Seriously, what's not to love about the combination of spicy, sour, sweet and salty in a bowl? Coconut, lime, chili, the funk of a little fish sauce, mint...some sticky rice or some hot, slippery noodles? From scary food trucks in Paterson, NJ with my Dad to my first bite at Indochine in NYC 20 years ago, I have been in love with the food and culture of Southeast Asia.
We've come a long way as a food culture in the past 15 or so years especially. When I first moved to central NJ, heavily pregnant with my third child, I remember trekking through various Asian markets up and down route 27 in search of what I needed to make my curry paste. I got some strange looks at the check out when I dropped my kaffir lime leaves and galangal loot on the counter. I won't pretend that those ingredients have now gone mainstream but it is so much easier to find what were once extremely exotic ingredients in your well-stocked grocer today. Lucky us. By the way, never be afraid to ask you grocer to order something for you. I have found that almost every time I have asked the store manager to order a special product or ingredient for me, they do so very happily.
All by way of saying my lovely capable cooking friends, please make your own curry paste. It takes about 1/2 hour to do and the results are far far superior to any commercial brand. This recipes makes about 1 cup and it will keep for about 6 months in your fridge, longer if you freeze it. The best part is, once you have your paste on hand, this dish can be on the table in 30 minutes or less. How very Rachel Ray of me.
A couple of things if this is your first time working with these ingredients. If you decide to make the sticky rice, the best method is to soak it overnight. Just a small bit of advance planning but makes such a delicious difference. Galangal is really an eyes rolling to the back of your head special spice. It is complex and familiar at the same time. It's worth the extra effort to find it (Whole Foods generally has it) as do most all Asian grocers. The fresher the better. If it is not super fresh, it will be woody and extremely hard to cut. You may want to wear gloves when working with the chili peppers. At the very least, keep in mind where your hands have been before you rub your eyes or touch any other sensitive body parts. Another great addition to this recipe would be some Thai eggplants, maybe 4-5 of them, quartered. You may want to consider making a double batch of the chicken curry and freezing half. You can also omit the chicken and just make a curry with vegetables. Just try it once and you will have a million ideas.
This is pretty typical, super yummy Thai dish. You can alternatively serve it with jasmine rice.
2 c sticky rice
water to cover
Place rice in bowl, cover with water. Cover the bowl and let it soak overnight.
While your curry is cooking, drain the rice. Line a bamboo steamer with cheesecloth and pour the rice onto the cloth. Cover and place the bamboo steamer in a wok with water.
Check to make sure that the rice is not sitting in the water. Steam on med-high heat until the rice is tender. Depending on how long you soaked your rice, it should be done in about 10-20 minutes.
red curry paste
1 1/2 c dried red chiles
1 1/2 T coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1/8 t black peppercorns
6 kaffir lime leaves, minced (or 2 stalks of lemongrass as a variety or lime zest as a substitute)
2 T cilantro stems, chopped
1 t lime zest
1/4 c garlic
1/4 super fresh galangal, chopped (Ginger would be a substitute but you won't have the complexity)
1/4 c shallots
1 t salt
1 1/2 t shrimp paste
Snap off the stems of the peppers and empty out the seeds. Soak the chili "shells" in a bowl of water for about 20 minutes. I do this first so that they are soaking while I am preparing all of the other ingredients for the paste. Dry toast the coriander, cumin seeds and peppercorns in a small skillet until fragrant. Blend in a spice or coffee grinder until you have a fine powder. Drain the chili peppers.
Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processors and blend until you have a somewhat coarse paste. I sometimes use a little of the water that the chili peppers were soaking in if the paste seems to dry.
The paste will keep in the fridge for a few months at least or longer in the freezer. It's handy to add to soups, marinades, dressings, etc.
chicken with red curry
3 T red curry paste (I like it spicy so I would suggest that if you don't, start with 1/2 the amount and add more if you want more heat)
5 c coconut milk
3/4 lb boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4" slices
3/4 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/4" slices
4 kaffir lime leaves, cut into thin ribbons (stack them and roll like a cigarette and thinly slice)
2-3 T fish sauce
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 c Thai basil leaves
In a large saucepan over med-high heat, start with about 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and heat to just about boiling. Add your curry paste and whisk until blended. Add your chicken and cook until it changes color, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the remaining coconut milk, lime leaves and fish sauce. Cook for another 10 minutes or so and check for seasonings. I like to add about 2 t of palm or raw sugar but that's totally optional. Add the bell peppers and basil. Cook for about another 5 minutes and you are good to go.
The bell peppers should still have some texture and add some freshness to the dish.