Lately I’ve been on a Filipino food kick. Perhaps it’s because I’d grown weary of this overstaying winter (though today was beautiful and warm). Or perhaps because some of the best comfort food is the food you grew up eating. The food of my home makes me think of my grandmother, the sound of a tropical breeze rustling coconut leaves, and Sunday afternoons playing in the sun with my cousins.
(Then I remember the time we played hide-and-go-seek outside in the middle of the night and no one came to look for me for half an hour. That part? Not so comforting.)
Squash and Green Beans in Coconut Milk (Kalabasa at Sitaw sa Gata in Filipino) is one of my favorite Filipino vegetable dishes. It’s not truly vegetarian, though you can easily make it so. Traditionally, we flavor this dish with tiny shrimp and ground or diced pork. I had neither, so this is my simple, adapted version. In place of shrimp, I used fish sauce; for the ground pork, I used my home-cured bacon.
The key element here is the coconut milk, which you cook down until it becomes a sauce. It ties everything nicely, and it gives you something to spoon over garlic fried rice to complete the meal.
While not absolutely authentic (the real deal uses long beans, and doesn’t include bacon—I’m sure you’ll forgive the presumptuous addition), it was darn close. The fish sauce provides all the salt you need, and the crispy bacon bits give you a bit of chewiness to contrast the soft texture of the cooked squash and beans. It’s hearty enough to serve as a main course, and it’s divine as a side dish paired with fried fish or pork chops.
Squash and Green Beans in Coconut Milk (Kalabasa at Sitaw sa Gata)
If you can’t find long beans, you can substitute green beans. Keep in mind that green beans cook faster than long beans, so add them in after the squash has cooked for about 8 minutes.
8 oz. bacon, diced
In a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon and all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease.
Cook the diced onion and minced garlic in the grease or oil until onions are translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the fish sauce, stir, and cook for another minute until onions start to brown.
Add the coconut milk and green chili (if using). Stir and continue to cook until the liquid reduces to a thick sauce, about 10 minutes. Finally, add the squash cubes and beans. Stir, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes until vegetables are soft. Add half of the crisp bacon and stir. Adjust seasoning and serve topped with the remaining bacon.
Make this vegan simply by replacing fish sauce with tamari or soy sauce. Omit the bacon without guilt and don’t feel you have to add something else in its place; the dish is fine without a substitute. But if you must, crisp fried mushrooms, shallots, or fried garlic are credible stand-ins.
I think the weather was in a cooperative mood because it threw up a 75ºF day today to complete the fantasy. I sat in the porch with a bowl of squash and green beans, felt the warmth surround me, and for a moment, I could have sworn I was home again.
No one came looking for me either. This time, though, I didn’t mind at all.