One thing I love about curry is its endless variations. From Japanese kare to Jamaican curry goat, seemingly every hot weather locale has its own take on this traditionally Indian spice preparation.
One of my favorites is Thai red chicken curry. I remember it best at a little roadside stand overlooking the harbor of Ko Phang nam. I had some time as well as a gnawing appetite to kill before the boat arrived, and instead of heading for the row of nicer tourist restaurants, I saw that all the Thais ate at this ramshackle stand. As I approached all I saw were several pots of curry on a table. The first one I peered into had chunks of white meat chicken and golf-ball sized Thai eggplants swimming in a reddish coconut gravy. ‘That looks good,’ I said, and the lady ladled some over a plate of steaming jasmine rice. I haven’t had a better red curry in any Thai restaurant in America.
Now I am able to recreate that amazing authentic flavor at home—or at least come pretty close–using a recipe from Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine. This simple one-pot meal with vegetables goes great with rice.
As with all Asian cooking, the recipe is fairly simple, but preparation is essential.
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp. Thai red or green curry paste
2 Tsp. Thai or Indonesian shrimp paste
2 lemongrass stalks – root ends trimmed, outer leaves and tough green tops removed, and 6-inch long inner bulbs sliced paper thin crosswise
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup basic chicken stock
1 Tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 pounds chicken thighs , legs or wings
2 medium waxy potatoes or yams
6 yard-long beans – trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
12 Thai egg plants
20 Thai basil leaves
[ Note: I used a store bought curry paste, and I suspect that’s why the batch I made came out slightly salty]
1.) Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add the Thai curry and shrimp pastes and the lemongrass and stir until lightly toasted (about 3 minutes).
2.) Reduce the heat to medium low, add the coconut milk, chicken stock, fish sauce, chicken, potatoes, beans, and eggplants, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the Thai basil and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
(serves 4 to 6 people)
This particular red curry has a sweetness from the coconut milk, saltiness from the fish sauce and shrimp paste, heat from the chili and that savory quality that the Japanese refer to as umami. Lemongrass permeates the dish while just that hint of kefir lime leaves (used in the curry paste) gives it that signature Thai flavor. The eggplants, beans, potatoes and rich coconut gravy make it a hearty meal.
For dessert why not have some fresh fruit? In Thailand, pineapple is pretty popular.