Making Thai food may not always be simple, but it’s almost always fun. For some the fun is more in the shopping and getting the ingredients together, while for others it’s in the actual cooking. And Thai cuisine being very much up to the individual, we have a lot of leeway; things never get boring as we know we don’t have to stick to the recipe. Some of us even take delight in cutting a few corners. We make some nifty and sometimes wayward decisions when we don’t have the requisite time or the items, and particularly when we have neither. When it comes to Thai curries, there’s even more temptation, as we all know we can resort to packets. They do, after all, save time and many of us reach for them because we suspect they might well outclass all our best efforts anyway.
Are we even faintly to blame when recipe books themselves encourage us to resort to packets? How often do we read through a recipe that looks wonderful only to find half way down something like ‘now add two tablespoons of ready-made curry paste?’ We’re being encouraged to do the dirty, to cheat.
Aficionados of the authentic take umbrage. Why make everything from scratch? How hard can it be? They’re right. Persevere and you’ll become a dab hand at real Thai cuisine rather than just someone who can cobble together packets. So here we come to the crunch: make your very own yellow curry paste. It’ll take you almost an hour, but a lot of it is downtime, so time to grab a book and relax. And what’s even better, you’ll end up with not one but four batches of the paste. You can freeze three in bags for later. Once you get into making your own curry pastes, you won’t want to stop!
Ingredients: for the yellow curry paste:
4 large shallots
4 large heads of garlic
1 6-inch piece of fresh ginger
5-20 whole dried small Thai chilli peppers according to fieriness desired. Five will be exceptionally mild, whereas 20 will be extremely full-on. Most Thais won’t be using more than 20 chillies!
1½ tablespoons salt
2-3 tablespoons turmeric
2-3 tablespoons mild curry powder
2 teaspoons roasted ground coriander
3 tablespoons lemongrass paste. Pound lemon grass together in a mortar till smooth, adding a little water.
¼ cup packed coriander leaves and stems.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
First prepare the chillies by pouring boiling water over them and let them soak for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep the aromatics: take the shallots and wrap in tinfoil after rubbing with oil.
Slice the ginger, oil and again wrap in tinfoil.
Similarly wrap the garlic heads after cutting off their tops and rubbing oil into them.
Place all the ingredients in the oven, apart from the chillies. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove the ginger and boost the temperature to 400F, while the remaining ingredients roast until they’re golden brown.
Put the chillies and all the ingredients into a blender and process until the yellow curry paste reaches a thick consistency. You should have about two full cups of paste.
Ingredients: for the curry:
2 lbs. beef, which you should cut into bite-size cubes
4 cups light coconut milk
4 cups water, divided
2 cups coconut cream
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ cup chopped coriander leaves.
First, start with the beef. Use a large, deep pot for the cooking and begin by heating the coconut milk. Then add the cubed beef and simmer for up to an hour, adding a cup of water towards the end of the cooking period. When the meat’s ready, set aside and let cool down.
In a second deep pot, heat coconut cream until it starts to bubble. When it begins to thicken add a third of a cup of curry paste, stir in and simmer for a few minutes. Now add the shallots and, using a slotted spoon, the beef and up to a cup of the coconut milk from the pot that held the beef. Pour in 3 cups of water, slowly stir and then let simmer for up to 45 minutes. Finally, add the sugar, fish sauce and coriander. The dish is
best served over jasmine rice.
Keep tasting at intervals and if your curry isn’t hot enough, simply add a bit more paste, but make sure that you do so cautiously. If you decide to use coconut milk instead of coconut cream, you’ll need to reduce the amount of paste to about a half cup in order to get the same degree of spiciness, which is mild to medium hot.