A very simple, ordinary recipe:
– Fry a brown onion with 1-2 tbsp red (Thai) curry paste (use a good one, not a rubbish Masterchef version or something), in some oil until the onion is ready (ie transparent or a bit further done. Don’t burn it!)
– Add a can of coconut milk. Mix thoroughly. Use a good brand (not shit like Masterchef), and don’t waste your time with ‘light’ coconut milk. Coconut milk should be rich, creamy and full of delicious fats. If you’re worried about ‘getting fat’, just don’t eat too much of it (good luck with that) or don’t make the dish too often. But the fats are important for carrying the flavour of the complex spices.
– Let this simmer for a little while – you kind of bring it to the boil. This is where the flavour gets big, so be careful with this stage.
– Add a series of veggies, allowing the appropriate amount of time to cook (ie add the long-cookers first). We used: baby corn, red capsicum, snake beans, cauliflower, sweet potato. Snake beans are handy because they can stand a lot of cooking. Unlike green beans or ‘French beans’ which really aren’t at their best after a heap of cooking. But undercooked snake beans are a bit rough. You can use all sorts of veggies, whatever’s in season. Plain potato is delicious, you could go the broccoli, eggplant, add some gai larn, whatever you fancy. Just be careful with cooking times – you don’t want stuff turning to slop; you want textures. It’s also a good idea to add some tofu. We forgot. I like to use a firm tofu (ie not the ‘silken firm’ tofu you get in Chinese grocers, but the ‘very firm’ or ‘traditional firm’ tofu from Chinese grocers, or the ‘firm’ tofu you get in skip supermarkets). A pre-fried tofu is even better, and is easily found in Chinese grocers. Let it cook a while in the sauce, as tofu is a delicious little sponge.
– Add 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves (these can keep in your freezer if they’re hard to find). If you have green peppercorns (they’re fresh, not dried, come on a stem like a little stick of bananas, and they’re hard to find in Ashfield), add them. Green peppercorns add a really delicious layer of flavour.
– Cook it for 20mins or so, or until the veggies are done. Don’t use the 20mins time arbitrarily, test your veggies for done-ness regularly instead. The trick is to keep the range of textures in the veggies as well as the richness of the coconut/spice sauce.
– Add 1tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2tsp palm sugar, stir it in. Again, use fresh lime juice (these seem expensive when they’re out of season, but they taste so much better than bottled lime juice, and you can use the zest for all sorts of delicious things). Palm sugar is also a good thing to use (you can find this easily in Asian grocers), but if you don’t have it, use brown sugar. It’s not a big deal to substitute, but palm sugar has a slightly different flavour. Taste it. If it’s too ‘chilli hot’ for your palate, add some more sugar, carefully. The coconut milk also cuts the chilli heat. Sprinkle some bruised Thai basil over the top and sort of fold it under. If you don’t have Thai basil, just use sweet basil, it’s ok.
This is a really delicious meal, and is actually very simple to make. It can also be a very cheap dinner. Just use a heap of in season, fresh vegetables and herbs. Herbs and greens (gai larn, spinach, choy, etc) are stupid cheap in Asian grocers – $1 each at the most, and make sure you have a jar of curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar and a can of coconut milk in the cupboard. Fish sauce and palm sugar are a staple in Thai cooking – you’ll use them again with stir fries. Same goes for basil and lime juice. Even the curry paste can be used for other things, like pumpkin soup. Green peppercorns are really hard to find in Ashfield, but that’s because this is a very Shanghainese Chinese area. You would do better in a Vietnamese/Thai/’pan-Asian’ grocer. You can do without them, though. If you buy these things in an Asian grocer, they’ll be heaps cheaper than a mainstream supermarket. And better quality.