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Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

curry paste recipe… will it rival J.O.?

Thai Green Curry with Shrimp
Curry Paste, adapted from “Cracking the Coconut” by Su-Mei Yu. Shrimp in green curry sauce, adapted from “From Curries to Kebabs” by Madhur Jaffrey

An authentic Thai curry is a labor of love. The bulk of the work goes into making the curry paste, which involves fine chopping, followed by pounding of about 15 ingredients. Of the 2 hours that the finished dish requires, 2 hours are spent preparing the curry paste. It’s a time-consuming project, one that should be reserved for the weekend. Once you make your own curry paste, you’ll probably never use the canned stuff again; the intensity of flavors from the real thing do not compare.

After rounds of recipe testing, I highly recommend using a large mortar and pestle instead of a blender or food processor to make the paste. The pounding of a mortar and pestle yields a smoother, finer paste, which results in a smoother curry sauce. It’s worth the investment — plus you can use your new toy to make pesto, guacamole and experiment with grinding for other cuisines.

The recipes below consist of many ingredients that may be new to the Western cook. Please consult the glossary page for background and shopping details for ingredients and equipment.

One final note: The amounts for the curry paste are enough for one curry dish, plus a little extra. If you double the recipe, you’ll have enough to freeze and use for another occasion.

Keang Keow Wann Chile Paste
Ingredients:
15-17 fresh green Thai bird chiles — half seeded (if you like it really hot, keep seeds in all chiles)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns (regular or Thai is fine)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
9 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cilantro stems and roots (sometimes in Thai or Indian groceries you1ll find white roots attached; this is a bonus but not necessary), minced
1 teaspoon galangal or 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, green parts and hard outer layers removed, minced
1 teaspoon grated or diced kaffir lime zest or 2 teaspoons grated regular lime zest…. Why not leaves?? Why? Why!
2 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste or 1 tablespoon red miso paste

Method:
Slit chiles lengthwise. If you are sensitive to the heat, you may soak the chiles in lukewarm water with a dash of salt for about 10 minutes, and seed them while in the water. Otherwise, with a paring knife, remove the seeds from at least half the chiles and mince finely. You may also puree the chiles with a blender or food processor. Wash your knife and cutting board thoroughly before working with other ingredients.

Spices: Combine cumin and caraway seeds in a skillet and dry-roast over medium heat, moving skillet around to ensure even roasting, about 1 minute. Wonderful aromas will fill the kitchen. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Repeat process with white peppercorns and coriander seeds. Cool, then grind in a small mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder designated for spices. Transfer to a bowl and add grated nutmeg. Set aside.

Making the paste: Begin with the garlic and salt. Pound into a paste, with an up-and-down motion rather than with a circular motion. One at a time, add cilantro, ground spices, chiles, galangal, lemongrass, lime zest and shallots in sequence, adding each new ingredient only after the previous one is pureed and incorporated into the paste. Add shrimp paste and mix well. Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Green Curry Sauce with Shrimp
If you don’t eat shrimp, this dish works beautifully with thick-fleshed white fish as well as an assortment of veggies (green beans, cauliflower, potatoes, bok choy). Chicken lovers can use small parts, such as thighs.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 ounces of coconut milk
2 tablespoons vegetable, canola or peanut oil
5 tablespoons green curry paste
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)

1 2-inch block of tamarind pulp, enough to make 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste
1 pound medium shrimp, shell on (if possible), deveined
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, or 1 teaspoon julienned lemon rind
a small handful fresh Thai basil leaves

Pour oil into a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. When oil is hot, add coconut milk and curry paste. Stir and fry until oil separates and paste is lightly browned. Reduce heat to low and add fish sauce, tamarind paste and _ cup of water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on very low heat, about 5 minutes. Taste for balance of flavors, adding more fish sauce or tamarind as needed. Stir in shrimp, bring to a simmer, cover and cook very gently, until shrimp have turned opaque, about 5 minutes.

Just before serving, add lime leaves (oops, hee…) and basil. Serve with jasmine rice (see directions below)

Tamarind Paste
Place tamarind pulp in a bowl and pour hot water, enough to cover the pulp. Allow to soften, about 15 minutes. When soft, remove from bowl, with your hand, break pulp up over a fine sieve. Have another bowl to catch the resulting thickened liquid, which is your “paste.”

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