Coconut Shrimp Curry with Butternut Squash and Spinach

published Feb 18, 2021
Coconut Shrimp Curry with Butternut Squash and Spinach

This South Indian-inspired curry is made with a paste of fresh coconut, ginger, shallots, and dried red chiles, and is best enjoyed over steamed rice.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook32 minutes

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butternut squash shrimp curry sits in a large pot on a table next to lime wedges and a napkin
Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

My personal foray into South Indian-style food was through my neighbor, who was my mother’s best friend, when I was growing up. Every South Asian household has their own unique version of curries or saucy gravy recipes (even the most popular ones vary greatly from kitchen to kitchen), and I remember many of her dishes being laced with coconut, and tasting both sweet and savory. She often made a fish or crab curry using a smooth, spiced coconut paste with ingredients like curry leaves, shallots, and ginger. I couldn’t get enough of it, and to this day nothing is more satisfying to me than a bowl of piping-hot curry with rice.

This recipe is inspired by my lunches at her home, and the need to get something quick and delicious on the table. It takes me right back to her kitchen — when I was curious and ready to eat! The creamy coconut base is packed with shrimp, butternut squash, and baby spinach, and it’s served with a curry leaf and mustard “tadka” on top. The sweet squash breaks down as it cooks, combining with the coconut to make a luscious sauce.

Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

Feel free to experiment with the vegetables and seafood in this recipe. If you opt for more robust greens, such as kale or chard, increase the cook time to allow them to become tender. Substitute the shrimp for scallops, chunks of cod, or really any white flaky fish.

I also highly recommend doubling the coconut paste recipe and freezing half. On a day when you’re too lazy to cook, you can throw in whatever vegetables you have on hand for an easy fridge clean-out meal without too much effort. You can also make the entire curry in advance — I would just cook the squash a few minutes less so it becomes perfectly tender when reheated.

The most traditional way to serve this is over rice, or with appams and dosas. But it also tastes great over other grains, like quinoa and farro.

Coconut Shrimp Curry with Butternut Squash and Spinach

This South Indian-inspired curry is made with a paste of fresh coconut, ginger, shallots, and dried red chiles, and is best enjoyed over steamed rice.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 32 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), or 4 cups chopped butternut squash

  • 3 cups

    fresh, frozen, or dried unsweetened grated or shredded coconut

  • 1 (1-inch) piece

    fresh ginger

  • 1

    large shallot

  • 4 cloves


  • 3

    dried red chiles, such as Guntur Sannam, cayenne, or arbol

  • 2 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    coriander seeds

  • 1 quart

    (4 cups) water, plus more as needed

  • 2 pounds

    medium peeled and deveined raw shrimp

  • 3 cups

    packed baby spinach

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon

    black mustard seeds

  • 5

    fresh curry leaves

  • Cooked rice, for serving


  1. Peel, scrape out the seeds, and cut 1 medium butternut squash into 2-inch pieces (about 4 cups).

  2. Prepare the coconut if needed: thaw 3 cups grated frozen coconut or add 1 1/2 cups hot water to 3 cups dried coconut to plump up and rehydrate. Place in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or high-speed blender (a regular blender will work, but the paste will be grainier).

  3. Prepare the following, adding them to the blender as you go: Peel and slice 1 (1-inch piece) fresh ginger. Peel and halve 1 large shallot. Peel 4 garlic cloves. Trim the stems from 3 dried red chiles. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 1 tablespoon coriander seeds. Process or blend, adding a little water as needed to get the blades moving, until a paste forms.

  4. Transfer the paste to a large Dutch oven. Add 1 quart water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, halve 1 medium lime.

  5. Add the shrimp to the curry and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 3 cups packed baby spinach, stir to combine, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, squeeze in the juice from the lime halves, and stir to combine.

  6. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds. When it sizzles and pops, immediately cover the pan. When the popping starts to subside, add 5 fresh curry leaves. Immediately cover the pan, as moisture from curry leaves will cause the oil to spurt. Once the sputtering stops, stir to evenly coat everything with oil and continue to fry for 10 seconds. Turn off the heat. Pour the spiced oil over the butternut shrimp curry. Serve with cooked rice.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The coconut paste can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container or frozen up to 2 months.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.