Thursday, April 7, 2011

Curry for (my) Company

Recently I had the opportunity to make a curry dinner for a friend who had never tried curry previously.  She liked it and suggested that I blog about it.  I took pictures of the meal in progress, but you will just have to use your imagination for the preparation stage.

Firstly, you may be asking, "What is curry?"  From Wikipedia,
Curry (play /ˈkʌri/) is a generic description used throughout Western culture to describe a variety of spiced dishes, especially from Pakistani, Indian or other South Asian cuisines. Three spices found in most curry powders are turmeric, coriander, and cumin; a wide range of additional spices may be included depending on the geographic region and the foods being included (meats, fish, lentils, rice, etc.).[1] The word "curry" is analogous to "soup" or "stew" in that there is no particular ingredient that makes something "curry."
As you might guess from that description, the possibilities for flavors and combinations of ingredients in curries is practically endless!

For this particular dish, I started with a green curry paste made by Mae Ploy.  They also make red and yellow.  The ingredients are:
  • green chili
  • lemongrass
  • garlic
  • salt
  • galangal (I had to look this up; it is related to ginger, but with a different flavor)
  • shrimp paste (shrimp, salt)
  • kaffir lime peel
  • coriander seed
  • pepper
  • cumin
  • turmeric
I looked at the online prices for this 14 oz container and they range from $2.31 to $5.19.  I paid $2.50 at an authentic Asian grocery store.  If you are at all interested in cooking Asian foods and trying something new, I recommend locating an Asian or other specialty ethnic store (oftentimes one kind will carry food from other cultures in addition to their own) near you.  They are a delight to the senses to wander through, and you should pick up something new to try!  Many have fresh produce in addition to their dry, canned, and frozen selection.

I like to follow recipes, at least the first time I try something new, but I'm not afraid to change things up a bit, to suit my tastes of the moment or what I have on hand.  The basic recipe on the curry container follows. 
  • Stir-fry 50 g ( 1/4 cup) of Green Curry Paste in 1 tbsp soybean oil (I avoid soy, except for soy sauce, and prefer olive or coconut), then add 1 cup (240 ml) of coconut milk.
  • Add 200 g (≈ 1/2 lb) of fresh meat and keep cooking.
  • Add another 1/2 cup (120 ml) of coconut milk and 1/2 cup (120 ml) water, heat until boiling.
  • Add 100 g ( 1/4 lb, or a little over 1/2 cup)vegetables and cook until the vegetables soften.
  • Add 1 1/2 tsp sugar.  Taste and season as required.  (I don't even remember reading this step until now!)
Suggestion: For a milder flavor, half portion of the curry paste should be used.  (I agree with this!  If you are new to curries or just aren't sure about spicy foods, then definitely use less curry paste and work your way up to full-strength!)

For measurement conversions, Google is my friend!  Gram is a weight measurement, but most cooks don't employ the use of a scale in their kitchen.  Recipe Goldmine has conversions for common baking ingredient, but for this I used Online Conversion and cook az.  You need to know the approximate density of the food if it isn't on their list.  For example, curry paste is, not surprisingly, not on their list, so I went with peanut butter.

(Now, right here I had more typed, but my little man-cub decided to close my computer, and apparently not everything I had typed was saved.  Drat!  So, to start over...)

I started by putting a glug of olive oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat.  It was probably a bit more than 1 tablespoon, but why dirty a spoon over something like this, right?  This curry paste comes in a plastic bag inside the container, so I simply cut a corner off and squeeze out however much I want, which in this instance was about 1/4 cup (but remember my suggestion to use less unless you are prepared for mega flavor!)

Most Americans are used to adding seasonings partway through the cooking process.  However, in many cultures the spices are the heart of the dish, so they are added first.  Heating them releases their scent and flavor, and adding it to the oil helps it blend throughout the rest of the ingredients.

 After the curry smell starts filling the air (and your nostrils), add about 2/3 of a can of coconut milk to the pan (I always have a taste off the spoon, too - yum!)  When it is heated, I added the meat: I cut up two chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.  You can use any meat you want, though, or even go meatless if that's the way you roll.

When the meat is cooked, add the rest of the coconut milk and some more liquid.  I prefer to use my homemade chicken stock for extra flavor.  I also use more than 1/2 cup because I like to add more vegetables than the recipe calls for, and you need to make sure there's plenty of liquid in the pan to cook the vegetables without them sticking.  (I have even made curry soup by putting a LOT of extra liquid in the pan.)

This particular meal I cut up a small zucchini, a small yellow crookneck squash, an onion, a potato, some grated carrot, chopped mushrooms, and tomato.  You can really use any vegetables you have on hand, such as bell peppers, cabbage, and even fruit like apples!  Use your imagination!

I like to put curry over rice, so I had a pot of white rice cooking while I prepared the curry.  I have grown very fond of my rice cooker, but it's actually very easy to cook in a pan on the stove top.  Simply rinse your rice a couple times, and the cover the rice with about an inch of water (or more chicken broth!) An easy way to measure that is to put your finger into the rice and measure from the top of the rice to the top of the liquid the same distance as between two knuckles.  Put the pan on high, and once it starts boiling put a tight lid on (preferably clear) and reduce to low so it simmers.  It will only take about 15 minutes to cook, so be sure to check it or you might end up with rice stuck to the bottom of your pan.

As I said at the beginning, I had already started eating before I thought to take pictures, so here is my plate partway through the meal.

I hope that if you try this sometime you will tell me how it turned out, if you liked it, and what you did to make it your own special recipe.

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