Thai cooks heat up things with curry paste Essay

Staples of Thai cooking, curry pastes flavor spicy dishes, from mildto fiery hot. Good cooks first pound the chilies and seasonings with amortar and pestle to make a smooth paste.

This mixture can be storedfor fairly long periods, becoming a conveience food that can be used ina variety of ways. Although most good cooks in Thailand might cringe at the thought ofusing anything but their fresh homemade curry paste, many transplantedThais in the West have found purchased curry pastes a very easy way toduplicate dishes from back home. Westerners are also discovering thatcurry pastes make excellent short-cuts for distinctive curries and agood way to season meat for grilling or to flavor stir-fried dishes.

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You can purchase curry pastes and other special ingredients inmarkets that cater to Southeast Asians. The pastes are inexpensive,packed in small pckets, cans, and bags. If you can’t find them,you can make pastes wit authentic ingredients from an Asian market orreadily available alternatives found in most supermarkets. The homemadepastes are more aromatic and less hot than the purchased. Here we give recipes for three popular Thai curry pastes, and fordishes prepared with each. The first is a mild, slightly sweet pasteinspired by Muslims in Thailand; the second is a hot, spicy greenmixture; and the third is a medium-hot red paste called panang.

Use thesmaller amount of curry paste suggested by the recipe if you’reworking with a purchased paste, since these are usually much hotter thanthe homemade versions. Most cooks in Thailand pound the ingredients patiently with a heavymortar and pestle until a smooth paste forms. If you don’t havethe time (it can take as long as 30 minutes), a food processor is a goodalternative. It may take several minutes with the processor to achievea really smooth paste. Muslim Curry Paste (Krung Gaeng Mussaman) 12thin slices (about the size of a quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos)or ginger Hot water 2 tablespoons salad oil 1 cup minced shallots or redonion 10 to 12 cloves garlic, pressed or minced 16 large dried mild redchilies such as California chilies 2 tablespoons ground coriander 2teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground mace 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves10 cardamom pods, hulls removed 2 stalks fresh lemon grass or 2teaspoons grated lemon peel 1 teaspoon shrimp or anchovy paste 1teaspoon salt If galangal is dry, soak in hot water to cover until soft, about 30minutes. Drain and finely chop; set aside.

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine oil, shallots, and garlic.Cook over low heat, stirring, until limp. Rinse chilies and removestems and seeds. Tear chilies into 1-inch pieces.

Add to shallot mixture and stir to coat in oil. Add coriander, cumin, mace, cloves,and cardamom. Stir just until chilies begin to brown (do not burn),about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Trim off root end and tough stalk end of lemon grass.

Remove toughouter leaves, then finely chops the rest. Ina mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chili mixture,chopped lemon grass, shrimp paste, and salt. Pound or whirl untilfinely ground, partially covering mortar as you pound to preventsplashing. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 1 month. Makes about1-1/3 cups. Green Curry Paste (Krung Gaeng Keo Wan) 6 thin slices(about the size of a quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos) or ginger Hotwater 8 to 12 fresh small hot green chilies, each about 4 inches long 3stalks fresh lemon grass or 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel 1/4 cup finelychopped fresh coriander (cilantro), including washed roots 20 to 22cloves garlic, pressed or minced 1/2 cup minced shallots or red onion 4teaspoons ground coriander 2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pepper 2teaspoons each grated lime peel and salt 2 teaspoons shrimp or anchovypaste 2 tablespoons salad oil If galangal is dry, soak in hot water until soft, about 30 minutes.

Drain and mince. Wearing rubber gloves, remove and discard stems and seeds fromchilies; finely chop. Trim off root end and tough stem end from lemongrass, peel off tough outer leaves, and finely chop the rest. In a mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chilies, choppedlemon grass, fresh coriander, garlic, shallots, ground coriander, cumin,pepper, lime peel, salt, shrimp paste, and oil. Pound or whirl untilfinely ground and a smooth pastef partially cover mortar as you pound toprevent splashing. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 2 weeks.Makes about 1 cup.

Panang Curry Paste 12 thin slices (about the size ofa quarter) dry or fresh galangal (laos) or fresh ginger Hot water 10large dried medium-hot red chilies such as New Mexican (or combine 9 to10 large dried mild California chilies with 4 to 6 small dried hot redchilies) 2 stalks fresh lemon grass or 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel 12to 14 cloves garlic, minced or pressed 1/2 cup minced shallots or redonion 1 teaspoon each pepper and salt 1 teaspoon shrimp or anchovy paste If glangal is dry, soak in hot water to cover until soft, about 30minutes. Drain and finely chop. Rinse chilies; remove stems and seeds.

