I have always had a thing for Thai food. The dishes are always colorful, delicious, and have a really interesting combination of flavors. Thai curries tend to be identified rather simply by their color, the common trio being the yellow, green, and (one of my favorites) red. The backbone of the red curry is coconut milk and red curry paste (doesn’t that seem a little circular?), which gives a creamy, but spicy, tomatoey, chili flavor. All of the vegetables you can add to this makes it feel like you’re eating something really healthy, but unfortunately, the coconut milk is kind of an important component that will rain on your healthy-eating parade.
Either way, when you’re in the mood for Asian flavors, if your first impulse is to order Chinese take-out, try this out instead. This dish isn’t quite authentic, but the flavors are still distinctly Thai and this has long been a household favorite. And it’s also my entry in “Weekend Herb Blogging,” hosted this week by Katerina from Daily Unadventures in Cooking.
- 1.5 Tbsp Thai red curry paste (I used storebought–I know, I know! )
- 1 can of coconut milk
- juice from 2 limes (and/or if you have Kaffir lime leaves, which I don’t…)
- 2 Tbsp ginger paste
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 cup of rice wine
- 1/4 cup tarragon
- 1/4 cup cilantro/coriander leaves
- 4 or 5 scallions
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Creole seasoning
- sesame oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- An assortment of optional veggies: (whatever you’ve got/prefer)
- bell pepper
- jalapeño/serrano/cayenne/whatever hot peppers
- water chestnut
- baby corn
- bamboo shoots
First thing’s first, finely mince up your garlic cloves and fry briefly in sesame oil. Set this aside.
Now we’ll take a moment to prepare the sauce. Finely chop up your fresh herbs. There’s three major players: scallions (for a subtle, oniony flavor), tarragon (for a spiced, sweet flavor–traditionally, you would use Thai basil here), and cilantro (for that earthy, citrusy, strong, aromatic element). We’re going to blend these flavors in with the creaminess of coconut milk that is the foundation of many curries along with some more strong, Asian-inspired flavors: ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, and some curry paste (essentially a tomato/onion/chili/shrimp paste). Just mix all of these together in a bowl, pour in your minced garlic, and set this aside.
Cilantro (a.k.a coriander in some parts of the world) is one our herby features for this dish and it seems to be a love it or hate it herb. I personally love it. It has a really strong aroma and you can use the leaves, stems, and seeds, all for varying effects on your dish. It works wonderfully in Mexican, Asian, Middle-eastern, Indian (which I guess is still Asian)–let’s just say its good for a lot of things. And if you grow it yourself, you’ll either love or hate that it attracts various butterfly caterpillars which will chomp it right down to the ground if you let them.
Another big component of Thai food is simple, fresh vegetables. If you’ve never had a Thai curry before, in addition to the protein and the curry itself, there’s a medley of fresh ingredients in there. I listed several that would go well with this dish, but understand that you don’t need to use all of them. I didn’t even come close–I only had a variety of peppers on hand so I just used one red bell, 2 jalapeños, and a handful of serranos from my backyard (click on the thumbnail! I finally grew something edible!) to add some heat. Just use some combination of those ingredients. You want to dice these up in some attractive way that is still bite-sized whether it be julienning the peppers, making slivers of carrots/water chestnuts, or throwing baby corn in as is. Picture eating this dish with chopsticks–if your pieces are not chop stick-friendly, they’re not the right size. You want the veggies to be smallish but easily recognizeable. Set these aside.
Now, last stage of prep: chop your chicken up into bite-sized chunks. Rub on a little bit of creole seasoning and flour. The idea is to give the chicken a little bit of flavor and to give that deliciously fragrant sesame oil a place to hang on to. Then, fry the chicken on medium/medium-high heat in a mixture of both sesame oil and olive oil for about 10 minutes or so (use more sesame oil than olive oil. It adds a great flavor but will burn and dry up quicker, which is why we’re mixing in some olive oil), tossing the chicken periodically to prevent burning. The chicken should get a nice brownish color.
Once the chicken is done frying, pour in the bowl of sauce and simmer on low-medium/medium heat. After about 10 minutes, incorporate your prepped veggies. You want them to still be kind of firm and have some of their own independent flavors by the time you’re done, which is why you don’t throw them in right when you pour in the curry. You’re going to want to cook this for an additional 10-20 minutes, stirring periodically, until the curry has thickened up a bit.
Finally, serve and enjoy! I had mine with some saffron rice (very easy: jasmine rice + a pinch of saffron), but something like pineapple rice or Pad Thai would also pair very nicely.