I really like the flavor profile of Thai food. I dig the sweet, spicy, tangy and fresh flavors often found in dishes like larb. An essential component of Thai cuisine is fish sauce. It’s made by fermenting fish with salt, then extracting the liquid that is produced. The result is a dark, rich, complex sauce used similarly to the way soy sauce is used in Chinese cuisine. For those not familiar with the product, the smell can be quite pungent. You’ll find multiple varieties at the Asian market but some chain grocery stores sell it too. I don’t consider myself a fish sauce expert, so I asked the proprietor of a good Thai restaurant which he preferred, and his response was Three Crabs.

Thai flavors pair well with winter squash. Coconut curry with squash is a fairly common combination but this Thai kabocha squash salad uses coconut in a unique way. The creamy coconut pulp is whipped to make a coconut cream to top the salad. Since there is no dairy used, substituting soy or vegan fish sauce would make this dish vegetarian and vegan friendly.

You shouldn’t have a problem finding kabocha squash, but if you do, substituting another winter squash such as butternut would produce equal results. Kabocha’s sweet orange flesh has a chestnut flavor and cooks relatively quickly when roasted. The skin is not as tough as other squash varieties and will soften when roasted, so if you’re short on time you don’t need to peel it.

Author: David Moser
For the squash:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 kabocha squash peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (about 7 cups)
For the vinaigrette:
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
For the whipped coconut:
  • 1 can coconut milk chilled
  • 1½ teaspoons lime juice
  • 1½ teaspoons honey
For the garnish:
  • ⅓ cup cilantro leaves
  • ⅓ cup basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup mint leaves
  • 1 large or two small anaheim peppers sliced
  • ¼ cup peanuts crushed
For the squash:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash with the oil. Roast on a cookie sheet 20-25 minutes turning once halfway through cooking until the squash has softened and browned slightly but still retains a firm texture. Allow squash to cool to room temperature.
For the vinaigrette:
  1. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until honey is dissolved.
For the whipped coconut:
  1. Turn the chilled can upside down. Open the can and pour off the clear liquid and transfer the reserved milky white portion to a bowl. Add the lime juice and honey and beat with a hand mixer on high until the coconut milk thickens and holds its shape like whipped cream.
Assemble the salad:
  1. Combine the squash, vinaigrette, herbs and anaheim pepper in a bowl and toss gently to combine. Top with the crushed peanuts. Serve the coconut cream on the side or top the salad with a large dollop (about ½ cup). Serve at room temperature.
Make sure the coconut milk is well chilled which will allow the creamy white pulp to solidify. For a vegetarian version, substitute soy sauce or vegetarian fish sauce.