Sunday, January 19, 2014

Making Thai Green Curry Paste; a Midwest Adventure

To start, I must first admit to knowing very little of Thai cuisine. Along with that, while I haven't made it a quest to find good Thai restaurants, I have been unimpressed with those I have tried. To date, the one time I ate at a Thai restaurant and enjoyed a soup (one of the Tom Yum, with chicken), it was at some little hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of nowhere, California, while on a trip. Admittedly, if it wasn't for my daughter in law, Julia, who is a true Thai food fan, I would never have eaten at that place, or any other!

Ever since, I have been curious. Though, as I said, I have been unimpressed with any places I have tried since. When I read recipes, they do not inspire me. They just do not jump out as interesting. I know Thai food is supposed to be quite healthy; generally simple ingredients. Maybe that is part of the problem. I tend to love anything that has a multitude of ingredients going on. Indian cuisine just so completely engulfs my imagination and my palate. A list of 20 ingredients, with 15 of them spices - that is something I love.

Thai Green Curry Paste
Somewhere I saw a recipe for Thai Green Curry Paste and thought the ingredients sounded good together. I sat down to create what I thought would be good ingredients for a recipe of my own. In general, some things seem to be ubiquitous in any TGCP  recipe: cilantro, green chiles, lemongrass, fresh galangal (preferred) or ginger, garlic, Keffir Lime (preferred) or regular lime, coriander, cumin, pepper and some kind of oil and a fish sauce. Other possible additions are things like shallot, Thai Basil, shrimp paste, coriander roots, turmeric, soy sauce. 

I read one person's blog, very obviously a Thai person, who emphatically stated that Keffir limes are not to be substituted with Keffir lime leaves. They stated that this would be like saying if you didn't have an orange, you could use orange leaves instead. There is no resemblance. This makes sense. I have dried Keffir lime leaves in my spice cabinet, but no way to get the actual Keffir limes. I realize that Keffir and Persian limes also have no resemblance, but the regular Persian limes were all I had. Likewise, I had fresh ginger, but no way to get fresh galangal (a cousin to ginger, but with much stronger, more pungent flavor). Where I live, I cannot get fresh lemongrass, though there are those tubes (Gourmet Garden brand, Lemongrass) in the grocery, stating Lemongrass Paste on the front, though the ingredient list contains other things to "stabilize" the ingredients or whatever. Still, it was the best I could do. Such times as I have been able to acquire fresh lemongrass, I have never been able to make the inner white parts smooth. Unless I slice exceptionally thinly across the lower stem, there are just fibrous bits in there.

Thai Green Chilies are also not available everywhere here. Generally Serrano and Jalapeno are the most accessible. Since my husband would not tolerate too much heat anyway, and if I want him to taste-test my experiments, I used seeded jalapenos, definitely at the lower end of the heat spectrum. If you want more heat, keep the seeds, of whichever chili is preferred. Fish sauce or shrimp paste? Nope. I could probably get one of those items, but if it tasted fishy, again my husband would not touch it. I have been able to sneak a little anchovy paste into a Caesar's Salad occasionally, but I would never use a fish sauce for anything else, so it would be a waste to keep. 

Okay, with all this in mind, it is obvious that my "Thai" Green Curry Paste is a very Americanized, upper-midwest grainbelt sort of interpretation. Still, the flavors turned out an interesting mix; bright, clean, not-too-hot, a little bitter and very green. One recipe I saw said to use whole limes, skin and all. This captured my taste-imagination, so I did that. I am sure that is where the bitter notes came in. Had I used Keffir Lime peel and galangal, I would likely have some pungent bitter notes as well. Most authentic recipes call for pounding all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle. I have many mortars and pestles; none large enough to accommodate this many ingredients. Instead I used my Vita-Mix Blender, which comes with a plunger that allows one to push down the ingredients and keep blending. Using a regular blender might require stopping and starting numerous times, including starting out with some ingredients cut very small, or pre-ground. So, this is what I did:

Thai Green Curry Paste

1 large bunch fresh coriander, stems and all
6 green jalapeno chilies, stemmed and seeded  
2 shallots
5 Tablespoons Gourmet Garden Lemongrass Paste
4 large cloves garlic
1 chunk fresh ginger, about golf ball size, skin left on, cut in smaller chunks
2 whole limes, washed and cut in chunks
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns (white, if available)
3 - 4 tablespoons oil (I used olive; all I had on hand - not very "Thai", I know)
1 tablespoon soy sauce

In a dry skillet over high heat, toast the coriander, cumin and pepper for a few minutes until fragrant. Place into the blender, along with all the rest of the ingredients. Blend, stopping as necessary to stir down ingredients, until the paste is as smooth as possible.

This makes about 2 cups. A good measure is 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons per person for a Thai Curry. Freeze it in portions to have on hand. I made 4 tablespoon (1/4 cup) portions, since there are two of us in the house. I use the little old-fashioned sandwich baggies with a flap, put the paste into one corner, tie a little knot in top and freeze these little portions of anything (Red Curry Paste, leftover tomato paste, etc.) 

For use, in general, heat some oil in a pan and add in the Curry Paste to release flavors, add in coconut milk, vegetables (peppers, zucchini, carrots, peas and/or chicken or shrimp) and cook to desired doneness. Additions might be chicken stock, Thai basil, a pinch of sugar. I will be trying this out in the very near future. The paste also tasted wonderful raw, so it could also make something in a RAW food diet taste marvelous.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.