Pumpkin and Salmon Thai Yellow Curry

‘Tis October– jewel-toned pumpkins and pale, pimpled gourds and squashes are everywhere, ranging from the miniature, bite-size variety to the pregnant ones too heavy to carry and the big white ones that look like enormous heads of garlic.



Here's the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking mid-sized gourd
Here’s the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking, mid-sized gourd

To me, this recipe – pumpkin and salmon yellow curry with bok choy – embodies what October is all about: a slight chill in the air, Halloween decorations adorning window displays and backyards, settling into the rhythm of the semester, while the end (six weeks more!) is tantalizingly close.

This recipe comes courtesy Nigella, specifically Nigella Bites. I love Nigella, the simplicity and lushness of her cooking, especially when she’s cooking for one. Her recipe includes shrimp as well, which of course, you can add here if you like along with the salmon. But I think the salmon is quite hearty and substantial on its own. This golden, marigold curry is perfectly balanced and will warm you right up after a long day at work or school. Aside from prepping the pumpkin, which can take a few minutes, the rest of it is pretty straightforward and quick.

Prep: 40 minutes

Serves: 2


Approx. 1/2 pound salmon fillet (preferably organic), skinned and cut into large, bite-sized pieces

1 lemongrass stalk, cut in thirds (whack the lemongrass with your knife at different points along its spine so that it releases its lovely citrusy scent)

1/2 a medium-sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks (3/4 pound approx.)

1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (approx. 20 oz.)

1 tbsp. Thai yellow curry paste. Start with 1 tbsp and then add more during the cooking if you want more heat.  (I like the brand Mae Ploy. You can also use red curry paste if you don’t have yellow – see my recipe here). Note: the curry paste is not vegetarian – it has shrimp paste in it

2 tbsp. palm sugar (use cane sugar if you can’t find palm sugar)

1-2 tbsp. fish sauce (start with 1 tbsp and add more later if needed)

1 1/2 cups warm water/vegetable stock/ fish stock (I used vegetable stock here)

1 tsp. turmeric

3 heads of bok choy or any other green vegetable

Juice of one lime

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Prep your ingredients: first, cut up the pumpkin into bite size pieces – discard the mushy center and seeds and remove skin.

    Knife skills are not perfect but as long as they are more or less the same size, it doesn't really matter.
    As you can see, they are not all perfectly the same size, but as long as they are more or less the same, it’s fine.
  2. Cut the salmon into bite size pieces as well, approximately the same size of the pumpkin.

    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
  3. Chop your lemongrass and put a heavy saucepan or crock pot on medium heat.
  4. Add 1 tbsp. of curry paste into the pan and skim the creamy bit of the coconut milk from the top of the can. Combine the curry paste and coconut cream well until it becomes a thick but pale-looking sauce. yellowcurry1
  5. Continue to gently stir the sauce and add the warm water or stock, fish sauce, lemongrass, palm sugar, and turmeric. Bring to a boil. The sauce will become bright and golden once you add the turmeric. yellowcurry2
  6. Add the pumpkin and simmer, on medium-high heat until the pumpkin is almost fully cooked (cooking time of squash varies considerably – so keep an eye out. It could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes).
  7. Pierce the pumpkin with a fork and when it is still a soft but with some stiffness still in it, add the salmon and bok choy and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  8. When the vegetables wilt, squeeze in the juice of one lime.
  9. Taste to make sure the flavors are balanced. Add fish sauce if you desire more saltiness, sugar if you want more sweetness, and more lime if you want it more sour. Take the pan off the heat and garnish with cilantro just before serving over white or brown rice.
  10. EAT!pumpkincurry3


Going Analog Part II: Thai “red” curry paste

This past summer, my friend Brenda and I took a Thai cooking class at Durham Spirits Company, which hosts cooking classes and other events in a beautiful historical house in Old North Durham. There were about eight of us cooking at different stations in the spacious kitchen, and afterwards, we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor—which was honestly the best Thai food I have had since moving to the Triangle.

One of the menu items that we prepped during the class was a “red” curry paste. The red is in quotation marks because the paste is not actually red; the color comes from artificial food coloring that is added when the stuff is mass-produced. The actual color is more of a deep brown rather than a bright red. You need a bunch of ingredients for this paste, but fortunately you don’t need to chop or mince anything too finely because its all going into the food processor.  This paste is incredibly aromatic and will transform your Thai dishes. However, this stuff is seriously spicy (loaded with red chilies), so handle with care. A little goes a long way!

Coming up soon…two different Thai curries that use this paste.

Note: to keep this purely vegetarian, replace the shrimp paste with soy sauce.

Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
The final product: delicious, aromatic, homemade curry paste…for your future enjoyment!


(Courtesy Katie Coleman, Durham Spirits Company)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Makes: about 2 cups of paste


1 cup red chilies (dried is fine, without the stems)

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 stalks lemongrass

½ cup galangal, roughly sliced

¼ cup garlic, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. shrimp paste

1 ½ tbsp. coriander seed

1 tbsp. coriander stems, chopped

¼ cup shallots, chopped

Zest of one lime

1 cup water (use the water that the chilies are soaking in)

Generous grind of black pepper

1 tsp. salt

  1. Boil some water. Soak the red chilies in the hot water for about 15 minutes.
  2. Wrap 1 tbsp. of the shrimp paste (warning: this stuff smells rank, like a million shrimps died to make this paste) in a small piece of aluminum foil (Make a little boat).
  3. Into a dry saucepan, add in the shrimp paste in its aluminum boat, dry coriander seeds, and cumin seeds on medium heat, letting them brown but not burn.
  4. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough, outer layers of the stalk and cut off about 5” inches off the top (not the root area). Give your lemongrass a few good whacks along its spine and chop into about 1″ pieces.
  5. Roughly chop the galangal, shallots, garlic, and coriander stems. (Don’t bother peeling the galangal.  As Nigella says, the skin is just more fiber!)
  6. Using a slotted spoon, being careful not to touch the red chilies with your bare hands, transfer the chilies to a food processor. Save the soaking water.
  7. Transfer all the other ingredients to the food processor as well. Add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of the soaking water.
  8. Process to a fine paste, letting the processor go for a few minutes. Warning: the grinding process is going to release very strong aromas—including red chilies—into the air. Be sure to cover the opening of the food processor so that you protect your throat.
  9. Transfer your paste to a storage container. Refrigerate or use right away!