Monday, December 26, 2011

Thai Green Curry

People seem to love eating Thai food in restaurants but really do not know how to cook it at home. Like any cuisine, it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Such is the same of one of my favourite Thai dishes, green curry. Thai curries tend to be based on coconut milk and a very intense curry paste, as opposed to the ground spices predominant in Indian curry. The ideal way to make this curry would be to make your own curry paste, though getting the flavour balance and sourcing the ingredients can be difficult. There are good commercial curry pastes readily available in Asian groceries and some supermarkets. Thai Kitchen is a major brand that I can recommend. Just don’t use anywhere near as much as the homemade paste from this recipe as it is considerably more concentrated.

Curry Paste
1/4 cup peanut oil
3 stalks lemongrass
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch of scallions
a 2-3 inch piece galangal
a 1 inch piece ginger
½ cup packed mint leaves
½ cup packed thai basil leaves
1/4 to ½ cup packed cilantro leaves
12 keffir lime leaves
10-15 thai bird chilies
1 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
juice from 1 lime
zest from 1 lime
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp thai fish sauce
ground black pepper

Grind everything in food processor, refrigerate at least 1 hour. Many of these ingredients may seem unfamiliar, which is why making the paste yourself is not essential though it is desirable. An asian grocery is the place where you would find most of these items. Galangal looks similar to ginger but has a thinner skin and milder, more lemony, flavour. Fish sauce is made from fermented small fish such as anchovies. It has a rather pungent smell, but its use in small quantities is indispensable to Thai and much other Asian cooking. It adds saltiness and gives a rounded, balanced, flavour. If you are particularly fond of cilantro (I am definitely not) you could add more cilantro and less of the other herbs. You could even add the roots as well, but bear in mind they have a very powerful cilantro flavour. Possible substitutions include regular basil for Thai basil, any hot chiles for thai bird chilies (just remember that thai chilies are stronger than most) or brown sugar for palm sugar. Like many recipes I have posted, the balance of flavour is all important and you may have to adjust the quantities of some ingredients to achieve that balance. Thai flavour is all about balance. Traditionally, one is to aim for a balance of sweet, sour, salty, and hot. In this paste, you should be able to detect a balance between all those tastes.

3 lbs boneless chicken breast, cubed
1 lb shrimp
1 bunch scallions
1 onion, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans coconut milk
½ green papaya, peeled, seeded, sliced thin
2 cups snow peas
2 Tsp thai fish sauce

2 cups white or brown jasmine rice
4 cups water
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised, cut in half
3 keffir lime leaves
2 pieces lime peel
pinch of salt

Green, or unripe, papaya is a very thai ingredient. It is often featured raw in salads but I personally find it a little too starchy to be pleasant eaten this way. Cooking it in the curry however, really allows the papaya to take on the flavour it is simmered in. Just slice it thin and it will provide some very nice texture.

In a large saute pan or wok, saute the onion, green onions and green papaya in the oil until the onions are soft, then add garlic and cook 1 minute more until fragrant. Then add the curry paste. If you do not like things ultra spicy, you may not want to use all the paste but do use at least one half the recipe. Cook the curry paste for 3-5 minutes, to open up the flavours. Next add the chicken, ensuring that everything is fully coated, then add the coconut milk and fish sauce and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 15-20 minutes. After about 15 minutes, add the shrimp so that it will not overcook. When everything is ready, add the snow peas and cook for maybe a minute longer, then serve over the aromatic rice.

For the rice, put all the ingredients together in a pot, bring it up to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a bare simmer for about 25 minutes (a bit less for white rice), then turn the heat off and let the rice sit for at least 10 more minutes. Remove the lemongrass, lime leaves, and lime peel before serving.

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