Thai Green Curry
One of my all time favorite Thai dishes.
I first sampled this dish at an easily overlooked and under-acknowledged Thai restaurant in the University District of Seattle. I didn’t even know the restaurant was there at first, until it came to my attention by word of mouth. It is below street level on one of the minor streets that run perpendicular to “the ave.” I’m not sure what the name of it is or if it is even still there. But back in the day, I rarely ordered anything besides their Thai green curry.
Since then I have tried to relive that Thai green curry experience at many a Thai restaurant, by endlessly and obsessively ordering Thai green curry dishes. These explorations usually end in disappointment. Usually green curries include what I consider bland chicken or tofu and various vegetables that don’t excite me as much as eggplant – zucchini for example. So if I want Thai green curry done right, or rather to my personal taste, I have to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. It really doesn’t take that long to make once you have green curry paste on hand. Even better if you have a supply of homegrown organic ingredients outside your door. My green curry paste is aging, so I added a little extra lemon grass -- one of the more volatile components of the paste. I was fortunate enough to only need to slip out into the garden and snip off a small stalk. I had plump Indian eggplants that were contemplating growing dull and “bitter”. I even had a few Thai basil leaves left to collect before the cooler temperatures stifle their vigor.
In this recipe it is important to note that technically coconut cream is the undiluted contents of a can of coconut “milk”. Coconut milk is coconut cream diluted with an equal amount of water. Open a standard size can of coconut “milk” (about 2 cups) and dump the contents into a bowl. Mix well. Then measure out ½ cup to use in the recipe as cream and add 1 ½ cups of water and stir well to add later as milk.
I make my own green curry paste. I haven’t even bothered with the packaged variety. There are a lot of volatile flavors that I suspect won’t preserve well during processing. The green curry paste recipe is a bit labor intensive, but if you can find all the ingredients it is fun to make and very rewarding. It makes enough paste for quite a few meals. I freeze the excess and it keeps well for at least a year. If you’d like to try the green curry paste recipe, please reference Nancie McDermott’s book Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking. If you enjoy Thai food, this book is a wonderful investment, even though it includes a lot of meat dishes. Use your creativity to get around relying on meat, but I don’t think you can really substitute anything suitable for fish sauce. Some people sub soy sauce. Fish sauces are usually made with anchovies, which are a relatively unpolluted source of beneficial omega 3’s.
If you accidentally combine the lime zest and lime juice, go ahead and add them together when the recipe calls for lime zest. The flavor of the resulting dish won’t be negatively affected.
If I remember correctly, this is a version of a green curry recipe from Nancie McDermott’s book, that I altered to imitate the object of my original green curry affection. It is nearly spot on, by the way. If anything, it only differs in tasting a bit healthier and fresher.
Mostly Vegetarian Green Curry
½ yellow onion, sliced into rings and then in half
½ cup coconut cream
¼ cup green curry paste
3 cups coconut milk
1 ½ cups stemmed and quartered Thai eggplant (or other eggplant cut into bite sized pieces)
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
12 fresh wild lime leaves (or ½ tsp lime zest and juice of ½ lime)
½ cup Thai basil leaves (or other fresh basil leaves)
9 thin red bell pepper strips
Heat some oil in a large skillet and saute onion until golden. Set onion aside.
To the same pan, add coconut cream over medium heat. Allow the coconut cream to boil gently and then lower the heat so that it is just warm enough to keep the cream boiling gently. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. When tiny pools of oil begin to glisten from the surface of the cream, add the curry paste and stir to dissolve it into the cream. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the mixture has a pleasing aroma.
Increase the heat and add the coconut milk, eggplant, fish sauce, sugar and salt. Mix well. Add half the lime leaves or the lime zest, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle, active boil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onion and cook until the eggplant is tender. Adjust seasoning as desired. If using, add the lime juice, and immediately remove from the heat. Transfer to a serving bowl. Add basil, bell pepper, and remaining lime leaves and stir before serving.