Thai Curry "Your Way" with Tas
This is my dear friend Tas. I have known her since I was a wee little babe and she has always been known for her brilliant gardening abilities, fabulous cooking skills, and humorous, but loving personality. She is from Thailand and cooks traditional Thai dishes, and also just about anything down to classic chocolate chip cookies. Last week I asked her if she would teach me how to cook my favorite Thai dishes and she was overjoyed and invited me for a whole day's event. This post will give you some insight on the ingredients used in Thai cooking, anecdotes from our day spent together, and one simple recipe.
Before I begin I must introduce Tas's cat Chili. Chili does not have a tail and she has tattered ears, but she has personality! You will notice that Chili was present for much of our day together, however she was on the outside looking in. You'll see...
Tas has small and delicate trinkets all over her house. She has collected many throughout Thailand and other parts of Asia, but she also made many of them herself. Tas crafted this bowl on the right and instructed me not to touch the top, as it is very fragile. I didn't even want to breathe near it for fear of smashing it into pieces with my gusty exhales.
Not only does she have small trinkets everywhere, she also has large vases and pots. There were so many to photograph, but I particularly love the blue colors and golden finish on this one. If I owned this pot I would store it with hundreds of nuts like a squirrel preparing for a harsh winter. That is why I do not own this pot.
Let's talk about curry!
Curry is simple to make but it yields complex flavors that are to die for. Yes, I would risk my life for this curry, you can hold me to that. Run through six lanes of traffic for this steamy pot of ecstasy? Duh.
The curry that we made had chicken, green beans, golden buffalo mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and baby corn. According to Tas, you can switch these things out for whatever you like, but make sure that you have a nice color contrast. You'll need some greens, some earthy tones and maybe a pop of red from a bell pepper.
*Side note: We were supposed to have a red bell pepper BUT I forgot it, so if this bowl isn't satisfying the ROY G BIV spectrum please accept my apologies.
Tas and Chili share a special moment through the window.
When cooking any food, Tas recommends that you rinse off everything, even meat. She says that you must get the "mucus" off of the chicken before you can cook with it. Now I'm wondering why I ever let myself eat that "mucus" before, yuck! Once we rinsed all of the meat, rice, and vegetables we were ready. Chili was ready at heart but she's a cat and stirring is difficult for her.
Coconut Curry Recipe
- 3/4 can of Red or Green Curry Paste (roughly 3-4 tablespoons, depending on how hot you like your curry)
- 1 can Coconut Milk (Chef's Choice is Tas's preference)
- 1 can Golden Buffalo Mushrooms (These are from an Asian grocery store and they taste very smoky, feel free to use any fresh mushrooms instead)
- 1 can Baby Corn (Optional, you can substitute something else)
- 1 can Bamboo Shoots (These are almost tasteless, but soak up the curry very well. You can find them in an Asian grocery store)
- 1 cup fresh Green Beans (optional, you can substitute something else)
- Small handful of chopped Kaffir (This is the leaf from an Asian lime plant. She grows it in her backyard, but you can buy it in an Asian market or just leave it out.)
- 2-3 chicken breasts
- Several tablespoons of fish sauce (Also known as nam pla, it is very salty and fishy. Taste it as you put it in. You can find it in an Asian grocery store and it is used in many Thai dishes, worth the investment.)
- 1/2-1 cup of water (You will determine the quantity in Step 8.)
- 2-3 cups of steamed rice to serve as a bed for the curry
Obviously I did not give you exact amounts here and that is because this recipe does not have to be perfect, that's the beauty of it! Add more curry paste if you like it spicy. Substitute all meat for vegetables or tofu, don't sweat it!
1. Rinse all meat, rice, and vegetables until the water is coming out clear.
2. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces by slicing the breast in half (longways) and then cutting it on an angle (shortways). Cut all the vegetables to a similar size, so that everything can cook evenly.
3. Heat a deep pan or pot on medium and add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, throw a drop of water in to test it. If the water sizzles, it is ready. Add your curry paste, while stirring constantly.
4. After 1 minute of cooking the curry paste add the chicken breast. Cook the chicken until it is cooked almost all the way through and raise the temperature almost to high (roughly 5 minutes).
5. Add bamboo shoots because they need more time to soak up the flavors of the curry. Cook for 1 minute.
6. Add the baby corn and mushrooms, or whatever vegetables you choose. Pour in half of the can of coconut milk and stir.
7. Add green beans last to ensure that they do not get mushy. If you want to substitute the green beans for something else you must determine if it needs more or less time over heat. Add the remainder of the coconut milk and stir.
8. Add 1/2 cup of water or however much to cover the meat and vegetables so that they sit at the top of the liquid, but not above it. Add num pla (fish sauce) and taste until it has a balance between spicy, salty, and creamy.
9. Bring the curry to a slow boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over rice.
As we were cooking Tas pulled out a can of young coconut meat and poured it into two glasses. You can see here that it is the soft meat from the inside of the coconut that floats in sweet coconut water. With eat bite of the coconut we sipped the drink and it was refreshing, especially after taste-testing the spicy curry. Tas says that in Thailand they will charge you 5-10 dollars for this drink, but the whole can was only 2 dollars. Additionally, often times they add extra sugar and it becomes too sweet. You can find this delicacy in an Asian grocery store and I highly recommend it for a hot summer's day!
Tas grows her own lettuce because it is cheaper and more delicious. We cut off the colorful leaves and used them in a sweet and savory "egg salad." Tas's egg salad is fresh and simple, not with mayonnaise.
Our Thai feast!
Lastly, my favorite dish of all! For years I have always loved mango sticky rice and Tas used to make it for me every time I came to visit. If you have not tasted it before, you are truly missing out. The rice is steamed for 30-40 minutes in a cloth and then you mix it with coconut cream and sugar. Of course it is sticky, but it is milky and sweet as well. Sticky rice tastes even better with a ripe mango. The mango is smooth and velvety and adds an acidic tang to the sweetness of the rice. Ahh I'll stop talking and you need to find yourself some sticky rice!
After we finished eating we went outside to look at the garden. Everything was popping with vibrant colors, especially since it had just rained. Tas is an incredibly talented artist and she let me take some pictures of her works.
These are tiles that she created and painted. The cracks along the edges give them some character and wisdom. She also created these beautiful bird whistles. She can play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" upon request.
Tas collects rocks with simple and elegant patterns of sediment. She also has some wicked cool giant beetles from Asia (don't worry, they are not alive).
As I was getting ready to leave, Tas called me over for one last thing. She had piled the leftover rice onto a small plate and told me to leave it on the table for the birds. Tas has a gentle soul and she would never let anyone go hungry. Next time I go back we are making Noodles! Stay tuned.