Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Bright Side of Car Troubles

Recipe below: Somewhat Authentic Thai Green Curry

Speaking of bright sides, my life is such a comedy of errors at the moment, that I’m constantly focusing on the positives to keep sane. I’d rather laugh at my misfortunes than cry over them any day...and laugh I have! Small talk with my neighbors usually begins with their inquiring after any new disasters that have sprung up since last they saw me, and I can usually deliver on a good story to make us both chuckle. Usually centering around my car, lately. Batteries, tires, radiators. I’ve dealt with it all!

Sure, a leaking radiator isn’t exactly roll on the ground hilarious, but what about when I add that the extended warranty on the car just so happened to expire about a month before said leakage? Yes, that really happened.  Of course it did! 7 years and never a problem that the warranty would cover. But 7 years and 1 month? Well...you see what I mean. Ridiculous!

I also answer to Murphy.

What does all this complaining have to do with anything? Well that brings me to the particular bright side of my constant car troubles. The Asian Market! It’s right down the street from the dealership, and since that neighborhood is about 15 miles away from my house, it’s not very convenient to go regularly. So when Husband and I have to make the trek for some mechanical misfortune or other, we secretly look forward to the stop at 99 Ranch right after. Did I mention they have pork bao the size of my head? And the best darned red bean paste sesame balls, my personal favorite! We always stop at the bakery first to stock up before making the long trek up and down the many aisles.

Sure, most of the ingredients we save up to buy at the Asian market we could easily get in any well-stocked grocery store. But they cost twice as much, and the selection sucks! Did you know there are brands of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar that aren't Kikkoman? I know! Blew my mind when I first found out too.

Then again, there are ingredients that are essential to authentic Asian cuisine that for whatever reason haven’t made it into any of the 10 or so grocery stores in my area. Disappointing, isn’t it? It’s where I buy my miso paste, rice flour, red bean paste, and oodles and oodles of seaweed! I love the seaweed sprinkles that are tossed with toasted sesame seeds. It’s a great topping for rice, popcorn, or any dish that needs a little salty pizazz. Husband loves the sheets of the hot and spicy seaweed so much he buys them 8 containers at a time! It’s really a healthy snack, nicely filling without containing any substantial calories, and a wee bit of protein. Yum!

Don't eat that keffir lime leaf!

But what I really get excited about when I go there are the fixings for Thai food! Sure, a lot of stores now carry lemongrass, but what about keffir lime leaves and Thai basil? My favorite Thai restaurant would never offer my favorite dishes without them! And since I usually only frequent the store when the heavens decide to break my car (more often than I’d like!), I always take advantage of at least a couple of specialty ingredients I can’t buy anywhere closer. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about curry!

I love curry. I used to talk food constantly with a former manager, and she would always marvel at my love of sauce. I love food drenched in a rich and flavorful sauce. Who doesn’t? It makes everything taste fantastic! And curries are the epitome of big flavors: warm, spicy, earthy, and herbaceous. They taste so complicated, but like so many dishes, curries are totally doable! Yes, I mean doable for you!  You know what the trick is? Finding a good quality curry paste. I’d like to make my own at some point, but if you don’t want to go through all the trouble, 99 Ranch has an excellent selection of tasty curry pastes, and your local Asian market probably does too! I went for green. It’s spicy from lots of chile peppers! Husband and I like spicy! You could just mix the curry paste with coconut milk for the sauce base, it would be deliciously simple. But I wanted to brighten the dish with some fresh ingredients already in the paste to make the flavor a bit more definitive and lively.

Now I’m the first to admit that this curry is anything but authentic. Or rather, I was going for authentic curry flavors, but I threw in some other totally inauthentic veggies along with it because they’re delicious and it’s my curry, so I’ll cook what I want to! I opted for classics like onion, carrots, baby bok choy, and mushrooms, but that just wasn’t substantial enough for me. I wanted more! So I also threw in celery and frozen peas because I love greenery, water chestnuts for their lovely crunch, and some red potatoes for texture. Yum!

