Coconut Seafood Soup

Over the last few years, I keep coming back to this soup every year for Christmas Eve supper (we do a traditionally seafood meal). It’s the only recipe I’ve made three years (maybe four?) in a row, and has become a favorite of the family.

15774883_10206147884495656_4690807848044684179_oSARAH’S COCONUT SEAFOOD SOUP

1 (14oz) can coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock
zest & juice of one lime
zest & juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 lbs small seafood (e.g. scallops, mussels, shrimp, crab, etc)
2 spring onions, chopped, for garnish

Combine the first five ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer. I usually like to wait until the simmering has softened up the zest and then run the immersion blender quickly through the liquid so that the strands of zest get better incorporated, for texture’s sake.

Add the seafood and simmer until cooked through. Garnish with chopped spring onions to serve.

Massaman Curry

I’ve spoken recently about the conundrum of Thai curry paste. While it seems like a good idea, in theory, to make my own, the requirement of so many specialty ingredients to make a Thai curry paste even approaching authentic makes the prospect of a homemade paste more daunting than most culinary projects. As a result, I’ve been investing in some pre-made pastes.

It started when I found a good deal online for Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste. I was in the mood to make my recipe for Thai Pumpkin Curry, and I knew I had used this brand of red curry paste before in that recipe to good success. In searching out this paste online, however, I encountered some other brands of curry paste not available in my average grocery store. I opted for the Thai Kitchen brand for the pumpkin curry, but when I discovered a recipe I wanted to try for Asian Meatballs in Green Curry Sauce, I remembered seeing those other brands and decided to give one a try. I ordered a jar of Mae Ploy Thai Green Curry Paste to use in the recipe. I was happy with the recipe and the flavor of the curry paste and so I went looking to see what other pastes they offered.

As it turned out, Amazon offers a variety of Mae Ploy curry pastes, including massaman! I was especially excited about the massaman paste. Since my discovery of turnips and their potato-like qualities, I’ve been anxious to try a massaman curry; potatoes are a rather iconic ingredient in this curry and I was excited to substitute turnip chunks as a good stewing vegetable. I also picked up a Mae Ploy Yellow Curry Paste, though I have admittedly never had a Thai Yellow Curry, but I was intrigued and it was on sale so I decided to buy it as well. Culinary adventures with yellow curry to come. But for now, massaman!

DSC02571SARAH’S MASSAMAN CURRY

2/3 cup unsalted peanuts

1 (14oz) can coconut milk
4 tbsp massaman curry paste
1-2 lbs. chicken breasts, cubed
2 lbs. turnips or potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, cut in wedges
1 lime, juice and zest, or 1/4 cup lime juice
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 tsp tamarind paste (I use Tamicon concentrate)
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce

Place the peanuts in a dry, non-stick skillet. Heat over medium-low fire, stirring often, until the peanuts are golden brown. In the alternative, place on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400. Check on and stir every five minutes until roasted. Set peanuts aside.

In a slow-cooker or large saucepan, combine coconut milk, curry paste, chicken, turnips (or potatoes), onion, and remaining ingredients. Simmer covered over low fire (for slow-cooker: 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low) until chicken reaches desired done-ness. Toward the end of cooking, add the peanuts and heat through. Serve over rice (or cauliflower rice) and with other favorite Thai dishes.

Asian Meatballs in Green Curry Sauce

I stumbled onto a green curry meatballs recipe a couple weeks ago almost purely by accident. I don’t even remember now what I was looking for when I found it — something completely unrelated — but it caught my eye immediately!

I had recently purchased red curry paste in bulk online, and so I decided it might be a good time to acquire some green curry paste, as well. Normally I’m a fan of making my own curry spice blends, but I’ve found Thai pastes to be somewhat prohibitive. They require a large number of fresh ingredients; done properly they also require specialty produce (e.g. kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, etc) that would require a special trip outside my daily comings and goings whenever I felt like cooking Thai — which happens rather frequently. And so, I decided I should invest in some prepared curry pastes.

