that shakes out in this recipe:
- Spicy: heat comes from a good-quality red curry paste and Thai chili peppers (aka bird’s eye chili peppers).
- Sweet: subtle sweetness comes from butternut squash and coconut sugar; also balances the spiciness and sour, as well as enhances the salty, umami.
- Sour: acidity comes from rice vinegar; also balances the spiciness, as well as enhances the salty, umami.
- Umami: savory notes comes from the soy sauce
Step by step instructions
First, gather your ingredients:
Dice the onion and the carrots. Chop the butternut squash into cubes (or use pre-chopped butternut squash).
Mince the garlic, mince or grate the ginger and lemongrass, and thinly slice the Thai chili peppers (if using).
Sauté the diced onions and carrots in a bit of coconut oil in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven until lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili peppers, and curry paste, and stir frequently for 2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with vegetable broth, then add in the coconut milk, butternut squash, coconut sugar, and soy sauce.
Simmer the curry for 20 minutes, until the squash is tender. Then, blend about half of the curry using an immersion blender. If using a stand blender, transfer half of the curry, blend, then return it to the pan.
Add the chickpeas to the pan and bring to a simmer. Then add in the baby spinach or kale and cook until wilted. Finally, stir in the Thai basil (if using) and/or chopped cilantro.
Tips for making this curry
Butternut squash. To save time, you can buy pre-cut butternut squash cubes, available at most grocery stores these days. If using a whole butternut squash, you’ll need approximately a 2 1/2 pound (1.1 kg) squash.
Lemongrass. Not essential if you can’t find it, but if you can, lemongrass really elevates this recipe. It’s lemony, herbaceous, and minty, and extremely delightful. Since it’s so unique, there is sadly no substitute.
Tip: to see how to peel and cut lemongrass, watch the Youtube video below (starting at the 3:09 mark).
Curry paste and chili peppers. There is variability in the spiciness across curry paste brands. For instance, commonly available Thai Kitchen red curry paste is less spicy than many other brands, including the one I used in this video (Maesri). If using Thai Kitchen, I use 5 tablespoons. With Maesri, I usually use 4 tablespoons.
Whichever brand you choose, be sure to read the ingredient labels – some pastes include fish sauce or shrimp paste.
If you like spicy food, go ahead and use the bird’s eye chili peppers (aka Thai chili peppers). But if you’re on the fence about spicy food or sensitive to it, omit them! They are very spicy! My personal preference is to use 3 of these peppers, but I eat spicier food than most of my readers.
If you want a good deal of spiciness but aren’t familiar with bird’s eye chili peppers, try just 1 pepper. If you can’t find bird’s eye chili peppers but still want a spicy kick, try 1-2 serrano peppers.
Rice wine vinegar. Don’t skip the final step, which is to add a bit of rice wine vinegar (aka rice vinegar). Finishing a rich dish like this curry with a splash of acidity at the end helps balance the spicy and sweet flavors, and also brings some freshness to the dish.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are allergic to coconut, I would recommend a homemade cashew cream: 1 cup (135g) raw cashews (soaked overnight or in boiling water for 1 hour) blended with 3/4 to 1 cup water (180-240 mL). I do not recommend using a thin plant-based milk such as almond milk. A spicy curry like this needs something high-fat and creamy to balance everything out.
If you are simply watching your calorie intake, you can use lite coconut milk instead of the full-fat variety. You won’t get the same quality of creaminess, but it will still be fairly creamy (and delicious). Alternatively, you can use half the amount of full-fat coconut milk.
You can sometimes find lemongrass and Thai basil at Whole Foods, but not consistently. Lemongrass and Thai basil are commonly available at various Asian grocery stores, particularly Southeast Asian grocery. You can find bird’s eye chili peppers at some grocery stores, including Sprouts and Whole Foods.
To make it easier to cut butternut squash, microwave it for 1-2 minutes to slightly soften the flesh. Then slice off the stem from the top. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the squash until the flesh is vibrant orange. Slice the squash in half, horizontally. Then cut the rounded bottom portion of the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
Cut the bottom halves into wedges, then cube. Slice the top half of the squash in half, vertically. Finally, cut the halves into spears, then cube.
If you don’t have butternut squash, you can use sweet potatoes. However, sweet potatoes are much sweeter than butternut squash, so I would omit the coconut sugar. A better substitute would be red kuri squash (you don’t even need to remove the peel!) or kabocha squash.
My favorite way to serve any Thai curry is over white jasmine rice. For something a little more nutrient-dense, you can serve it over brown rice, millet, or quinoa.
Yes, this curry can be frozen! There might be some change in the texture, but overall, it freezes quite well.
More delicious vegan curry recipes
Love a fragrant curry? Take a look at these other flavor-packed curries:
- Vegan Red Lentil Curry
- Vegan Thai Kabocha Squash Curry
- Instant Pot Butternut Squash Lentil Curry
- Instant Pot Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato Soup
You might also want to check out this Vegan Chana Masala. It’s not a curry, precisely, but it is heavy on the chickpeas and utterly delicious (for the instant pot version, see my cookbook, the Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook!).
If you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and comment with your feedback below!
Watch! How to make Butternut Squash Curry
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (use refined for a neutral taste, or a neutral oil of choice)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- Kosher salt to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2- inch piece ginger, grated or finely minced
- 1-3 bird's eye chili peppers, thinly sliced (peppers are optional; only use for spicy version)*
- 2 stalks fresh lemongrass, minced or grated (optional but recommended)**
- 5 tablespoons red curry paste (see Recipe Notes below on spiciness level and brands)***
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (or water)
- 1 (13.5-ounce / (400 mL) can full-fat coconut milk
- 5 cups (700-730g) of peeled and cubed butternut squash (~ 2.5 pound butternut squash)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce (or 1 tablespoon Thai Light Soy Sauce)****
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar (or pure maple syrup)
- 2 (15-ounce / 425g) cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 4 cups baby spinach or baby kale (about 4 large handfuls)
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or lime juice)
- 1 large handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 handful Thai basil leaves
- White rice or brown rice (for serving, optional)
- Heat a Dutch oven or a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil, and once shimmering, add the onions and carrots along with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook the vegetables for 7-8 minutes, or until they are very tender and lightly browned.
- Add the garlic, ginger, chili peppers (if using), lemongrass (if using), and red curry paste, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables. If not using a nonstick pan, you'll likely need to add a tablespoon or two of water to prevent the mixture from drying out, sticking, and burning.
- Pour in the vegetable broth, stirring with a spatula to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Pour in the coconut milk and stir to combine, then add the cubed butternut squash, soy sauce or tamari, and coconut sugar, stirring to combine.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low or medium-low to maintain a rapid simmer for 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and cooked through. Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to blend roughly half of the curry. Make sure to leave some chunks of squash intact. Alternatively, transfer half of the curry to a stand blender. Blend until the mixture is puréed and mostly smooth, then return it to the pan.
- Stir in the chickpeas and bring the curry to a gentle simmer. Once simmering, stir in the baby spinach or kale, stirring until the greens have wilted.
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the rice wine vinegar. Taste for seasonings, adding salt as needed. Tear the Thai basil leaves to release their oils and add along with the chopped cilantro to the curry.
- Serve the curry over rice and additional cilantro or Thai basil to garnish.