Recipe: Autumnal Veggies in Spiced Coconut Milk

“I would eat that” says Mr. Picky, after taking a nibble off of my wooden spoon.

I take a bite off the same spoon and let my eyes flutter shut.

My mouth is filled with the most comforting, savory goodness. These coconut veggies taste exactly like a delicious hug on a rainy day… or a steaming hot shower after a rough and tumble game of basketball… or that happy dream you have after finishing a really, really great book (or show) – the kind of dream that lets the world of the characters continue on in your imagination.

Good stuff.

There’s nothing so softly seductive as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potato, and green beans, simmered in creamy coconut milk with a touch of ginger and garlic. This is the quintessential Papua New Guinean meal – one you’ll often see ladled over white, somewhat mushy rice.

Why mushy?

Well, according to Caroline Leigh who has been to Papua New Guinea, rice cooked in thin aluminum pots is always mushy. Since  almost all pots in Papua New Guinea are made of thin aluminum (or so she claims), mushy rice is a simple fact of village life and “you might as well get used to it.” Who knew. I’m curious if other people have had this experience as well.

Inspired by the back to school season, I chose an assortment of autumnal veggies for our curry, although any veggies will do (think eggplant, zucchini, yucca, and taro). According to Jill, who lives in Papua New Guinea:

This is the main food eaten each day by most of of PNG–except in swampy areas, where grubs and sago are the mainstay. Papua New Guineans eat only one full meal each day, in the evening after dark. Those who can afford it will open a can of mackeral to serve with the soup. On special occasions chicken will be boiled with the veggies.

So… feel free to adapt as inspiration suits you.

This recipe was adapted from several sources, but especially ELCA and Jill’s Travel Journal.


1 small butternut squash, cubed
1 large sweet potato, cubed
1 potato, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
vegetable oil
2 large handfuls green beans, trimmed
1 14 oz can coconut milk (I use light)
cayenne pepper (optional)


Sliced tomato


First find a cozy kitchen. Would you prefer to be way up high, or more… grounded?

Would it make a difference if there were an elevator?

Because there’s not one.

Treehouse of the Korowai tribe in Papua New Guinea, photo by "Paul ♪ ~". The side of the parliament building in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Steve Shattuck.

Once you settle into your kitchen of choice, cube and steam the butternut squash, sweet potato, and potato until almost tender. This can go rather quickly depending on how big you cube the veggies. Mine took 10-15 minutes.

While you wait, watch a school of fish flick by… like an electric dream.

School of Goldband Fusilier in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Brocken Inaglory.

When the last tail flicks out of sight, saute onions in vegetable oil until soft. Add crushed garlic and grated ginger. Cook for another moment, until the fragrance floods your home and heart.

When the house is full to the brim with sizzling onion, ginger and garlic, it is time to add in trimmed green beans and creamy coconut milk.

Bring to a gentle bubble and – I promise you – the house will smell like coconut tanning oil (circa 1987).

(Am I the only one who gets hungry when a bottle opens up?)

Next, pile on the steamed veggies, cover and simmer about 10 minutes to finish softening them up. As they bubble and bob in the pot, the ginger and garlic will slowly absorb into the veggies. 

Season with plenty of salt and – if you’d like – a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

Garnish with slices of chopped tomato and serve immediately.

The rice is optional, unless you’re in Papua New Guinea.

Of course.

Clouds over Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Iain Taylor1

As for the view?

Let’s meet somewhere below the clouds, near where the tropics meet the water.

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  1. This looks so simple, delicious, and healthy … and I have all the ingredients on hand already too. Bonus!

  2. I made this last night for a dinner party and it was everyone’s favorite dish. It’s going into our normal recipe rotation. Crazy how delicious such a simple recipe can be. Thank you for sharing.

  3. It sounds delicious. I‘m proud tp say i am from Papua New Guinea.. more on the coastal side so we have fish as our main protein. We usually cook this up with fresh fish and have it most every day. Though its prepared slightly differently.
    And as for the mushy rice… Hahaha well you see instead of adding just plain water to the rice to boil.. we add coconut cream.
    We wash the rice throughly then strain until all the water is drained.
    Then we scrape the a coconut into a bowl. We then and add some water to the freshly scraped coconut and then squeeze the coconut milk into the rice pot.
    Be sure to use a strainer, you wouldn’t want any coconut falling into the rice. We then cook the rice over the rice until done. I know it sounds like it has too many calories for those who count.. but I’m telling you it is delicious.

    Hope u enjoy.

    More then willing to share any traditional recipes. :)


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