I made a few key adjustments to the original recipe, many to make it low carb, but also the optional introduction of a bell pepper (I happened to have one around). Here’s what I ended up with:

DSC02410SARAH’S ASIAN MEATBALLS in GREEN CURRY SAUCE

Meatballs:
1/4 – 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons green onions, white and pale green parts, snipped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon cilantro chutney
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 lb ground meat

Green Curry Sauce:
7 oz coconut cream
7 oz water
4 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp fish sauce
zest and juice of one lime
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil (optional, to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs — except the meat — in a medium bowl and whisk together well with a fork. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes so that the liquid ingredients can hydrate the breadcrumbs.

Meanwhile combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. For now, do NOT add the bell pepper or basil. Bring to a gentle simmer over a low fire.

Add the meat to your bowl of meatball ingredients. Combine well. Form the meatballs and place on a large shallow casserole dish or cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the outside of the meatballs is golden brown.

Add the meatballs to your pan of curry sauce. If you’re using some bell pepper, add slices now. Simmer until peppers are cooked and meatballs are heated through.

Serve garnished with fresh basil.

Thai Red Curry Cauliflower “Rice”

I was planning to try a new green curry recipe last weekend, and I also happened to have some leftover pumpkin curry in the freezer, so a Thai feast seemed in the works. It occurred to me a rice dish was a logical addition (and, of course, for me this means cauliflower “rice”), and so I took to the Internet to research a flavorful rice dish that is uniquely Thai.

Now, cauliflower rice can be eaten plainly. The simplest preparation is riced cauliflower with some oil, salt and pepper. That’s as close as I would recommend getting to “plain” cauliflower rice. In my humblest opinion, it needs a bit more seasoning to stand on its own as a dish, and so I look for rice dishes that are complex and flavorful when I’m looking to convert a recipe to cauliflower rice. I’ve already done a few cauliflower rice recipes that complement Thai food well, such as Coconut Rice and Cilantro Lime Rice, but I wanted something more intricate this time, something that could stand on its own. I figured, my favorite Thai restaurant has all kinds of entree rice dishes, surely I could find a recipe for something like that to fit the bill

I’ve also found that cooking the cauliflower rice directly (i.e. as part of the dish preparation; warming is okay) is less than ideal, as the rice loses its texture easily and releases extra liquid into the dish. Many of the recipes I found were for fried rice; many did not seem all that much different from Chinese fried rice recipes–maybe one or two extra “Thai” ingredients. They were uninspiring, and they of course involved cooking the rice by frying it. Since I already keep a lot of integral Thai food ingredients in my cupboards (e.g. curry pastes and powders, sriracha, fish sauce, lime juice, peanuts, etc.) I decided to put together a recipe based on Thai dishes and flavor combinations I’ve enjoyed in the past.

DSC02401SARAH’S THAI RED CURRY RICE

8 cups cauliflower rice
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/8 cup lime juice
1/8 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/3 cup peanuts, crushed
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or powder
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon salt
green onions

Rice your cauliflower. Fold into a clean kitchen towel and set aside.

In a compact but tall container (I used the plastic measuring vessel that came with my immersion blender), combine curry paste, coconut cream, lime juice, soy sauce and peanut butter. Mix thoroughly into a sauce (I used my immersion blender to do so; works well to overcome the tackiness of the peanut butter).

Meanwhile crush and toast the peanuts in a dry, non-stick skillet. Once the peanuts are lightly toasted, add the coconut (it will toast faster) and stir until coconut is golden brown. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine cauliflower rice, diced tomatoes, salt and green onions. Add the toasted peanuts and coconut. Once all those ingredients are well-distributed throughout the rice, add the peanut sauce and combine. Serve with your favorite Thai curries.

Note that the peanut sauce in this recipe is intended to coat the rice lightly with flavor, not to be a thick sauce to saturate it. The overall texture is a “dry” rice, rather than a soupy or saucy dish.

