The year we lived in London, we ate in some really fantastic restaurants. We also explored cuisines that are not all that available to us here in Seattle. I always knew that I liked Indian food but fell head over heels in love with it while living there. Middle Eastern food too. I can't tell you how much I miss the multitude of places where I could eat dips, felafel, fantastic breads, and vegetable dishes to my heart's content. The one thing we missed while living there was Thai food. I tried it a few different places in London, some of them very fancy, and it never was very good.
We are fortunate to have a plethra of great Thai places in Seattle. In an approximate one mile radius of our house, there are no fewer than 8 Thai restaurants, some pretty good and some really good. It is our go-to meal for Friday night take-out and I crave it on an even more regular basis. Because my Asian food-hating clients (who are the same as my mushroom-hating clients) are out of town again tonight, I thought I would make it for the others.
For this dinner, I turned to the sweetest little cookbook. Real Vegetarian Thai was written by a woman who spent two years in Thailand in the Peace Corps. She includes copious notes with each recipe telling you how the Thais would serve it and substitutions that can be made. She also tells you what can be done in advance which always wins extra points with me. All of this is done in a un-pretentious friendly voice that is a joy to read. The recipes I have made (and there have been many of them) have turned out great. Tonight's menu included Tome Yum Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu, Red Curry with Winter Vegetables and Cashews, Coconut Rice, and Cucumber Salad.
For the curry recipe, you actually make your own curry paste. In a pinch you can, of course, substitute store-bought, but if you are a vegetarian, read the label carefully. Many of them contain dried shrimp. Making the paste really doesn't take all that much time and it makes a healthy amount. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. Perfect for the next time you want red curry! I followed the paste recipe quite closely but with the finished dish, I made a lot of changes.
Red Curry with Winter Vegetables and Cashews
Adapted from Real Vegetarian Thai
Serves 4 generously
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (DN: I used reduced fat)
2 or 3 tbsp. red curry paste (recipe follows)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 oz. extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 pounds assorted winter vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and/or
parsnips, everything cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. soy sauce
3/4 cup salted, dry-roasted cashews
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/3 cup into a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to release its fragrance. Add the curry paste and cook for about 3 more minutes, mashing the paste into the coconut milk.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 8 minutes.
Add the chopped winter vegetables and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the curry mixture, the rest of the coconut milk, the stock, soy sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil. Give it a good stir, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
Just before serving, add the cashews and cilantro. Serve over rice.
Red Curry Paste
Adapted from Real Vegetarian Thai
Makes about 1 cup
McDermott suggests using chilies de arbol here which are finger-length and quite spicy. I didn't have any on hand so I used Guajillo chiles which are much less spicy.
20 dried chilies de arbol
1 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 stalks lemongrass
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic
1 tbsp. coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger
Zest of 1 small lime
1 tsp. salt
Stem the chilies and shake out and discard the seeds. Break into large pieces. Place the chilies in a small bowl, add warm water to cover, and set aside to soften for about 20 minutes.
In a small skillet over medium heat, dry-fry the coriander and cumin seeds until they are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Allow to cool, then grind in a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.
To prepare the lemongrass, trim away and discard any root section below the bulb base, and cut away the top portion, leaving a stalk about 6 inches long, including the base. Remove the outer layer of "skin", then finely chop the stalks.
Drain the chilies and combine them with the lemongrass, ground spices, and the remaining ingredients in a mini food processor or a blender. Pour in 2 tbsp. of water and combine to a fairly smooth puree. You may need to add more water to keep the blades moving. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one month.