The first time I hosted Thanksgiving was during college. My roommate and I were both from different countries—me from India and him from Italy. We had a vague idea of what a Thanksgiving meal might entail. (Basically, turkey and pies.) Nevertheless, animated by an intense desire to impress my guests, we decided to rely on our dorm’s oven to cook a whole turkey.
Our youthful inexperience and the oven’s capricious behavior resulted in a bird that was dry and slightly charred in some spots. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it was edible. With that task finished, I had just enough time to whip up a butternut squash side dish. I melted coconut oil and cooked the squash in a pan over a hot stove, seasoning it at various stages with a mixture of spices and herbs. In contrast to the turkey, it was quick, simple, and nearly effortless.
Our guests arrived and I uncomfortably placed the turkey on the table with the hope that people would ignore it. But of course, they walked right up and served themselves while I nervously apologized. From the turkey they made their way to the sides, and eventually sat down to eat. Like a hawk, I watched their reactions to every bite. Everybody doused the turkey with a lot of gravy to make up for its dryness, but it was the squash that piqued their curiosity. The unexpected tropical notes of coconut from the oil and the aromatic curry leaves filled the room. My turkey might have been a disaster, but this simple squash side dish helped save the day.
I’ve moved on from that turkey, but the squash continues to be one of my favorite autumn sides, with its wonderful aromas and strong punch of flavor. A sprinkling of marash chile flakes and curry leaves with coconut oil add a bit of heat and an intoxicating fragrance, while the black mustard seeds add a hint of nuttiness.
- 1 (2 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons marash chile flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 24 fresh curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 425°F with oven rack in lower third of oven. Toss butternut squash with coconut oil, chile flakes, salt, mustard seeds, and curry leaves in a medium bowl until evenly coated. Transfer to a baking dish, and roast in preheated oven on bottom rack until squash is tender and slightly browned, about 35 minutes, stirring halfway through roasting. Remove from oven; drizzle with lime juice, and serve warm.