I was quite pleased with this recipe. And excellent complement to the curries I was making to eat alongside it. Can’t wait to have the leftovers later this week!

The Conundrum of Chili Powder vs. Chili Powder

A particular terminology duplication has arisen in modern American cookery, and I’m at a bit of a loss on how to resolve it.

In ordinary USA recipe parlance, “chili powder” has come to denote a particular spice blend. Go to any grocery store, or even most dollar stores, and you will see offered among the spices “chili powder” which is not, for certain, powdered chilis. Perhaps powdered chili pepper might make up one component of the spice mixture, but those chilis are unlikely to be very hot since most mainstream American palates run to the mild side (certainly, mainstream Pittsburgh tastes do). This chili powder is, in fact, a blend of spices intended for Mexican and Tex Mex recipes, popularized and mainstreamed more than anything by recipes for the quintessential Tex Mex stew, itself called Chili.

Chili Peppers

Chili Peppers

I have nothing against spice mixes, certainly. As a hobby cook of some conscientiousness, I do like to make my own spice blends when it is practical to do so, especially when a particular blend is not easy to come by in a form offering consistent quality and/or value. Berbere, the standard spice blend for Ethiopian recipes, as an example, is not readily available in grocery stores, and those that do offer it usually do so at a high price, and purchasing a blend online incurs added expense of shipping and the ever-present risk that one’s favorite retailer will discontinue the specific brand of berbere mixed spices that the chef has come to rely upon throwing all of her tried-and-true Ethiopian-style recipes into flux and chaos… rather than tangle with all these contingencies, I make my own so that every batch of Mesir Wat will be the same as the last.

Other blends produce fewer stumbling blocks and thus fewer qualms on my part with using the pre-mixed grocery store blend. Badia makes a good line of spice mixes, including a turmeric-centered curry powder, cajun seasoning, chili powder, etc. I do have a preferred recipe for making my own chili powder (which I will share below), and my own recipes for various differing styles of curry powder, such as garam masala, which should never be confused with other types of curry powders, such as the turmeric-based powders or the Madras powders, etc. But sometimes, a gal just wants grab a jar of spice mix and measure, without going to the trouble of pre-mixing her own blend. By now, I have a pretty good sense, for the sake of my own tastes, when using my homemade blend makes the difference and when throwing myself on the mercy of a commercial spice company makes little to no difference.

And so, I have no qualms with recipes calling for spice mixes, chili powder among them, as it affords the chef a simple opportunity to choose either a homemade spice blend or a store-bought mix. The problem with “chili powder” is that there is an ingredient by the same name that shows up in recipes: namely chili peppers that are powdered.

Powdered Chili Peppers

Powdered Chili Peppers

I’ve become pretty good over the years at telling which type of “chili powder” a recipe is calling for. A recipe for Indian or Thai curry is probably calling for powdered chili peppers, whereas a Mexican, Spanish, Cajun, mainstream American cuisine recipe, quick & easy recipe, etc. are probably calling for the spice blend. This duplicative term bothers me the most as a recipe author; when I post recipes online containing the spice blend called “chili powder” I always feel that I have to clarify in some way. I more often find myself making recipes with chili powder, rather than powdered chilis, and yet I always feel that I have a responsibility to clarify as the writer of a given recipe.

This sense of responsibility, this commitment to clarity makes me wish to solve this terminology impasse in an easier, more efficient way. I suppose I could use the distinction indicated above, chili powder vs. powdered chilis. But this division would really only work for people who follow my recipes close to enough to know I had pre-established this distinction. The term “chili powder” is so well-established in both meanings out there in the world of recipe writing, that I would still feel the need to clarify every time I included “chili powder” in a recipe. What is the elegant solution here? What can I call “chili powder” to make it clear that I mean the spice mix, and not powdered chilis?

I am open to suggestions!

Component Spices for a Chili Powder Blend

Component Spices for a Chili Powder Blend

SARAH’S FAVORITE CHILI POWDER SPICE BLEND

5 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients in a container. Mix well. Use in recipes calling for the spice blend chili powder.

