Green Beans and Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk

This season, there was an episode on Top Chef about a Tribute Dinner. It was a chance for the chefs “to reflect and pay homage to the person who taught them how to cook by making a dish in their honor.” I’ve never really been officially taught how to cook by anyone – I’ve said before that I learned how to cook from watching Rachael Ray and Ina Garten on TV – and my love for food has been heavily influenced my parents, but the person who has inspired me to learn how to cook, to learn how to wield a big chef’s knife, to chop and fry and simmer, is my Tita Ine.

I think Tylor prepared a dish for his Japanese nanny, and that was the most touching for me because when I was a kid, Tita Ine was my nanny. She is the woman who makes THE BEST tsokolate, who so gamely demonstrated her whisking method for my blog. When I was home in the Philippines over the holidays, Tita Ine would ask me everyday if I had any “special requests” and I was not shy in rattling off the many Filipino dishes that I was craving.

Tita Ine took care of me when I was a kid, and she still spoils me every time I come home. In this photo (she’s the one standing on the left), she seems to be encouraging me to blow out candles on the birthday cake… even if it wasn’t my birthday… (You can see Monica and her nanny on the right; my youngest sister Patty wasn’t born yet.)

This was when I was in preschool, and Tita Ine was carrying my red lunch box for me while I posed in my stylin’ printed white tights.

And this was from our hot chocolate session during the holidays. The times where I would willingly post pictures of myself without make-up are very rare and far in between but I love this photo too much! It shows how happy I was, and Tita Ine being her usual self: generous, sincere, and in her element in the kitchen.

Now that I’m back in Boston, and I can only talk to Tita Ine via phone and FaceTime (thank God for technology), I have resorted to cooking my own little takes on Filipino food. This latest one is based on a dish called Ginataang Sitaw at Kalabasa, which translates to Green Beans and Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk, and it is one of her specialties.

Tita Ine often prepares this, and it is wonderful served hot over soft, fluffy rice.

I veered away from the traditional recipes (which usually includes either shrimp or pork) and added tofu for protein…

I also stirred in a packed cup of baby spinach…

… and a pinch more chili for added heat. I brought back a little jar of siling labuyo flakes, which is a Filipino chili similar to bird’s eye chili. The sharp spice from the chili flakes and the chopped serrano chili added a nice layer of flavor to the SouthEast-Asian blend of garlic, shallots, and ginger simmering in coconut milk.

But in spite of my modifications, the taste stayed true to what I remember from home.

Green Beans and Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk


3 cups butternut squash, cubed
2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup, packed, baby spinach
1 package extra firm tofu, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 serrano chili, chopped
14 oz (1 can) coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of chili pepper flakes (I used bird's eye chili flakes, which is hotter than regular red pepper flakes. Adjust chili quantities to your heat preference.)


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook for about 3 minutes, until the scallions turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the squash, chopped serrano chili, and coconut milk (if you're using regular coconut milk, skim off the cream on top - don't throw it away, you'll need it later; if you're using light coconut milk, add all the contents from the can). Simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a separate pan over medium heat and fry the tofu. Make sure to flip the cubes so you get a nice golden sear on all sides. Set tofu aside.
  3. Add the green beans to the butternut squash stew and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Add a pinch of chili pepper flakes, and stir in the coconut cream. Gently toss in the tofu, then turn off heat and add spinach. Toss until wilted. Season everything with salt and pepper. Serve hot over rice!

I called home to tell Tita Ine about my own take on one of her signature dishes, and she was very proud of me. I’m trying to cook Filipino food more often and I’ll always look to Tita Ine for inspiration (and her approval). I’m not sure if the judges on Top Chef will ask me to pack my knives and go for this dish (at least it’s not a meatball), but I really like what I came up with so I stand by my dish.

Do you watch Top Chef? I am rooting for Paul!

PS – Dear Top Chef: Boston Rules.


27 Responses to “Green Beans and Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk”

  1. #
    yummychunklet posted February 26, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Wow. Those green beans look fantastic! What a delicious tribute recipe.

  2. #
    Lindsay @ biking before bed posted February 26, 2012 at 9:28 am

    This was such a beautiful post Bianca. What a wonderful tribute. In the days of fast food and impersonal eating, it’s so wonderful to see recipes that truely have a story.

