When I scheduled this deviated septum surgery for August 19 it never occurred to me how much it would shorten my summer. It has probably been exaggerated in my mind, but I feel like everything that I have not accomplished yet with my summer must be done before next Tuesday. Taking the kids boating with Uncle Chris: Check, scheduled for Sunday. Make cookies for said boating excursion: Check, Dorie Greenspan’s Peanuttiest Blondies just came out of the oven. Buy hotdogs for same: yikes, gotta do that on the way out of town tomorrow. Make those fabulous zucchini cookies: Check, I did it this past Wednesday while at Mom and Dad’s. Make green curry with seasonal veggies: Check, I finished that one tonight. Move into new house… oh yeah, that one isn’t happening until later in the fall. Oh well. Take girls to the pool on the weekend: Darn, ran out of time, the boating will have to sub in.
Doesn’t summer always go like this? Even for people who prefer seasons other than summer, there is something about it that always goes too fast. I’m a Fall Girl: I can hardly wait for football, sweaters, fall leaves, autumn fruit desserts and spices, stews and other one pot meals, and yet I feel like I didn’t get stuff accomplished I was supposed to get done in the summer. I never feel this way when looking forward to spring. Of course what one is supposed to get done in the winter I have no idea–maybe that is part of the problem.
Anyway, one of my big goals every July/August is to make sure I make Green Curry with local, seasonal veggies. Thai food is a big deal in my family. Much as I could wax poetic about sweet dinner rolls and apple pie from my own childhood (and as much as I hope my kids find baking and family memories to be intertwined), for me and my husband, Thai food is about more than just food. It is where we spent our honeymoon, and learning to cook Thai curries together was one of our major hobbies before we got married and had kids. When I have a really good Thai curry, it is a transcendent experience, bringing to mind not just the flavors and aroma of curry, but also our time in Thailand, our time spent learning to live together, and the actual experience of making the paste from scratch together, something we still do (despite how much I have taken over the kitchen otherwise).
For the longest time we only really made red and yellow curries. Something about the green was lacking. And then it occurred to me that if the round Thai eggplants always look sad (although ironically I found some beauties for this curry and couldn’t resist throwing them in) and if the absence of the Thai pea eggplants always made us so sad, perhaps I should think like Alice Waters and forget about whatever they use in Thailand and instead go with local ingredients. I had this epiphany when cooking for a “seasonal summer veggie themed” supper club meeting back in PA.
It was amazing. Forget about those sad and/or missing eggplants, the canned baby corn and bamboo shoots. I use local slender Asian eggplants (I used Chinese this time but have used Japanese in the past), zucchini and yellow squash, green string beans, sweet bell pepper, and, perhaps the crowning touch, freshly sliced sweet corn off the cob. Oh yeah and pork, for the obligatory protein.
It will not surprise those of you who know me that I am a purist about Thai ingredients. I never substitute regular limes for the makrut lime leaves (or the peel if I can help it, but there is a shortage right now), ginger for galangal, or cilantro leaves for the roots and stems. I keep my coconut milk cans carefully the same side up in order to ensure separation of the cream from the milk–I recommend you do this if you are interested in coconut milk curries. I don’t use the dried form of anything that is not supposed to be (i.e., cumin seeds are obviously dried, but I never use dried lemongrass–it has no flavor). The only compromise I make is for my kids: I use very mild chile peppers and serve the curry with Sambol Oelek on the side (or chopped Thai Bird Chilis in fish sauce if I have them).
Some advice about curry paste: First, if you want really good Thai curry, forget about the canned stuff unless you can handle extreme heat. You will never get enough flavor from it because the heat intensity is just so high. Plus, come on, fresh is always better. Second, about the food processor: If the only way you will ever make curry paste is to use the processor exclusively then please do, I would rather that than you never try it. BUT I will also tell you that pounding gives more depth of flavor nuances and, more importantly, it ensures that the texture will be smooth. Otherwise lemongrass can be pretty woody. My favorite method, accounting for living in the real world (because yes I have pounded a paste out completely by hand, while in Thailand, and it was a lot of work!), is to pound the various ingredients, spending more time on the tougher ones, and then throw it into the processor to finish it off. The galangal, cilantro root, makrut lime peel and lemongrass in particular need a lot of pounding.