Pad Thai Noodles

I’ve made a couple attempts at Pad Thai with different recipes I’ve encountered online. I can’t say previous attempts were failures, but while enjoyable enough, they just didn’t turn out quite right. This time around, I compared and contrasted a few recipes (including the one I had used the last time), and put together a list of ingredients based on what had worked and what hadn’t during my last attempts. I was quite pleased with the result:

DSC01870SARAH’S PAD THAI

8 oz rice noodles
1/2 cup crushed peanuts (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3-5 green onions, snipped or sliced
8 oz or 1 lb. of shellfish, meat, faux crab, tofu, etc.
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
4-6 eggs
1-2 limes
cilantro

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for about 30 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

At the same time, in a small non-stick skillet, toast the crushed peanuts dry on a low heat, stirring every so often.

DSC01867In a large skillet, heat the oil. Snip the roots off the white ends of the green onions. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (most recently my recipe for African Peanut Soup), I like to use kitchen scissors for snipping herbs and spring onions. Using scissors will make it very easy to separate the whites from the greens in this recipe. Just snip the onions, starting at the white end, into the saucepan. When you get to the green part of the onions, simply move to a bowl and snip the remainder of the onion to reserve the greens for later.

Saute the white snips of the onion with the minced garlic for a minute or two. Add your meat, fish, etc. and saute until cooked. I used an 8oz package of faux crab, chunk style (I don’t like how the flake style falls apart), and so did not have to cook it long, just to heat through.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce: lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind and sriracha. Mix until brown sugar is dissolved. Add the drained noodles to the pan; stir fry for a minute or two, then add the sauce. Reduce heat to low.

DSC01868Mix about half of the toasted peanuts in with the noodles. Reserve the other half in a small bowl and set aside. Use the small skillet to fry the eggs (no need to wash first). I like to mix the eggs with a little extra fish sauce before scrambling. I used 6 eggs because I only used 8 oz of fish, but you can use fewer eggs if you’re using a larger amount of meat or fish. I also added a touch of additional vegetable oil to the pan before scrambling. Stir the eggs in with the noodles once they are scrambled.

Once your stir-fry is heated through, garnish with the reserved peanuts and green onions, and fresh cilantro if you have some on hand (I didn’t this last time and it was perfectly tasty without). Quarter your limes and serve with lime wedges to be squeezed over the noodles before eating.

I didn’t have terribly high hopes for this recipe since it is quite a complex dish and it comes from a cuisine tradition that I have otherwise found difficult to reproduce with great authenticity.

I must say, however, I was quite surprised with how this recipe turned out. It looked like Pad Thai I’ve had in restaurants, and it was extremely tasty. I found myself going back for more time and again throughout the day, eating much more of it than I had intended (sorry, diet!). Pad Thai itself varies from restaurant to restaurant, and I haven’t had a restaurant version terribly recently for comparison, but I found this recipe so delicious that I frankly did not care how close it was in authenticity to my favorite restaurants. I suspect I will be making this dish again very soon!

Thai-style Peanut Sauce

This recipe is amazingly delicious and versatile. It works as a sauce for noodles (hot or cold), a marinade for meat or fish, a slow-cooker sauce or as a base for vegetables and meat in a thai-style curry over rice.

SARAH’S THAI-STYLE PEANUT SAUCE

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (14oz) can coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
dash of cayenne pepper (or to taste)

images_Coconut_Lime_Ver_4bc68778a6e3d1Combine the above ingredients in a bowl or saucepan or crock pot. I like to use an immersion blender to integrate the peanut butter and puree the garlic. Use cold as a sauce for noodles, for dipping or as a marinade. Add meat and/or vegetables to the sauce for slow cooking or heat in a pan for curry or noodles. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

I’ve used this sauce many times before with meat (usually chicken) and vegetables as a curry over rice. This past weekend, I decided to combine it with some faux crab meat (chunk style), put it over noodles and garnish with some green onions.

