Yep, ’tis the season again. That special space of time when you aggressively feed the people you love and don’t let up until January. Yes, gone are the days of fresh salads and heat-stroke-induced loss of appetite. From here on out its holiday food season. What? Too soon? Too bad. Yes, here in Canada, our thoughts have already turned to turkey. Our annual Turkey Day is this coming weekend. And while most tables will be groaning under the weight of vats of mashed potatoes and platters of the sliced hallowed bird, my table will be playing host to a very different sort of meal. A meal that will include today’s Curried Kale with Acorn Squash and Black Rice.
My household is less than traditional. I don’t say that to brag about how “totally alternative” I am. It’s just a fact. My house is inhabited by two adults and one standoffish, frequently ridiculous cat. Wouldn’t change it for the world.
I bring up my household census information because I want to acknowledge that I live a somewhat privileged lifestyle when it comes to holiday menu planning. You see, we have no kids. And my parents live in another province and Bae’s mom is not a super duper holiday nut. So, we don’t really have any traditions to revere and there’s really no one to disappoint if we decide to flip the script.
I know this is definitely not the case for a more traditional family unit. So, if today’s Curried Kale with Acorn Squash is a bridge too far for your mashed-potato-loving family, please know, I get it. I once was a holiday tyrant myself. I basically wanted every Thanksgiving and Christmas to be exactly like the one before. The holidays were pretty much choreographed down to the second under my oppressive eye. If that is the case, check out my more, erm, normal scalloped potato recipe. It’s a lot more accessible.
But regardless of the stuffing-related obligations your four-year-old fully intends to hold you to, I hope you can find a place for today’s Curried Kale with Acorn Squash somewhere in your meal plan. They would taste just as good on a normal day with a lot less riding on it. But if you, like me, are trying on new traditions for your own family unit, why not give this bad boy a whirl as a Thanksgiving side.
Okay, now that we have the holiday-related preamble out of the way, let’s talk about this Curried Kale. Yes, I know the whole world is in the throes of kale fatigue but this kale is different. This kale is barely kale because it is dripping in coconut milk infused with a homemade curry paste and peanut butter. Yeah, that’s right, peanut butter – the world’s most perfect food. Well, unless you have a peanut allergy, then I suppose it would be the world’s most deadly food. Isn’t it interesting how “perfect” and “deadly” can coexist in one spread? Peanut butter is basically the bond girl of the food world.
The curry paste that is gracing this lush coconut sauce is something I like to call “panang-ish”. I call it that because a proper panang curry paste was my muse. But then I added a lot of peanut butter to the mix and the paste ceased to be anywhere near authentic. Not that anything I make is particularly authentic, whatever that means.
So, with the curry paste sorted, it was time to introduce it to the coconut milk, but not before cooking the milk down a bit. One of the identifying features of panang curry is how thick it is relative to other Thai curries. And since panang was the source of my inspiration for this dish, I wanted my curry sauce to be thicc – you know, like the kids say.
Now, this may seem a little counterintuitive, but after you have the sauce all nice and lush, you’re going to stir in 1/2 cup of water. Why? Well, you need a little extra liquid to cook the kale down. Just take a deep breath and follow me, I promise it will all work out.
The rest of this extremely tasty side or stand-alone-meal is as easy as turning on your rice cooker and preheating your oven. Simply roast the acorn squash at 400°F for 40-45 minutes, then pop them on a bed of dramatic black rice. You can, of course, just regular old Jasmine rice, if that is what you have on hand. It will taste just as delicious, despite the lack of contrast. From there it’s a simple case of draping the curried curtains of kale over the acorn squash and finishing the dish with a sprinkling of fresh red spinach leaves.
And that’s the it! Everything you need to know about this Curried Kale with Acorn Squash and Black Rice as well as a few things you didn’t need to know. It makes for a fun, unexpected side at your Thanksgiving table. Or if that’s too controversial, any old Tuesday will do.
Curried Kale with Roasted Acorn Squash and Black Rice
- 1 cup uncooked black rice
- 2 1/2 cups water divided
- 1 acorn squash cut into 8 wedges
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 10 dried red chilies
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1 (1-inch) piece galangal peeled and finely chopped
- 2 shallots halved and sliced
- 6 kaffir lime leaves stalks and stem removed, chopped fine
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp all-natural crunchy peanut butter divided
- 2 tsp palm sugar divided
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 1 bunch Kale stalks removed, rinse and torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup red spinach rinsed
- Preheat the oven to 400°F
- Place the rice, water and a pinch of salt in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir to combine. Cover the pot and place over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let cook undisturbed for 50-55 minutes or until the rice is tender.
- While the rice is cooking, arrange the acorn squash wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the olive oil over top and sprinkle liberally with the salt. Finish the squash with fresh ground pepper and pop them in the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender.
- While the rice is cooking and squash is roasting, make the curry paste. Place the dried chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- While the chilies are soaking, smash the lemongrass with the blunt end of a knife. Remove the tough outer leaves and finely chop what remains. Transfer the lemongrass to a food processor and add the galangal, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, 1 tsp of the palm sugar, cumin, ground coriander and 1 tbsp of the peanut butter.
- Take the chilies out of the hot water and give them a coarse chop. Add them to the food processor and blitz until the mixture is smooth and cohesive. Transfer the curry paste to a bowl and set aside.
- Pour half of the can of coconut milk into a large, deep skillet. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a rapid simmer and cook the coconut milk down for about 7 minutes or until you can easily draw a trail of bare skillet through the center of the coconut milk with the back of your spoon.
- Stir 4 tbsp of the curry paste (freeze the rest for future use) into the coconut milk and continue to cook the milk down. Cook until the oil in the coconut milk separates and forms pools on the surface, about 4 minutes more. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, water and palm sugar and bring back up to a simmer.
- Stir in the kale in batches, waiting for it to wilt before adding more. Once the kale is tender, take the skillet off of the heat and add the remaining peanut butter. Stir until the peanut butter is well integrated.
- At this point, your rice and squash wedges should be ready. On a large platter, create a bed of cooked black rice. Arrange the squash wedges evenly across the rice and drape them with the curried kale. Finish the dish with a sprinkling of fresh red spinach and serve immediately.