Break chilies into small pieces and soak in hot water to cover untilsoft, about 30 minutes. Drain well and finely chop. Cut off root endand tough stem ends of lemon grass. Remove tough outer leaves andfinely chop the rest. In a mortar or food processor, combine galangal, chilies, choppedlemon grass, garlic, shallots, pepper, salt, and shrimp paste. Pound orwhirl until a smooth paste forms, partially covering mortar as youpound. Use, or cover tightly and chill up to 1 month.

Makes about1-1/4 cups.–Pensri Kitporka, Milpitas, Calif. Panang Beef Curry (GaengPanang Nua) 3 dried kaffir lime leaves (optional) Hot water 1 can (about14 oz.) coconut milk 2 to 4 tablespoons panang curry paste, homemade(recipe precedes) or purchased 1 pound boneless tender beef steak (suchas sirloin), cut across the grain in 1/4-inch-thick slices 2 to 3 incheslong 1-1/2 tablespoons palm sugar of firmly packed brown sugar Fishsauce or salt 1 or 2 small fresh hot chilies, thinly sliced Soak lime leaves in hot water to cover until pliable. Cut in thinshreds; reserve. Skim off enough of the thickest part of the coconutmilk (in floats on top) to measure 1/2 cup.

In a 10- to 12-inch fryingpan, bring this thick milk to simmering over medium heat. Add currypaste; stir until oil bubbles out of coconut milk and turns orange, 2 to4 minutes. Stir in meat, remaining coconut milk, and sugar. Cook,stirring, until meat loses its red color, 3 to 5 minutes. Add fishsauce to taste. Pour into a bowl and garnish with lime leaves and freshchilies.

Serves 4. Muslim Curry (Gaeng Mussaman) 1 can (about 14 oz.)coconut milk 2 to 4 tablespoons Muslim curry paste, homemade (recipeprecedes) or purchased 1 pound boneless beef chuck, cut into about1-inch cubes 1/2 cup water 1/3 cup roasted peanuts 7 cardamom pods,hulls removed 1 cinnamon stick, 2 to 3 inches long 1 medium-size potato,peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 talbespoons palm sugar of firmlypacked brown sugar Fish sauce or salt Skim off enough of the thickest coconut milk (it floats to the top)to make 1/2 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring this thick milkto simmering over medium heat.

Stir in curry paste. Cook, stirring,until oil from coconut milk bubbles out and turns orange, 2 to 4minutes. Stir in beef, remaining coconut milk, water, peanuts,cardamom, and cinnamon stick.

Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Add potatoand sugar continue simmering, covered, until potato and meat are tenderwhen pierced, about 25 minutes longer. Add fish sauce to taste. Pourinto serving bowl. Serves 4. Skewered Pork with Peanut Sauce Mix together 2 to 3 tablespoons panang, Muslim, or green currypaste (homemade, recipes precede, or purchased), 1/3 cup salad oil, and1-1/2 tablespoons each lemon juice and soy sauce.

Cut 1 pound lean boneless pork (such as 1-2nch-thick chops or aportion of a shoulder, leg, or loin roast) into 1/4-inch-thick slicesabout 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Mix curry mixture with meat.Cover and chill 2 to 4 hours. Thread meat on thin wood skewers, keepingmeat flat.

Place on a rack in a pan (about 12 by 15 inches) and broilabout 2 inches from heat, turning once, until lightly browned on allsides, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve with peanut sauce (recipe follows). Makes4 servings. Peanut sauce. In a 1- to 2-quart pan, cook and stir 1 small onion(chopped) and 1 clove garlic (pressed or minced) in 2 tablespoons saladoil over medium heat until limp. Stir in 1/2 cup chunk-style peanutbutter, 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken broth, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1/8 teaspooncayenne. Stir until hot.

Green Chicken Curry (Gaeng Keo Wan Gai) 6 drykaffir lime leaves (optional) Hot water 1 can (about 14 oz.) coconutmilk 2 to 3 tablespoons green curry pste, homemade (recipe precedes) orpurchased 1-1/2 pounds chicken breast, skinned, boned, and cut into1/4-inch-thick strips about 3 inches long Fish sauce or salt 1/3 cupfresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dry basil 1 small fresh hot greenchili, thinly sliced (optional) Soak lime leaves in hot water to cover until pliable, about 30minutes; drain. Skim off enough o the thickest coconut milk (it floats on top) tomake 1/2 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring this thick milk tosimmering over medium heat. Add curry paste and stir until thick and most liquid evaporates, 3to 4 minutes.

Stir in chicken, remaining coconut milk, and lime leaes.Simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until chicken is no longer pink whencut, about 2 minutes. Add fish sauce to taste.

Pour into serving bowland garnish with basil and chili slices. Serves 4.

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