I ran into a bit of a roadblock with the noodles, however. Having been to two different Thai restaurants in the last few weeks, I noticed that the menus included noodle dishes containing Thai egg noodles. However, when I was out and about at grocery stores this week, I could only find Thai rice noodles. The Thai egg noodles I’ve had in the past — and thus the ones I had in mind — have been relatively wide and flat, not unlike fettuccine. Browsing other types of Asian noodles at these grocery stores, I found nothing to replicate that memory of Thai egg noodles. I couldn’t even find any on Amazon.

I realized, of course, that I could very well make my own noodles. Flour, eggs and a pasta maker were already in my kitchen. I’m always reluctant to make my own noodles, however, because of the cleanup. Making dough, be it water- or egg-based, is always easy in the food processor, but the extra flour required to ease the dough’s path through the pasta maker gets EVERYWHERE. It’s one thing to clean up my workspace, but to have to clean the floors and every stray little item nearby with a light dusting from clouds of flour doesn’t seem worth the effort.

thai-peanut-noodles-11900012rca-ssAfter hitting my last dead-end with the search for something that could pass as a Thai egg noodle, I promised myself that if I felt ambitious enough the next day, I would make my own noodles, but if not, I would simply use the angel-hair-like Chinese egg noodles already in my cupboard.

I was up early the next day without much else to do, so I decided to attempt the noodles. The idea struck me that if I could make the dough just dry enough, I might not need to add extra flour and make a mess. I started with a cup of flour, added a couple eggs, added a bit more flour, etc. until I got a food processor full of fine, powdery dough that formed a somewhat tacky ball when I grabbed a handful and worked it with my hands.

Here is the recipe/method I came up with:

SARAH’S EASY EGG NOODLE DOUGH

2 cups flour (plus at least 1/4 cup in reserve)
3 eggs

Combine the flour and eggs in the food processor. If your eggs are large, you may want to start with two, and reserve the third. The result should be a mealy or powdery substance that will form a ball of dry-ish dough when kneaded in batches. If the dough does not hold together when you try to form a ball, or if it stays somewhat together but cracks, then it is too dry. If the dough won’t even hold together, add your third egg; if it holds together but is too dry to knead without it cracking, try adding a tablespoon of water. If it is too sticky to go through the pasta maker (the pasta maker rollers should be dry without any sticky dough residual after the dough goes through), return the dough to the food processor and add a tablespoon or two of flour. Depending on how large your eggs are, you may need to add more or less flour. Just keep adding it a tablespoon at a time until you get your desired result.

I was able to make a dough with about 2 cups, plus one tablespoon flour, and 3 medium eggs that needed no additional flour for the pasta maker. The process created a few dough crumbles, but they were much easier to clean from my workspace, counter and floor, than a ubiquitous dusting of flour.

Thai Pumpkin Curry

The end of the year is always a crazy time for me in life and work, and I usually don’t have much time to blog my recipes or other endeavors, but it doesn’t mean I stop doing and cooking things I want to write about, just that I don’t have enough time to document them. More to come as I play catch up for the last few months, but luckily I did jot down one particularly successful recipe I tried last month.

I find that I like pumpkin a lot, just not in pies. As with sweet potatoes, I’m a bigger fan of savory dishes than sweet, so when pumpkin is readily available in the autumn months, I usually stock up on cans of it to keep me into the next year. While this curry recipe is not exactly “from scratch,” it could be if you used homemade curry paste, but I was feeling lazy and happened to have some store-bought paste in my cupboard. I used a combination of chicken and vegetables because I was short of meat, and it turned out quite tasty.

SARAH’S PUMPKIN CURRY

2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion
2 hot green chilis, diced (optional)
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2-2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 (15oz) can pumpkin
1 (15oz) can coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 lbs chicken, beef, other meat, and/or vegetables
3 tablespoons sour cream
fresh cilantro, for garnish

Saute the onions, chilis, and garlic until onions are softened. Add the ginger and curry paste (and a little water as needed) and saute another 5-10 minutes. Add the pumpkin, coconut milk and brown sugar. Stir until combined or use an immersion blender to puree, if desired.

