I love Thai food, but I’ve always shied away from it. I’m not sure why really–something about it just scared me. It seems like a cuisine where the preparation is fairly simple, so the quality of ingredients and attention to detail becomes that much more important if you’re to have a convincingly good result (like sushi). I don’t really base this on anything in particular, but I finally decided to take the plunge. Does it have anything to do with a recent meal of green curry I had? Or the fact that I finally encountered lemongrass at the grocery store? Whatever the case, I’ve tried my hand at a Thai green curry with plenty of veggies and beef, and I’m very glad I did.
The outcome was excellent–the curry had an intense and intriguing flavor. It was close, but not 100% authentic since I had to make a few substitutions (e.g. zest and juice of lime rather than Kaffir lime leaves, Mediterranean basil instead of Thai basil), but it was close enough to hit the spot for me. If you’ve never had a green curry before, its a curry of balance. The curry is somewhat soupy in texture and a delicate balance of heat, sweet, sour, salt, and creaminess that comes together for a really unique flavor. The curry itself is loaded with a medley of vegetables and protein of varying texture and flavor–tender, velvety bits of eggplant and mushrooms in contrast to the crisp, crunchy, piquancy of a few fiery chilis. A good mouthful of the stuff gives you a mix of sharp, bright flavors on top of earthy, meaty components, all with a foundation of a curry that just tastes incredibly fresh and vibrant–something easily matched by the visual appearance of the dish, which is equally enticing.
An important element behind the curry is a good curry paste (just like in many Indian dishes–the key difference being that this paste is from wet/fresh ingredients compared to many Indian pastes which focus more largely on dry spices). You can always buy premade pastes, but honestly, this is the make or break part of the dish and its incredibly simple: you throw things in a blender/food processor. You’ll have extra paste, and that’s great–you can simply throw it in the freezer and be set for a quick dinner another day. I’ll show you another extra way to use this particular curry paste in a later post.
- 4 Tbsp of Green curry paste (you’ll have extra)
- 15 green chilies (the spicier, the better)
- 3 shallots
- 9 cloves garlic
- 1 inch knob of ginger
- 1 stalk fresh lemon grass
- zest and juice of 2 limes
- stems from a good handful of cilantro
- 5 whole peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil (peanut/vegetable/canola)
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- ~21 oz coconut milk (1.5 cans)
- ~1.5 lbs sirloin
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 can bamboo shoots
- 1.5 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 smallish Thai/Japanese eggplants
- ~8 oz oyster mushrooms
- 1 carrot
- 2 cups sugarsnaps
- 1 red bell
- 3 fresno chilies
- 1/4 cup basil
Begin by preparing the curry paste. Peel and coarsely chop the vegetables going into the paste and throw them into a food processor.
Whiz until fairly uniform in texture and set this aside. You’ll only need 4 tablespoons for this recipe, so hang onto the leftover paste for another day (or some other use). You can (and probably should) freeze it, too.
With the curry paste ready, prepare all of the vegetables that will go into the curry. Coarsely chop the lemongrass (~1 inch strips) and bruise it with the back of your knife. Zest the lime, chop the eggplant and mushrooms into slightly-larger-than-bite-sized pieces, cut the carrot into thin strips, and julienne the bell pepper. Cut the chiles cross-wise to get rings, peel the little stringy bit off of the sugarsnaps, and chiffonade the basil. Finally, slice the beef thinly.
Now, time to get cooking. In a large pot, warm up the oil and then sauté the green curry paste and lemongrass over medium heat until nice and fragrant (figure 3 minutes or so). Then, reduce the heat a notch and add 1/2 of the coconut milk in smallish (e.g. 1/4 cup) amounts. Stir the contents of the pot, stir/deglaze, and once the mixture begins to bubble a bit, add more coconut milk. The idea here is to tease as much flavor out of the curry paste as you can.
Add the thinly sliced beef and lime (zest and juice) to the pot. Continue cooking for roughly 3 minutes–the beef should cook through. Raise to medium heat and continue to cook until boiling.
Once boiling, add the remaining coconut milk, bamboo shoots, and season with both sugar and oyster sauce. When this returns to boiling, add the eggplant, carrot, and mushrooms. Be gentle with your stirring from here on out since you don’t want to mush up the eggplant and mushrooms (which will become fairly delicate and tender). At this point, you should only cook until the eggplants are done, which should be around 15-20 minutes. Ten minutes in, you should add the sugarsnaps.
In the last minute or two of cooking, throw in the peppers and basil. If you can find the lemongrass chunks, remove them. Finally, kill the heat, scoop a generous amount of coconut/jasmine rice on your plate, and help yourself to some curry. Enjoy!