Far be it from me, a dedicated home cook, to extol the virtues of fast food. In fact, I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “good fast food,” though if you happen to be strolling around some street market in Asia you’re bound to get good food fast. So I surprised even myself when I was at Whole Foods the other day scanning the Asian section for new or interesting products and my eyes rested on a little can, much like the kind that cat food comes in, that advertised Masaman Curry Paste. I say “advertised,” because at the time I didn’t believe that this can would produce a decent Masaman curry, one of my favorite dishes from Thailand.
I picked it up and read the label: “Product of Thailand.” That was a good sign at least, as well as the fact that the ingredients and instructions were in English and Thai. A look at the ingredients revealed “garlic, sugar, soybean oil, dried red chilies, tamarind juice, shallot, salt, lemon grass, spices (coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, lesser galanga, cloves), kaffir lime, galangal, citric acid.” This was another good sign—no artificial ingredients or preservatives—and it included all the elements used to make a good Thai curry. All you had to add was the meat (either chicken or beef), coconut milk, potatoes and onions. Hmmm, interesting. The tiny black and white photo of a Thai lady on the label—presumably the Maesri company’s founder—sealed the deal, and I dropped the can in my shopping basket.
A few days passed. Now here we are firmly in the dog days of August when even turning on the stove-top is a stretch. This is the time for grilling outside, or better yet, quick prep meals and salads. But today I was craving curry for lunch, so you know what I did? I popped open that can of Masaman curry paste, mixed in some coconut milk, beef, potatoes, and onions and stirred everything together in a pot. You know I had to lace it with a couple spoonfuls of cayenne pepper for good measure.
Hardly, 30 minutes later, I had a nice fragrant, appetizing pot of Thai Masaman curry—still not spicy enough for my palate, but flavorful, complex, and best of all, quick and easy. Poured over some brown rice, the Masaman curry provided a downright decent meal. Of course, I would have preferred to make it myself from scratch, but not on a sticky day like today. The morale of the story: sometimes it pays to take risks with food—even fast food.