Thursday, June 4

Evella and Jacwabbit Blogoff #2 - Curry

Thai green curry Jac style. Recipe to follow!

It's that time again, another blogoff with my friend Gabe from the food blog Evella. This time we went with the broader, more open to personal interpretation topic of CURRY! I toyed with a few Indian recipes, especially after new work colleges from Mysore gave me crash course the other weekend, but in the end I decided to go with my one true curry love, Thai green curry. I love Thai food. I love the sweet, salty, hot, sour combination (especially the hot), I love the fresh, citrusy flavors and I especially love that it gives me an excuse to eat more bamboo. Yes I am part panda.

Since this was a blogoff and not just an after work craving stopper, I went the whole hog in terms of the recipe. I spent hours trolling the tubes for green curry paste recipes until I'd constructed something that I could work with. The only missing ingredient was galangal, since the stuff I bought (sadly frozen) was plain nasty! I had no trouble getting any of the other ingredients, some of them were even home grown!

(Now I'm just showing off our gorgeous kaffir lime tree that we've been growing on the deck - beastly claws but delicious leaves! And vital to a recipe like this)

First the paste. Here's roughly what I used:
The curry paste:
Dry spices-
* 1 tsp cumin seeds
* 1 tbsp coriander seeds
* 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

Wet spices-
* 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
* 2 French shallots, peeled
* ~6 coriander (cilantro) root and stem
* 6 small Thai green chilies and 2 larger Serrano chilies, seeds included for heat
* 3 garlic cloves, peeled
* 1 butt end of a lemongrass stalk, inner layers only
* 4 kaffir (makrud) lime leaves, central vein removed
* zest of 1 lime
* dash of tamari soy (instead of fish sauce)
*1 tsp walnut oil

I toasted the dry spices in a pan over medium heat with no oil until they were fragrant, then ground them in a spice grinder.

Since I don't have my heavy mortal and pestle in the US, I used my mini food processor to make the paste.

First I roughly chopped all the wet spices. I decided to keep the chili seeds in since I wanted the paste to be fairly hot.

Then I processed everything, wet, dry and liquid, in the food processor until I had a relatively smooth paste without too many chunks. The lemongrass had to have a few layers stripped and the woody base removed to make sure it blended well (plus those dry bits don't taste as good!)

In retrospect I'd probably drop the serranos and the shallots, as they added too much liquid to the paste. I'd use more Thai hot chilies and probably a little more of the dry spice mix (I added a little less than my recipe because it looked like it was going to be overpowering)

The next step was preparing the vegies. Green curry is good with so many thing but I decided to be led by whatever was fresh at the Asian grocer. Here's what I ended up with-

The vegetables:
* Both fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms (both bring different flavours), cut into thick slices
* 4-6 baby eggplants, quartered (I couldn't get the small Thai bitter ones to add as well)
* Fresh water chestnuts, peeled
* 2-3 whole bamboo shoots, sliced
* Baby corn spears, halved lengthways
* Green vegies such as baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, wom bok...

First off the water chestnuts need to be peeled. Chop the tops off then just use a regular peeler. Discard any that look yellow or squishy. The fresh ones are so different to the canned ones, sweet and crunchy and just irresistible. Since they were in season I couldn't pass them up, and they are actually the main reason I decided to go with the green curry.

The eggplants were small and sweet. I simply quartered them lengthways and cooked them by simmering them in the curry. I would have loved to have been able to add the small, bitter Thai eggplants as a counter flavour in the dish but they weren't available.

The bamboo we buy isn't freshly picked, but it is much better than the canned stuff. If you find this kind, check to see what they're pickled in as it will seriously affect the flavour.

Ok, now for actually constructing this beast! With any coconut based curry, the quality of the milk or cream is one of the most important factors in the taste. In Australia we use the Ayam brand coconut cream and it is fabulous - sweet and nutty with the perfect separation of heavy from milk. Here it is more tricky because of the gums and preservatives added to the product, but the best I've found so far is an organic variety made by Thai kitchen. It is too emulsified for my liking but the flavor is good.

The last step before actually cooking anything is preparing the final flavour boosters - things that go into the curry as it is cooking or at the end.

Final flavor boosters:
These all go in at different times but they included-
* The upper part of the lemongrass stalk, peeled and bruised
* 1-2 serrano chilies, halved and deseeded
* 4 kaffir (makrud) lime leaves, whole
* 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, grated
* Juice of 1 lime
* Soy sauce to taste
* 1 handful sweet basil leaves
* 1 handful coriander leaves, to serve
* Limes, quartered, to serve

Cooking the curry:
The first step was to stir fry the curry paste in a couple of tablespoons of the coconut cream (so don't shake the tin and try to scoop out the thickest parts). I had the wok on medium high heat and fried about 4 tablespoons of paste until it began to caramelise (but not burn!) and the oil began to separate out.

I then added the hard vegies (everything but the greens) and stir fried them in the past for a few minutes until they were well coated. From there I added the rest of the coconut milk/creme and to give it some more juice (since I like my green curries kind of soupy) I used ~1 cup chicken stock (not in the version I cooked for my vegetarian friend though) and ~1/2 cup liquor from rehydrating the shiitakes. I also added the additional lemongrass, lime leaves, seeded chilies and palm sugar and allowed everything to simmer until the eggplants were tender.

At this point I began tasting the gravy and adjusting it to give the right sweet/salty/sour/heat balance by adding more palm sugar, soy, lime juice or raw paste as required for each component. When the balance was right I added the green vegies (making sure the curry was on a high simmer so all the heat didn't drop out of it) and quickly tossed them through with some shredded basil until they were just cooked but still crunchy. Then it was time to serve with jasmine rice on the side or over thick udon noodles. I also served coriander leaves and lime wedges on the side to be added according to personal preference (I love the fresh coriander hit in with the heat of the gravy)

Tada! In this case I also added some enoki at the end, just because I could. I actually made this curry twice, with a few tweaks each time, but both were pretty good. I have to be careful not to overfill my wok because I'm trying to fit too many fave vegies in. Overfilled wok means poor heat control and potentially soggy greens.

Make sure you check out Gabe's curry on Evella as well since this time we came up with something quite different from each other! This was a really fun blogoff and I love the idea of running with a theme that has lots of room for interpretation.


Gabe said...

God that looks good Jac. I'm flying down for dinner next time!

Jac said...

Sheesh you're fast, I haven't even finished reading yours!!

Adrienne said...

Fresh water chestnuts! I am jealous. I am going to try this recipe at home for Al!


Adrienne said...

I think again, your execution was better but Gabe got out of his comfort zone, took risks and prepared a series of dishes. I like it! Hurrah for Blogoff!


Jac said...

Yeah I totally slacked on this one - I basically used it as an excuse to eat some of my favorite things!

Big A said...

Are we supposed to vote or something? But I'm with you, Jac: love Thai green curry, so I couldn't give an unbiased opinion. Besides, I need to try it out. Roll on November!

("balismol": isn't that one of the curry ingredients?)

Mothersupex said...

Far out, you two have done a fantastic job, yet again. You know I love all your foods and wish, wish, wish I could make them as hot as you do, but I have someone else in this household, to consider :-(

Your descriptions, as well as Gabe, are really great. Just love how you gently toast your seeds then freshly grind. Don't you just love the aroma. Wish they would make candles with these sorts of aroma's, to keep them in the house. Feel sorry for your poor lime as by the time you have finished your stay, it will just be twigs.

Keep the Blogoff's coming as they are both very creative.



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