As far as the sauce goes, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass are the holy trinity of deliciousness. Lemongrass is an ingredient I haven’t experimented with extensively, but I love the sunny, grassy flavor. When preparing the fibrous stock for consumption, just cut off most of the the top and the nub at the bottom and remove the first few layers until you’re left with a tender bit a few inches long. It doesn't look like much, but it goes a long way.  Make sure you mince it up nice and tiny so you get the flavor without any chewy bits. Keffir lime leaves, like lemongrass, are wonderfully aromatic. I treat them like bay leaves and throw them in with the simmering sauce for flavor, but remember not to eat them! I’ve substituted regular Italian basil for Thai basil before, and it certainly works in a pinch, but Thai basil is such a better compliment to the dish. Trust me. Nothing beats the intoxicating aroma of Thai basil.  And with no booze in this recipe, we need our kicks somehow, right? And then there’s the fish sauce. You’re not afraid of fish sauce, are you? I used it think it was nasty, but it turns out it was just an inferior product I had purchased. Good fish sauce is delicious! Not by itself, of course, but just a little bit added to the dish adds a salty, deep flavor (umami!) without being fishy in the slightest! The trick is just to show a little restraint. Don’t skip the fish sauce, trust me!  I opted not to get the Thai peppers.  I could only buy them about 20 at a time, and yikes!  That's a lot of heat!  Also, that's kind of the point of the curry paste.  All the heat are already in there!

This dish was awesome. Better than I expected. I love it when that happens! The flavors all came together so amazingly well, and the spicy kick was just right, so they weren’t masked. I usually go for brown jasmine rice, but this time I served the curry over quinoa. It’s a vegetarian dish, so I wanted the complete protein quinoa gives. Not to mention it cooks twice as fast. It’s seriously the best grain ever!

Now, with any luck I'll go many, many moons without being in the neighborhood of the Asian market again!

An aside: I tried to talk a little bit about the more exotic ingredients in this dish, but I didn't want to get all educational on you if you already know what the heck I'm talking about.  If you want to know more, feel free to email me or leave me a comment!

Somewhat Authentic Thai Green Curry

Makes about 8 servings

1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, cubed
6 bunches of baby bok choy, chopped
8oz beech mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch nob of ginger, minced (about 1 TB)
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed and discarded and the tender core minced
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp white pepper*
approximately 2 TB green curry paste (more or less to taste)
1 can coconut milk (I used light)
1 tsp fish sauce
5-6 keffir lime leaves**
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
1 package frozen peas
1 can water chestnuts, chopped
4 stalks green onion, sliced into rounds
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  1. In a large saute pan or wok over medium heat, sweat the onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes until they give off their water and begin to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add the baby bok choy and mushrooms, and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, add the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, stir to incorporate, and cook another 2 minutes or so. Everything should be smelling amazing!
  2. Stir in the coriander and white pepper, and let it cook for a minute, then add the curry paste, and let it cook for another minute. [Note: If you are concerned about the level of spice, add just 1 TB to begin with (or less!), and incorporate the rest after you add the coconut milk in step 3.]
  3. Add the coconut milk (be sure to shake the can before you open it!), fish sauce, and lime leaves. Now is the time to adjust the seasonings if it’s needed. Bring the mixture to a light boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and the curry is thick and fragrant.
  4. Stir in the Thai basil, frozen peas, water chestnuts, and green onion, and cook for just a minute or two, until warmed. 
  5. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve over brown jasmine rice or my choice, quinoa!
*I don't think I've mentioned white pepper before.  It's basically just like black pepper, but milder and it blends in more, color-wise, to a dish.  It's totally optional, or you could use a few pinches of black pepper.  I just like pepper!  I bought the white pepper at Ranch 99, but I've seen it in regular grocery stores too.

**There's not a perfect substitute for keffir lime leaves, but if you're going for a less fussy curry, a splash of lime juice at the end will help give it that brightness it needs.  Just go easy, you don't want it too acidic.


  1. Wow, looks delicious :) Have you ever thought about culinary school? I don't know how you come up with these recipes! You have a serious talent :) I would have no clue what to do w/half of the ingredients you listed hehe

  2. LOL! I would so LOVE to go to culinary school. Unfortunately, it costs up the bum and I need to make some green! Thanks! That is so sweet! If you ever actually taste my cooking, I hope you still feel that way. Hehe. And if I ever win the lottery, I would probably enroll the next day.

    Honestly, for this curry, I just looked to my favorite Thai restaurant! I always get their panang curry (mmmm...panang....), and it always comes with the Thai basil and Keffir lime leaves (I learned the hard way not to eat the lime leaves, lol!). I've made this curry without those two ingredients, and while it was delicious, it wasn't quite the same. I did some hunting around the interwebs for methods and ingredients and just kind of cobbled together what sounded good and made sense. I think you could do it too, if you wanted to devote ridiculous amounts of time to researching one meal. lol! Totally understandable for most people NOT to want to do that. So lucky for them, I guess there's me! :)

  3. What a nice recipe. This is my first visit to your blog, so I took some time to browse through your earlier creations. I must say I really like your recipes and will be back often, so as not to miss anything new. I hope the day treats you well. Blessings...Mary