Friday, March 26, 2010

Somewhat Spicy Massaman Curry

I'm a compulsive food shopper. All of my adult life, my friends and family have teased me that I'm stocking up for Armageddon. This comes in handy when you need to improvise an extra dish for an unexpected dinner party guest, or whip up a little something something as a midnight snack, but is somewhat less ideal when leaving town on a five day trip. I had a crisper full of vegetables and only one stomach. What to do? After perusing my ingredients, I decided on Massaman curry. Curries freeze well and are an excellent way to marry multiple vegetables, in this case, daikon, eggplant, and potatoes.

Traditionally, Massaman curry is a mild, creamy concoction, but you know I had to fix that. I used mostly japonais chilies with a handful of arbol chilies for extra heat. This yielded a moderately spicy curry. I might even go half japonais and half arbol next time. The recipe for curry paste yields twice as much as you need, so you can freeze the other half for a quick meal in the future. Or you know, for Armageddon...just in case.

Somewhat Spicy Massaman Curry
adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook
Toasted and ground spices provide the signature smoky-sweet flavor of Massaman. I don't need to tell you that this smells incredible.

1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ tablespoons coriander seeds
Seeds from 2-3 cardamom pods (just smash the shells and remove the seeds)
2 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground cinammon

1. In a small, dry pan, toast the cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds for a few minutes. They will start to smell quite fragrant and darken to a rich brown color. Do not let them burn.

2. Add the peppercorns, cinammon, cloves to the toasted spices and place everything in your spice grinder. Grind to a powder.

Spice mix (see above)
1½ teaspoons of shrimp paste
Roughly 12 cloves of garlic (a small head + a couple extra cloves)
2-3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon galangal (about a 2 inch piece, peeled and cut into rough chunks)
1 stalk of lemongrass (remove the tough tip and outer layers and only use the tender white interior)
3 oz. of red chilies, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes (use whichever chilies you like based on the amount of heat you would like. Mild: California, Medium: Japonais, Spicy: Arbol)
Reserved chili soaking water

1. Take a piece of tin foil, maybe about 6 inches wide and fold it in half so that it's roughly square. Place the shrimp paste in the center of this, then fold the foil in half again, sealing the edges. Basically you want a double-layer of foil surrounding the shrimp paste so you can toast it.

2. In the same dry pan that you used to toast the spices, heat the foil-wrapped packet of shrimp paste over medium heat. This heats the shrimp paste up and makes it extra stinky. Yes, that's a good thing. Heat the packet for about 5 minutes total, flipping it once.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, add the shrimp paste, spice mix, and shallots. Plop your peeled garlic straight into the food processor. I know you're supposed to chop it up a little first but I just let the processor have at it and it seems to work.

The galangal and lemongrass I give the processor a little head start on. Add them to the party too.

4. Now put in all your soaked chilies, reserving the soaking water in case you need it to ease blending. Process everything to a paste. Add chili soaking water to loosen the mixture if necessary.

5. Freeze half of the paste for later use. The other half will go into...

1 pound of beef stew meat, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 potatoes, scrubbed and cut into rough chunks
1 large eggplant, washed and cut into large dice
1 daikon, washed, peeled, and cut into large dice
A little over ½ cup of Massaman curry paste (see above)
7 tablespoons fish sauce
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar (or more to taste. I do not like my food very sweet.)
1½ tablespoons tamarind liquid (I soak seedless tamarind paste in hot water for fifteen minutes, then throw the whole thing into a blender and blend. Then I freeze this liquid in ice cube trays for future use. You can also use tamarind concentrate).
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. I've never had my butcher cut my beef into chunks for stew before, because it didn't seem that challenging to cut up the beef myself. But this particular butcher offered, I said "why not?" and discovered the true benefit to having someone else cut your meat up for you: one less cutting board to clean! Season your beef pieces with a bit of salt and pepper.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cook your beef and onions for about five minutes, until the beef is browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.

3. It's a good idea to stock some coconut milk in your pantry. For Armageddon, naturally, but also because it gives the milk time to separate. When you bring it straight back from the store, the can gets all shaken up, and it's hard to separate the cream from the milk. Right now, what you want is the thick layer of cream floating at the top of the can. That is going to be your cooking fat. Skim it off, place it in your stew pot, and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste and stir constantly, letting the whole thing heat up and get extra delicious for a few minutes.

4. Add the cooked beef and onions back into the pot, along with any juices. Then add all your veggies (daikon, potatoes, eggplant), the rest of the coconut milk, the tamarind liquid, brown sugar, and fish sauce.

5. Top up with water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Then lower the heat and let simmer for at least an hour, ideally two.

6. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


  1. Hi! I LOVE THIS BLOG. I think we have very similar obsessions with spicy and tangy foods.

    Anyway, I'm in the market for more Thai cookbooks. I currently only own David Thompson's Thai Food and a few small books by Vatcharin Bhumichitr. Can you tell me what you like most about True Thai? Pictures? Descriptions? Precision of Recipes? Authenticity? Diversity of dishes? Best outcomes? I'm just curious as I weigh getting this book or getting Modern Thai.


  2. Actually there are no photos in True Thai, so definitely don't buy it for food porn. It's my favorite cookbook because every recipe I've made from it has turned out flavorful, balanced, and complex. Many of the other books I've tried result in a watered-down version of Thai food, whereas Sodsook's recipes come closest to helping me replicate the amazing food I tried in Thailand.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.