I don’t know if it’s because my longtime travel companion just returned from a bout in South America, or simply because spring makes even the best of us restless, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Thailand lately. I miss the thickness of the heat — how it caused even the water bottles to bead with sweat. I miss the streetside bags of freshly-sliced pineapple dipped in chili, sugar, and salt. I miss the smell of caramel and butter from the roti-pancake stands, and even the sizzle of soy-tossed grasshoppers in the evenings.
Like everyone, I suppose, food for me is inextricably tied up with memory. Despite being home for almost a year already, I still seem to be in the early stages of carving out a life for myself, which means that it’s likely to be many more years until I’m back in Thailand again. In the meantime, to ease the longing, I’ve been filling my kitchen with the food I miss the most.
I hadn’t tried this green curry recipe since my time at the cooking school in Chiang Mai, and was relieved to find that it tasted as beautiful as I remembered — rich and creamy from the coconut, intensely fragrant from the layers of lemongrass, the lime leaves, and the galangal.
Thai green curry from scratch
A few notes before the recipe:
1. I couldn’t for the life of me find kaffir limes anywhere in Toronto, so I left the zest and juice out of the recipe and swapped in a few of their leaves instead. But if you happen to come across them, please let me know where you found them!
2. I know that making your own curry paste might seem insanely time-consuming, but whatever’s left over can be frozen in an ice cube tray for the next time you want to make the dish, and the flavours are beautiful compared to the kind you find in the supermarket sauces. Likewise, any of the veggies/herbs you have leftover can be sliced and frozen to use in stock.
3. I made this with tofu, but the original called for chicken, so I’m including those instructions too for you carnivores out there.
4. I happen not to be crazy about the mini green eggplants usually used in this dish, so I’ve altered the recipe for broccoli instead.
Green curry paste
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 Tbs fresh lemongrass, chopped (slice the root end off, then take from the bottom section, not the dry tips)
- 1 Tbs galangal (often called Thai ginger)
- 1 Tbs kaffir lime zest (optional)
- 2 tsps coriander root, thoroughly washed, then chopped
- 2 Tbs minced shallots
- 6 cloves of garlic, skin off, and smashed
- roughly 2cm of fresh tumeric, chopped
- 1 thumb of old ginger (or 6-8 cm of fingerroot, if you can find it), sliced
- 5 Thai basil leaves
- 10-15 medium green spur chilies
- 2 small red Thai chillies
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp shrimp paste (optional)
1. In a dry pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds together until fragrant.
2. Pound all of the ingredients (including the toasted spices) together in a mortar and pestle — or blend in a food processor if you’re not feeling so ambitious –until thick and consistent.
3. Whatever you aren’t going to use right away, freeze in an ice cube tray for later use.
Thai Green curry with tofu or chicken
- cooked rice (brown, white, whatever you like) to serve on the side
- 1/2 cup creamed coconut
- 1-2 Tbs green curry paste (see above)
- 200g of extra-firm tofu or chicken, cut into 1″ chunks
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 small, thin Japanese eggplant, cut into 1″ chunks
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced into thin strips
- 1 scant Tablespoon demerara, coconut, or cane sugar
- 2 Tbs fish sauce or 1 Tbs soy sauce
- 1 head of broccoli (or cauliflower) cut into florets
- 1 large red spur chilli, sliced thinly
- 20 Thai basil leaves
1. In a large saucepan over low heat, mix the creamed coconut and the green curry paste together.
2. Add the tofu (or chicken) and increase the heat to medium high. For tofu, cook for 2 minutes; for chicken, cook until no longer pink inside (roughly five minutes).
3. Add the coconut milk, eggplant, lime leaves, sugar, and fish sauce. Stir constantly for just under 10 minutes, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for another 5 minutes. Add broccoli and cook for another 3 minutes or until the broccoli is bright green and just barely tender.
4. Stir in the basil leaves and the red spur chili. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with rice.
Any of you out there have some foods you’ve been missing? I’d love to hear about them.