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I've been blogging for nearly a year now, and in that time I bought a food processor, learned to love fennel, made my own noodles from scratch, and became the number one Google search result for niu rou mian. Yum. Yet up until fairly recently, there was a huge division between the things I liked to eat (pretty much anything ethnic, spicy, or seasonal) and the things I actually cooked (easy, convenient stuff like pasta salads and simple stews). Starting this blog was a big kick in the pants to learn how to make the food I love, no matter how intimidating, complicated, or unfamiliar.
This past year has been like a crash course in cooking from the best possible teachers. I've been gathering inspiration from Suzanne Goin, Thomas Keller, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Nigella Lawson, not to mention some of the most droolworthy food blogs available (see my links list to your right for some truly kick-ass sites), and of course, from the woman who gave me noodle fever in the first place, my mom. Cooking comes from a naturally generous place, the desire to feed and delight others, so it makes sense that cookbooks and food blogs are virtually overflowing with useful information. The thing I've loved most about joining the food blogging community is how freely everyone shares their secrets, from the invaluable photography tips of Steamy Kitchen to the refreshingly honest confessions that Momofuku for 2 makes about her mistakes as well as her successes.
To sum up how far I've come, I can't think of a better dish than Thai green curry. Where once I would have reached straight for my Mae Ploy paste, I now know that ten minutes with some fresh herbs and my handy-dandy food processor makes all the difference. Of all the Thai curries I've tackled in the last year—yellow, red, Massaman—green curry benefits the most from freshly-made paste. The zesty lime and lemongrass and fragrant cilantro pop in a way they just can't if they've been sitting in a plastic package for months on end. That said, you can freeze the second half of this paste for a surprisingly quick dinner some other night.
Thai Green Curry Paste (adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
½ teaspoon of anise seeds
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled
3 inch piece of galangal, peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks of lemongrass (remove the tough tip & outer layers and only use the tender white interior)
1 tablespoon of shrimp paste
Peel from half a lime (save the lime for adding to the curry below)
Generous handful of cilantro stems (save the leaves to garnish your curry)
12-20 serrano peppers (depending on the level of heat you prefer. I use about 20, with fiery hot results)
6-8 shallots, peeled and cut into chunks
1. Toast the coriander and anise seeds in a dry skillet for about 3 minutes, then grind in a spice grinder.
2. 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.
3. In the same dry pan that you used to toast the spices, heat the foil-wrapped packet of shrimp paste over medium heat. Heat the packet for about 5 minutes total, flipping it once.
4. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process to a chunky paste. The quantities above make about 2 cups of curry paste, of which you will be using half. The other half can be saved in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for considerably longer (Sodsook says one month, but I've used three-month old paste with perfectly fine results).
Green Curry with Chicken, Eggplant, and Sour Bamboo Shoots (adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)
Once you've made the basic paste, you can use pretty much any ingredients you like for the actual curry. I've also served this with grilled vegetables, pork and kabocha squash, tofu and baby corn. Let your appetite be your guide.
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken, sliced into slivers (you can use thighs or breasts or a mix of the two, depending on your preference)
1 large eggplant or 7-8 small Thai eggplants, cut into chunks
1 package Thai sour bamboo shoot (you can substitute regular bamboo shoot if you don't like/can't find the sour version), rinsed and sliced
1 can of straw mushrooms, drained
1 5.6 oz. can of coconut milk (or 14 oz., if you prefer a creamier curry)
1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
4-6 serrano peppers sliced in half
2-3 cups of water
Handful of Thai basil
Handful of minced cilantro leaves for garnishing
Juice from one lime
1. If you're planning on cooking Thai food on a regular basis, it's a good idea to stock some coconut milk in your pantry. When you shake the can too much, the milk and cream combine. Letting the can sit for a day or two allows the cream to rise to the top, and that's what you want to use as your cooking fat. Skim off the top layer of cream and put it into a large stew pot or Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high heat and add your curry paste, stirring constantly for five minutes or so. It will become wonderfully fragrant, and pretty much puts a smile on my face and a grumble in my tummy without fail.
2. Add sliced chicken to the pan and let cook on all sides for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, eggplant, and serranos, and add enough water so the vegetables are nearly covered. American restaurants tend to serve thick, creamy curries, but I fell in love with the soupier curries we got in Bangkok, so I tend to use less coconut milk than many recipes call for and thin the curry with some water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, covered.
3. Taste the curry and adjust as necessary. Want more heat? Add some minced serranos. More sweet? Add a dash more sugar. Now put the bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms in the pot to heat them through. Simmer for another five minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the Thai basil until it's just wilted. Then add the juice of one lime and stir it so it's mixed in completely.
4. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve with steamed rice.