Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Vegetable Red Curry

a vegan dish

I went to Siem Reap last year and bought a few spices for my kitchen.  There was this packet I picked up which said Red Curry and the shop keeper said it was the basic ingredient of Thai Red Curry Paste but that we needed to add garlic, onion, shrimp paste and fish sauce when the actual cooking happens.  It even came with instructions on a little piece of paper stuck on one side.  I asked if the thing I was holding was vegetarian.  She said, "yes because no shrimp, no fish yet."  She said the same thing for another packet labeled Amok Powder.  I couldn't have been happier putting the packets in my bag and paying a measly dollar for each.

It's now almost the end of February and the Red Curry powder is extinct.  Well, at least in my own kitchen.  I do, however, know how to make red curry without depending on a pre-mixed condiment so I did.  It's not quite as blissful as the real thing but it's pretty close.  Let me teach you how!

vegetable red curry

If you follow these instructions strictly, you will be able to serve:

- 3 people

You will need:
For the Curry Paste: 
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled 
- 1 shallot or one medium red onion, chopped 
- 2 or more chilli peppers (depending on the size and how spicy you want the dish to be), chopped 
- 1 tablespoon of grated ginger 
- ½ teaspoon of salt 
- 1 teaspoon of lime or kalamansi zest 
- 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander leaves (½ teaspoon if using coriander powder) 
- ½ teaspoon of cumin powder 
- ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper 
- 2 tablespoons of grated lemongrass bulb 
- ¼ cup of chopped peeled tomatoes 
- 1 tablespoon of chilli powder (or more if you want it extra spicy) 
- 1 tablespoon of raw muscovado sugar (or a vegan sweetener of your choice) 
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
- 2 tablespoons of fresh lime or kalamansi juice

For the rest of the curry: 
- 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks 
- 350-400 grams of an assortment of vegetables of your choice (in my case, aubergine and luffa) 
- 1 bay leaf (laurel leaf is another term for this)
- a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves 
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
- salt and pepper for seasoning 
- 1 cup of coconut milk or ½ cup of coconut cream 
- 1 tablespoon of mushroom sauce (optional)

Curry up:

1.  To make the curry paste: mix and bash all your paste ingredients using a mortar and pestle.  Spend at least 7 minutes doing this to make sure everything is crushed and ready.  Do it with love or don't do it at all. 
Of course, you may use a food processor or a coffee grinder if you're not skilled or courageous enough to use the traditional sacred tool or if you aren't in possession of it.  This is a quicker option because you only need a couple of pulses and you're done.  30 seconds, maybe.  Don't liquidise it, though.  You want a paste, NOT a purée.
2.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and sauté your vegetables along with the bay leaf for about 30 to 45 seconds. 
If you're a diva like me, use that pan skill to toss the vegetables without using a ladle and show off.  This is best done when people are watching you cook—especially a date you're trying to impress!  Just make sure you don't miss the veggies when they come down after airtime because you're in for a big clean up job that your audience won't likely be glad to help you with.
3.  Add the tomato chunks and sauté for a minute. 
4.  Pour in the red curry paste.  Add the coconut milk or cream to the pan, mix everything well and bring to the boil. 
5.  When it comes to the boil, you have an option to add 1 tablespoon of mushroom sauce.  Whether you add any or not, though, your next step is to pour in ½ cup of water. 
6.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 7 minutes or until the water has reduced considerably and the sauce is thick enough. 
7.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
8.  Turn off the heat, take out the bay leaf and mix in your fresh basil leaves.  If you don't have fresh basil leaves, don't even bother adding anything else.  Dried leaves are absolutely unacceptable!  You hear me?  UN-AC-CEP-TA-BLE!
9.  Serve by itself or with a staple carbohydrate-rich food of your choice:  rice, pasta, couscous, potatoes, chapati, pita, naan, tortilla or whatever else.

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