2-3 lbs of meat of choice, a tender cut, sliced into large bite sized pieces (I used pork tenderloin)
2 cans coconut milk, cream skimmed from top and set aside, 1 14 oz can and 1 19 oz can
1 cup green curry paste, see below for recipe
fish sauce to taste (around 1/4 cup)
palm sugar to taste, optional (some people do not use in a green curry; I used 2 T for this recipe)
2 handfuls of green (or yellow) string beans
corn from 3 cobs
2 small zucchini, sliced into rounds
2 small yellow squash, sliced into rounds
2-4 slender eggplants (Japanese or Chinese or anything you can find), sliced into rounds
1 sweet bell pepper, sliced thinly
2 makrut lime leaves (3 if you could not get makrut lime peel for your paste), ripped in half and the vein removed from the middles
1 cup fresh basil leaves, preferably Thai but the fresher the better so sub what you have (purple is a better sub than Italian and what I have growing so that is what I used–but Italian will work in a pinch)
Put the skimmed coconut cream into a large, heavy pot (like a dutch oven) and stir in the curry paste. Place the pot on medium high heat. When the mixture begins to heat, stir constantly for 2 minutes and cook the paste. Add the meat and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the coconut water, fish sauce, sugar and makrut lime leaves and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer.
About 30 minutes before serving add the eggplants, squash and corn. Let them simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then add the sliced bell pepper and green beans. Cook an additional 10 minutes. Taste for salty/sweet balance and add either more fish or sugar. Right before serving, add the basil leaves and stir, wilting.
Serve with jasmine rice.
1/2 T coriander seeds, toasted
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
12 whole white peppercorns
2 lemongrass stalks, bottom 3 inches sliced thinly, then minced
1/3 cup of minced galangal
1 T minced makrut lime peel (I have also used a small amount (2 limes for 3X recipe) of regular lime zest when makrut limes were unavailable, but now that I have a tree I keep them in my freezer)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro stems and roots (scrape the roots clean)
1 cup shopped shallots
2/3 cup chopped garlic
1/2 cup sliced chile peppers (should be green–heat level is up to you, some good options are serrano, Thai bird, long Thai; include the seeds and membrane if you want it hotter) (Edited 2 years later to say I had excellent success with 1 cup of sliced Anaheim peppers–I recommend 1 full cup of peppers but use Anaheim if you want it mild)
2 t fresh red turmeric root, minced (I could not find; your color will be less vibrant but otherwise is ok–it probably explains why my curry is not a vibrant color)
1 1/2 T shrimp paste, toasted in foil (see below)
In a small skillet, dry toast the coriander for a few moments and then add the cumin (it toasts faster). Toast until fragrant and darkening, but do not let it burn. Remove and set aside to cool. When it cools, grind it (or pound) with the white peppercorns to a find powder.
Take a square of foil and place the shrimp paste into the middle of it. Fold the foil over it so that it is double wrapped on each side. Place it in the heated skillet and toasty for about 5 minutes per side, until it is aromatic. Remove and set aside to cool.
Pound your fresh ingredients if you are going to. We usually need to pound them in stages; we did bring home a large mortar and pestle from Thailand, but not large enough.
Combine ALL of these ingredients in the food processor and process to a fine paste. You should not need additional water for this paste given the water content of the fresh chile peppers. Do not process longer than 4 minutes as the heat of processing can begin to adversely affect the paste. Scrape the sides down as needed. If there are little bits of ingredients left in the paste I usually ignore them. What is more important is that the paste should smell like its own new creation, something more complex than just the sum of its parts.