Add the meat or vegetables, and stew until they reach desired tenderness. If using both, then make sure the meat is already well-cooked before adding the vegetables. Stir in the sour cream; heat through. Serve with bread or rice and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Massaman Curry – Potato Curry for St. Patrick’s Day

I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for awhile. Sarah originally concocted a massaman curry one night with a little assistance from me and some taste testing by Ted and Roger. (You can read her blog, and find her recipe, here: http://arwz.com/ssblog/2012/01/15/the-great-no-paste-thai-curry-experiment) The idea was to develop no-paste curry recipes, curries one could just throw together the night-of without having to worry about making an elaborate paste beforehand. Following up on this project was crucial to me because, as I’ve mentioned before, I love curry, and am increasingly becoming too poor to go out to eat as often as I’d like to to eat it.

I liked Sarah’s massaman curry – if you look at her recipe, you’ll see that our versions aren’t too terribly dissimilar – but it just wasn’t … right to me. So I took her recipe and began to tinker. Luckily, massaman curry is Ted’s favorite Thai dish, so he didn’t mind me making it over and over again. Besides my overall urge to get the recipe just to my liking, I also wanted to get another recipe together to share on my friend Mark’s excellent cooking blog, http://cookinwluv.blogspot.com/ – he has a feature there, called Made with Love Mondays, that asks for recipes made from scratch. And this week seemed particularly appropriate: he had asked for Irish recipes, in honor of St. Patrick’s day, and I thought, “Hell, potato curry – what’s more Irish than that?” Ahem.

So without further ado, here is my final No-Paste Thai Massaman Curry recipe. I particularly like this recipe because it requires no fresh ingredients other than what I put into the curry sauce. By this I mean, if I stop at the store to pick up potatoes, a bell pepper, and some chicken thighs on the way home, everything else is something that’s almost guaranteed to be in my house already as a staple.

You’ll need:
Onion, garlic, ginger, dried red peppers, cooking oil, ground galangal, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, whole coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind paste, ground peanuts (NOT peanut butter), filtered water or broth (chicken or vegetable), potatoes, protein, vegetables, and basmati rice. (I would also advise fresh cilantro, for garnish.)

Step One: In a food processer, process together the following ingredients. (I don’t have an immersion blender, and the transferring of a hot liquid from pot to food processer and back again is too perilous for me, so therefore I do the food processing in advance. But if you don’t even have a food processer, that’s OK, too – just mince the onion and ginger and garlic really finely.)

1 onion
3-4 garlic cloves
2 tbl fresh ginger (If you don’t have fresh ginger around, use 1 tbl of ground ginger in Step Three)
Dried red chilies (I use sanaam chilies, which are small and hot – I use three of them, but this is a matter of taste and pepper quality, so adjust according to your preferences)

The pureed onion, ginger, garlic, and peppers.

Step Two: Sauté this puree in 1-2 tbl of neutral-tasting oil (like canola) until the liquid cooks off.

Step Three: Add to the pan the following spices.

1 tsp dried galangal (A must for at-home Thai cooks – they have it at Penzey’s)
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of nutmeg

I always use generous measurements, so more like, “heaping ½ tsp”, etc. Saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Spices!

Step Four: Add the following to your spicy paste.

1 can of whole coconut milk
6-10 dashes of fish sauce
2 tbl brown sugar
1 tbl tamarind paste
2 tbl ground peanuts (NOT peanut butter – I mean the ground nut paste you can get out of the machine at Whole Foods. If you can’t get this, just crush up some roasted, unsalted peanuts as finely as you can, about 3 tbl worth, and add those.)
1-2 cups filtered water or broth (I use veggie broth, personally)

… plus bite-sized potato chunks and protein. Two things about the potatoes: one, definitely cut them small – for whatever reason, cooking them in this mixture takes forever, MUCH longer than just simmering a potato. If you use large chunks, be prepared to wait upwards of an hour and a half before they’re tender. Two, though I usually leave the peel on my potatoes for the nutrients and fiber it provides, you really should peel your potatoes for this recipe, so that they can absorb as much of the delicious curry sauce as possible; potato flavor sponges, that’s what they are. Also, as to protein, I favor chicken thighs, but that’s your call.

