I spent a lot of my formative years in Toronto, where I gained an appreciation for diversity that’s had an enduring impact on me. Toronto is a mecca of multiculturalism. You can find food from all over the world in various parts of the city: Greek town on Danforth, Korean in K-town, Little Italy and Corso Italia on College and St. Clair, Portugal Village at Dundas West, Japanese & Hungarian in the Annex, Polish in Roncesvalles, Latin American in Kensington Market, all kinds of Caribbean all over the place, at least two Little Indias and about six Chinatowns. What a mouthful…but that’s not all. Toronto is also a haven for regional cuisine. Toronto’s ethnic communities are really proud of their regional diversity and the city certainly encourages diversity to flourish. So if you wanted, say, Sicilian, Assamese, or Hunan cuisine, you could find it.
Beyond an appreciation for the international (which I have in excess at times) Toronto also imparted an appreciation for regional diversity. When I was growing up I met a lot of South Asians but very few of them were Goan. The Goans I did meet were really proud of being Goan and I always felt like they had an aura of uniqueness around them. That brings me to this meal. One of my goals with Cristina’s Kitchen is to learn about different cultures through food and of course, I especially like delving into the nuances of regional cuisine.
You can learn a lot about the different geographical and cultural influences of a culture just by looking at ingredients. For example, Goan cuisine is characterized by a lot of coconut fish curries, due to the fact that it’s in a coastal area, but what’s more interesting is that it also has significant Portuguese influence from 400 years of colonialism. There are Goan/Portuguese samosas (chamuças), chorizo (chouriço), and feijoada.
The spices used in Goan cuisine are in different proportions from other curries. There’s much more of a focus on coriander and cumin. The spice paste is fairly simple overall, especially in comparison to others I’ve made (like Indonesian Beef Rendang – that was super complex). It’s onion, garlic, ginger, chilies and ground turmeric plus toasted and ground coriander and cumin. Simple no? The toasting and grinding of your own spices may seem tedious and unnecessary but I promise it makes a difference…and the smell of fresh ground coriander is a life experience in and of itself. For this recipe I adapted the spice blends used in two recipes for Goan Fish Curry and Goan Fish Stew. Granted, the use of butternut squash may not be authentic but the seasoning is close. All I did was sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger along with the butternut squash. Once it was aromatic I added the chili, toasted and ground dry spices and turmeric and then blended with coconut milk in a food processor. I didn’t have dried Kashmiri chilies per the recipes I used for reference so I substituted sweet paprika not cayenne because they’re meant to add flavour rather than heat. I also didn’t have fresh green chilies so I sprinkled in some cayenne at the end to get the spice level to where I wanted.
I added 350 grams / 12 oz of cooked langostino tails (from Trader Joe’s) for protein because that’s what I had but you can substitute with shrimp or even veggies. You can also up the amount of langostino or shrimp to 450 grams / 1 lb.
Overall it’s really simple and definitely doable on a weeknight. The butternut squash and coconut milk base with langostino tails make for a tasty, nutritious, and hearty meal that also looks really lovely and feels very sophisticated. I like to think of it as a fall inspired take on traditional Goan cuisine. More than that, making Goan food made me feel like I’d been let in on a secret…on the reason for that aura of uniqueness and pride amongst the Goans I’ve met. Few things compare to the feeling of getting closer to another culture by making their food. That was definitely the best part of this meal.
1 large butternut squash, cooked and cubed
1-2 TBSP coconut oil or ghee for cooking
1 medium red onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, mashed or minced
2 inch (5cm) piece of ginger, mashed or minced
4 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 dried kashmiri chilies or substitute 1 TBSP sweet paprika
1 can natural unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups of water
1 green chilli, finely diced (or substitute ground cayenne to taste)
Salt to taste
350 – 450 grams / 12 – 16 oz cooked langostino tails (or substitute same amount of cooked shrimp)
2 TBSP chopped cilantro + more for garnish
Bake butternut squash. I baked mine whole at 400 F / 200 C for about 45 minutes. You can peel, seed and before or after baking – it’s up to you. Also, this step can be done the day before or way in advance and frozen if you’re a meal prep aficionado.
Heat oil or ghee in a skillet on medium-high heat.
Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until aromatic and soft – about 8 minutes. Increase heat, add butternut squash and continue sautéing another 5 minutes or so to develop the flavours.
While sautéing, start another smaller skillet on medium heat and add the dried chilies (if using) and the coriander and cumin seeds. Heat gently for about 5 minutes or until aromatic. Grind in a mill or with a mortar and pestle.
Add the ground seeds, dried chilies (or paprika), turmeric, and coconut milk to the skillet and mix.
Pour all ingredients into food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
Return soup to a pot over medium-high heat. Add two cups of water and mix until incorporated.
Add the green chilies (or cayenne) as well as salt to your taste. I used about 2 tsp each of cayenne and salt.
Add cooked langostino tails (or shrimp) and cilantro. Mix, head tot your preference, then serve garnished with more cilantro.