“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, La Physiologie du Gout, 1825.
This was it for us, a dish far better than the discovery of a new star. Twelve years ago in Singapore, the vibrant flavors of cilantro root, birds-eye chiles and kaffir lime rind mixed with freshly pressed coconut milk awakened every one of our10,000-plus taste buds. And it can be made in 30 minutes or less.
The Thai curry was the high point of a day spent with K. Karuna, a vivacious cooking teacher, local TV personality and cookbook author. That morning, Karuna, a fifth-generation Singaporean of Indian descent, took us to one of the island’s famed wet markets, where we reveled in the sight of giant red snapper heads and bamboo baskets seething with brown Sri Lankan crabs. Like shopping fools, we scooped up every type of packaged curry paste we could find, plus fragrant kaffir lime leaves, milk squeezed from freshly grated coconut, and plump green Thai eggplants. Back in her outdoor kitchen, Karuna showed us how to make the curry in an earthenware wok over a gas flame.
Karuna made her green curry with chicken—the recipe also allows for pork, lamb or beef—but we often use shrimp. Like Karuna, we also use ready-made curry paste, usually the Mae Ploy brand, but we boost its flavor with fresh chopped herbs. Of course, homemade green curry paste is much better--we include a recipe from the Periplus series of books on Asian cookery—but that would take another 10 or 15 minutes.
To see more about K. Karuna, go to www.kkaruna.com.
Quick Green Curry
(adapted from K. Karuna)
For 4 people
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste, or to taste (see note)
7 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon green scallion tops, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemongrass, finely sliced (use only the tender inner core at the base of the stem)
2 lime leaves (see note)
1 purple oriental eggplant, cut into thin rounds (optional)
1 pound chicken, pork, lamb or beef cut into strips
or 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped
1 small lime (optional)
1. In a large saucepan, stir the curry paste into the canned coconut milk and water. The paste is quite spicy, so the first time, mix it into the coconut milk by the teaspoonful, tasting as you go. Do the same as you add the sugar. ( We usually add just one teaspoon.) Add the chopped coriander leaves, scallions, lemon grass, lime leaves, eggplant if desired, and chicken, pork, lamb or beef. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook for 20 to thirty minutes, until the meat is done and the gravy has thickened. If you prefer a thicker gravy, remove the cover midway through the cooking.
2. If you are using shrimp, combine coconut milk, water, green curry paste, sugar, chopped herbs, lime leaves, and eggplant (if using), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Add the shrimp at the end, and cook just until they turn pink.
3. Taste and correct seasonings. You may wish to add a little salt or a drop of lime juice. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve with white rice.
Note: Kaffir lime leaves are often available frozen in Asian markets. Mae Ploy green curry paste is also sold at Asian markets. The Thai Kitchen brand can be found at Whole Foods and some supermarkets.
Thai Green Curry Paste (Nam Prik Gaeng Kheow Wan)
(from The Food of Thailand, Periplus World Cookbooks)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
15 green bird’s-eye chilies
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped galangal
1 tablespoon finely sliced lemon grass
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped kaffir lime rind
1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro root
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
Dry fry the coriander and cumin seeds in a wok over low heat for about 5 minutes, then grind into a powder. Put the rest of the ingredients, except the shrimp paste, into a blender and blend to mix well. Add the spice seed mixture and shrimp paste, and blend to obtain 1/2 cup of fine-textured paste.