Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thai Red Curry Paste, It Swings Both Ways! (Healthy!)

I love cooking for my friends, like I said. It was when my good friend Leif moved into her new apartment a few years ago that I ran in to a minor hurdle: Leif is a vegan. No dairy, no meat. I'd never cooked a vegan meal before, but I wanted to make her a great house-warming dinner. It was then that I remembered the enormous vegan population in Asia, specifically Thailand, which is primarily Buddhist. Leif had actually just been in Thailand, so it was a perfect fit.

Thai Red Curry is a fantastic dish because sit is so versatile. Embodying all of the major flavors of Thailand (lemon grass, coconut, lime, garlic, chili, and basil), this concentrated paste is a blast of flavor. The best part? You can make it with vegetables and keep it vegan, or you can add chicken, shrimp, or beef to make it more hearty -- it swings both ways!

Tonight I'm making this for Jim and Paul. It's so easy to prepare and goes great with a glass of dry white wine or a cold dry beer. So here's how you do it:

Thai Red Curry Paste

2 Shallots, chopped
1-3 Red Chili Peppers (depending on how hot you like it)
3 Cloves Garlic
2 Tblsp. Lemon Grass Paste
1 good-sized piece of fresh ginger (about 1/2 inch), chopped
1/4 Tblsp. White Pepper
1 Tblsp. Cumin
2 Tblsp. Coriander
2 Tsp. Sugar
2 Tblsp. Chili Powder
1 Can Coconut Milk

1) In a food processor, combine the shallots, peppers, garlic, lemon grass, and ginger - zap it.
*) I use whole cumin and coriander and grind it up with a mortar and pestle, you could use ground coriander and cumin, but the flavor won't be as intense (which might be good if you don't like your food too spicy)
2) Add white pepper, cumin, coriander, sugar, and chili powder - zap it again.
3) Mix in 1/4 cup of coconut milk to make a creamy paste.

That's it for the paste!

Now, to turn it in to a meal:

2 Tblsp. Olive Oil
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1 Red Onion, chopped in medium pieces
Coconut Milk (the remainder of the can)
1 Contianer Baby Bella Mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
1/2 of an Eggplant, chopped
2 Red Bell Peppers, chopped
6 Red Bliss Potatoes, boiled until they start to get soft in the middle, quartered
5-6 Leaves of Fresh Basil, lightly chopped
Thai Red Curry Paste

1) In a large, deep pan (preferably, a wok) heat olive oil and saute the garlic.
*) Add thinly sliced and chopped pieces of boneless chicken breast.
2) Add the red onion and saute until it's soft and translucent.
3) Next add the mushrooms, red pepper, and eggplant. Mix in the remainder of the coconut milk, cook the veggies until soft.
4) Throw in the potatoes!
5) Add the curry paste 1/4 cup at a time until the dish is as hot as you like it. If you need to cut the spice, add more coconut milk. Cook 15 minutes between each addition to allow the spices to settle in to the veggies.
6) Mix in the fresh basil

Serve it up over an aromatic rice, like jasmine rice!

* To slice the chicken breasts, cut them in half width-wise so that you are making them half as thick. Then, place the half between two pieces of wax paper and beat it with a mallet (that's the fun part). Slice the nice thin piece of chicken into 1" x 2" pieces. It'll cook faster and be more manageable in the dish.

That's it! It's flavorful, pretty, and fresh. You can make it heavier by adding some meat, or creamier by adding more coconut milk. It's a snap to put together and the only expensive parts of the recipe are the spices, which have a long shelf life and you'll use over and over. If you need to cheapen it up, take out some of the fresh veggies and add some frozen ones. Peas are a great addition and you can find frozen bell peppers in most food stores.

Let me know how you like it!