NOT PEANUT BUTTER.

Step Five: Simmer 30-45 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Step Six: Add veggies. I like to use chunks of red, yellow, and/or orange bell pepper, but I also think cauliflower would work well in this dish – you’d be better off with a vegetable on the neutral-to-sweet side, I think. Simmer 10-15 minutes.

Step Six: Serve over basmati rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if you’ve got it.

Sabrina's Massaman Curry

ETA: thanks to @javelinwarrior for posting this recipe on his blog!
JWsMadeWLuvMondays

The Road to Conquering Curry

I work as a university instructor, which means I’m a contract employee: my workload varies from term to term, and so, therefore, does my paycheck. Last term I was teaching four classes, which meant we had no money problems, but it also meant that I was constantly stressed out and we ate take-out every night we didn’t go to a restaurant for dinner – hardly ideal. This term I’m teaching three classes, which means a few money problems, but significantly better mental health, homecooked meals, and a clean house. I think the latter is preferable to the former overall.

The Initial Food Processing ... Process

At the start of the year, for the sake of thrift and with an eye towards improved health, I vowed that we would eat in at least five nights per week. Once a week I gin my will power up to go to the grocery store and buy really healthy stuff – that way, later in the week, when I definitely don’t have any will power and would totally eat Doritos for dinner, that’s just not an option, ‘cause the food budget’s already been spent on vegetables. So far, we’ve enjoyed a lot of enforced, not-necessarily-wholly-voluntary success in the Thrift and Health categories.

Here’s the trouble, though: besides just getting sick and tired of staying in (which so far there’s no solution for), I’m getting sick and tired of eating the stuff I know how to make. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m actually a pretty good cook, and with the exception of my precious canned tomatoes, it’s all basically from scratch, mostly because 1) processed food is gross, and 2) it’s also more expensive per ounce usually – seriously, figure out the cost-per of a big pot of homemade soup vs. a can of soup. (Of course, homecooking is a luxury for people who have time, and I realize that; but thanks to my reduced workload this term, I’m blessed with the time to cook.) But what I’m used to cooking is basically American/European stuff, like stews and shepherd’s pie and so forth, and Italian food, like lasagna and pasta sauces and cacciatore. Which is all tasty, but … it’s not curry. I LOVE curry. Indian curry and Thai curry. Love. LOVE! But I don’t really know how to make it, and now, I can’t afford to go out for it all that often.

Sarah faced a similar problem, and solved it by learning to make curries on her own. This seemed a wise course, and unlike baking, cooking doesn’t intimidate me – as I said, it’s something I generally regard myself as being pretty good at. So I figured hell, I’ll just follow Sarah’s lead.

The Sauce Begins to Simmer

About a month ago, Sarah invited me over (along with Ted and Roger to taste test) for a night of Thai curries. She got a big book o’ Thai cooking out of the library and proceeded to, with my interpretive assistance, produce three no-paste Thai curries. (The pastelessness was a matter of working-woman efficiency: Sarah doesn’t have time to waste after a full day of professional dancing!) All three of the curries turned out really good! Not quite Pusadee’s Garden-grade, but very tasty. You can see Sarah’s results in this blog: http://arwz.com/ssblog/2012/01/15/the-great-no-paste-thai-curry-experiment

So, having actually been there for the preparation of these curries, I thought, surely, working off of Sarah’s recipes, I could recreate one of them on my own. So two weeks ago, I set about to make my own …

“SARAH’S NO-PASTE GREEN CURRY

1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped or diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon ground ginger (or more to taste)
2 green chilies, diced
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground galangal
zest of 1/2 lemon peel, shredded finely
zest of one lime peel, shredded finely
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
several dashes of fish sauce
1 (13-15 oz) can coconut milk
your choice of meat cubed, mixed vegetables or other protein

