Posts Tagged ‘Thai’


For the many. (GREEN CURRY PASTE)

September 14, 2012

World Map: Ink on Paper, 2007

Curry means different things to different people and cultures and that’s cool except when you only think of one and leave out all the others. When I was a kid it was a noxious yellow powder that my mom put in some sort of vegetable casserole, turning everything in the pan a florescent color. Bad news. By now I have long since (almost) buried that memory under many happy moments eating curries from the Caribbean, India and Nepal, China, Japan and different parts of Southeast Asia.

A common bond that links this ambiguously named dish across the universe is that a blend of spices and aromatics usually comes together to create the base flavor. The curry could be saucy or dry, include any number of veg, protein and/or starches. It can be tart, sweet, spicy, ridiculously spicy, etc. The layout will be different in each region or in each town or even in each household. It’s a personal thing.

I have been experimenting with curry pastes reminiscent of Southeast Asia. Recently I made a green curry that is loosely Thai-inspired but really just a warm, rich and satisfying blend of herbs, spices and alliums. To activate the ingredients in the paste it is best to gently saute it for a moment in the pot and then stir in whatever liquid mixture (water, stock, coconut milk, beer, etc) you like. Simmer until the flavors fuse. A little bit of tweaking with salt, sugar lime juice, vinegar and a delicious ‘curry’ is born.

When I served this at a luncheon, I put an array of garnishes next to a pot of coconut milk-based green goodness so each person partaking in the meal could make their own perfect bowl using the curry broth as either a soup or a sauce, or not at all! With things like soba noodles, dry sauted tofu, chilies, marinated seaweed, mushrooms, peas, sweet potatoes, tiny tomatoes and fresh herbs everyone decorated their bowl. It was an interesting exercise in creating a balanced meal and everyone made a unique curry all their own.


(makes about 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

15 black peppercorns

6 dried chilies, soaked in water and de-stemmed or three fresh chilies, chopped*

1/3 cup shallot, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves and stems

7 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 tablespoon ginger, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons lemongrass, chopped fine (reserve stalks)

1 lime, zested

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vegetable or flavorless oil

  • Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry skillet until frgarant, about 5 minutes. Grind to a powder with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the mortar and pestle (or a food processor) and grind to a fine-textured paste.
  • Store in a lidded container in the fridge for one month or freeze for up to 3 months.

* more chilies = more heat… go for it!

(I’m not pretending to be primitive or anything. I throw that stuff in the processor.)


We all want to be useful. (FISH SAUCE)

April 12, 2011

During a recent class at the Astor Center, I was asked a question that I thought deserved public answering. One of the recipes we prepared included fish sauce. As an ingredient that is often used sparingly, my student wondered how to make a dent in the bottle that sits around after being used only once in an experimental while. In other words –allow me to paraphrase– ‘what the hell do I do with this stuff?’

A little background on fish sauce; it is the liquid extracted from salted and fermented fish or shrimp. Lending an aquatic (as in the bottom of an aquarium) and briny note, it is a major ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Each country has its own process by which they produce the stuff but Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Korea, Southern China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan all use a variation of fish sauce in alot or at least a little of their cooking. In my experience with Vietnamese food, it is a ubiquitous and staple item, sort of like the t-shirts they sell in tourist shops that say ‘Good Morning Vietnam!’.

The truth is, it stinks like no one’s business only to be intensified when heated. This should stop aforementioned no one from using this product. Once mixed with other ingredients it turns on its magic, amplifying the existing flavors, doing that umami thing that I can’t describe. It does something to make a dish taste as delicious as it did sitting on a small plastic chair, overlooking the beach at Nha Trang.

Wikipedia does a great job of providing mostly the truth and lots more fish sauce details. My mission is to list a few ways to help get through that bottle a little quicker.


  • in a curry
  • in salad dressing
  • as a marinade
  • as a dipping sauce
  • in a peanut sauce
  • in a crab cake or fish croquette
  • in a vegetable soup/stew (fish sauce loves kale!)
  • in beef stew
  • in (Asian style) chicken soup
  • in fried rice
  • sprinkle on fish before roasting/grilling
  • in a dumpling filling
  • tossed with noodles
  • in kimchi
  • in a stirfry

(‘in a stirfry’ is such a cop-out.) Enjoy!



June 21, 2010

These sweet/tart quick-pickles are a perky little accompaniment to grilled meat or fish, salads, sandwiches or a big ole burger. Wherever you like cucumbers, really. In this version, sweet and spicy notes rule the brine and the salt is minimal. With the chiles removed, I think they would be a hit with kids.

This recipe is also a perfect opportunity to brush up on knife skills. This classic beauty is known as a matchstick. First slice the cucumber into rounds crosswise then slice the rounds lengthwise. The matchstick cut does very nicely by radishes as well.

Once all your veggies are cut up, you have only to dump the brine on them and wait until they are cooled. In thirty minutes the relish is ready to eat and, as an added bonus, it will improve with age. Enjoy.


1 medium sized English cucumber, cut into matchsticks (2-2 1/2 cups)

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into tiny matchsticks

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/3 cup rice vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar)

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup brown or white sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 small dried chiles (optional)

  • In a small sauce pan, mix brine ingredients; vinegar, water, sugar, salt and chiles.
  • Bring brine to a boil and stir to fully dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from flame.
  • Carefully toss cucumber, shallot, ginger, garlic in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
  • Pour slightly cooled brine over and mix gently.
  • Press down on vegetables lightly to cover with brine but don’t worry if it doesn’t cover. Vegetables will soften, let off water and be covered in liquid after sitting a bit.
  • Store in fridge up to one week.