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted February 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Thank you Lindsay for the very nice words!

  3. #
    Rebecca @ Miss Magnolia Munches & Moves posted February 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

    That looks delicious! I’m rooting for Sarah. I loved Tylor most, and have had a hard time choosing who to root for ever since he left. Can’t wait for the finale!

  4. #
    A Plum By Any Other Name posted February 26, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I’m a Top Chef fan, that’s for sure! And I often credit Ina for helping me learn my way around the kitchen, though my grandmother and mother did their fair share too! Love that you shared your family pictures with us.

  5. #
    Elizabeth posted February 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I love the old pics and the stories from your family. And I will eat almost anything with coconut milk.

  6. #
    Megan posted February 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Definitely a Top Chef fan! And I love how you made a tribute dish. I hope you wouldn’t be asked to pack your knives.

    Boston does rule!

  7. #
    Meghan posted February 27, 2012 at 9:42 am

    This looks like the perfect dish! I love all of the flavors and the history behind it.

  8. #
    Michelle posted February 27, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I got a little teary-eyed watching that episode of Top Chef! This is a very sweet post in honor of a very special woman!

  9. #
    Purabi Naha posted February 27, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I don’t have words to say! This looks stunning and scrumptious!

  10. #
    Emily @ A Cambridge Story posted February 27, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I am definitely making this, Bianca. There are few flavor combos that I would like more!!

  11. #
    Daisy posted February 27, 2012 at 11:15 am

    i love these pictures of little Bianca. and what a fantastic dish, surely a top chef win!

  12. #
    Susan posted February 27, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Love those photos – and memories. Also, that looks amazing!

  13. #
    Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather posted February 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    This looks delish and such a sweet post too. I bet you make her proud all the time :)

  14. #
    Shannon posted February 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    oh my, Tita would be so proud! love that picture of you two, gorgeous ladies!! and what a wonderful dish, too, some of my favorite things :)

  15. #
    Tina@flourtrader posted February 29, 2012 at 7:45 am

    This is a lovely tribute to Tita-I am sure she is so proud of you. Also, I know she was probably smiling from ear to ear when she saw this!
    This dish here does look like a tasty blend. Coconut milk does make for a tasty and silky base for all the squash and green beans. Delicious post.
    Thanks for popping in and commenting on my blog, I enjoyed this post.

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted February 29, 2012 at 11:43 am

      Hi Tina, nice to e-meet you :) Thanks for the nice comments!

  16. #
    Joanne posted February 29, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Tita Ine sounds like such an awesome person and such an inspiration in the kitchen! I love cooking traditional food from my past…and I also really love cooking OTHER people’s traditional food. T his sounds like my kind of meal with the coconut AND butternut squash!

  17. #
    Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook posted February 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Looks fantastic, I love the combination of the squash with beans. And the heat!
    You have such nice food memories. Food + Love! Sweet photo’s :)

  18. #
    grace posted February 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    what a sweet homage! the dish looks tasty too. since it can’t be lindsay, i guess i’m rooting for paul too. :)

    • #
      Bianca Garcia posted February 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      Yeahhhh Paul! Can’t wait to see who wins!

  19. #
    Asmita posted February 29, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Such a flavorful dish! The dish looks very inviting.

  20. #
    Deanna posted March 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    On a season of only okay episodes, the tribute episode was my favorite. And these green beans sound amazing. I’ve been wanting to try more Filipino food and this sounds like such an easy introduction.

  21. #
    Marcie posted November 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Awww love your photos with Tita Ine! Can’t wait to see you and her on December 21! Ginataang Sitaw at Kalabasa is one of my favorite veggie dishes! Your version looks yummy too! :)

  22. #
    APRIL HARKNESS posted March 22, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Just found your website..googling for a filipino dish with coconut milk my mother used to make…but sans meat. And I found it. TURNED OUT GREAT!!

  23. #
    ishika joshi posted October 5, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    There are many ups and downs in life, but those who struggle never lose, you have written such a beautiful post that I have been encouraged to struggle more by seeing this post, I also want to write good posts like you, the design of this post. It is very beautiful and the content that you have written in this post is even more beautiful.


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