Sauté onion, garlic, ginger and chilies in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Add coriander, cumin, galangal, lemon zest, lime zest, cilantro and basil. Stir in brown sugar, fish sauce and coconut milk. At this point, depending on how finely you chopped the fresh herbs and chilies, you may want to process this sauce to a smoother consistency. I am a whole-hearted devotee of the immersion blender, as it will accomplish most such tasks in the kitchen without the necessity of dirtying the food processor bowl in addition to the cooking pot. If, however, you are one of the unfortunate class of Americans who do not own an immersion blender, you can always just transfer your sauce to a food processor. If you prefer to be proactive about it, you can take all the ingredients up to and including the coconut milk, combine them in your food processor, and then heat in the saucepan.

Once sauce is desired smoothness, add the meat, if using. If using a combination of meat and vegetables, like we did, the meat should be added first, cooked until tender, and then vegetables should be added and they can simmer together until the vegetables are done. I prefer curry meat to be so tender it easily falls apart under my fork, so there is no such thing for me as meat that is too well stewed.”

You Go to War with the Vegetables You Have

I followed the recipe more or less exactly, except that I used a teaspoon of dried lemongrass instead of the lemon rind. And because I don’t have an immersion blender, I had to sauté, then transfer to my food processor, then transfer back for further simmering, which was perilous and kind of a pain in the ass.

The final result was lackluster at best. I mean, it wasn’t BAD, it just wasn’t … good.

But I was determined to keep at it, and vowed to try again. Mark’s Made With Love Mondays gave me the impetus to attack the problem this week.

To begin with, I adjusted my technique to compensate for my lack of an immersion blender; rather than once again undertake the perilous hot-liquid double-transfer maneuver, I started by pureeing in my food processor:

1 chopped onion
4 large crushed garlic cloves
2 chopped jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined
a large handful of fresh cilantro (probably about 1 cup)
about 1/3 of a cup of fresh basil leaves
the zested rind of 1½ limes, ½ a lemon, and the juice of 1 lime

As you can see, I was already making measurement adjustments. I pureed all of that into a wet paste, and put it into a heavy pot with about two tablespoonfuls of canola oil and four chicken thighs. I added:

1 heaping tablespoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of coriander
1 heaping teaspoon of ground galangal
1 teaspoon of dried lemongrass
1 tablespoonful of brown sugar
about 6 dashes of fish sauce
1 can of whole coconut milk

(If Mark thinks canned coconut milk doesn’t count as “from scratch” he can bite me, cause where the hell am I gonna get a coconut in Pittsburgh? Ahem.)

I simmered all of this for an hour, added about two cups of chopped up cabbage, and simmered for another 15 minutes. Then I put a cup of jasmine rice on to cook, added about half a cup of chopped carrots and a diced red pepper, and simmered for another 20 minutes until the rice was done. (Like Sarah, I regard the question of “what to put in the curry sauce” to be purely a matter of desire and/or necessity: I happened to have cabbage because I like cabbage, and so the cabbage was curried.)

It's not pretty, but it was pretty good.

This new batch of green curry was, flavor-wise, a marked improvement. Increasing the dose of the spices and adding the extra citrus zests seemed to help immensely. It could have been a little hotter, but that’s a matter of preference anyway, and I think next time just using serrano instead of jalapeno peppers will do the trick. The one thing that still needs improving is the creaminess – it just wasn’t creamy the way restaurant Thai curries are. I may need to use more canned coconut milk; but I think a better solution might be a can of coconut milk plus some coconut cream if I can find it. Or I could follow the lead of the cheap Thai place I used to eat at when I worked downtown, and just throw some heavy cream in at the end – not exactly authentic, but it got the job done.

Anyway, the point is, it wasn’t necessarily a victory, but it wasn’t a fail, either. And it was healthy and from scratch and tasty enough that Ted and I both had seconds.

JWsMadeWLuvMondays