I promised I’d post something substantial sometime soon (so many “s” words, sorry!) and here it is. New Jersey Thai food. What is this you ask? And how can I trust anything, ESPECIALLY THAI FOOD, from New Jersey? Well because we are the garden state, and Thai curries ALWAYS have a lot of vegetables. And I’m from New Jersey and I know you all trust me COMPLETELY, so it’s really not a giant leap, huh? I thought so.
It all started with me jonesing for Indian food. I have been back in the states for more than a month and have NOT YET EATEN ANY INDIAN FOOD. WHAT!?!? Not for lack of trying though. We attempted right before Christmas in Princeton after seeing the new Sherlock Holmes movie (it was golden by the way, I highly suggest it!) but they were closed for a private party. How dare they! Didn’t they know how long it had been since I had the butterful chewiness of naan bread coated in garlic!?!? Ask Cynthia, I was an inconsolable grumpster. (Really, my apologies mom & dad, there are no excuses for my behavior. But it was really cold that day. Like, wind chill of -5. Just saying.) I digress. The key to all of this is that I’ve been craving curry of ANY SORT for weeks upon weeks. I’d take any I could get. And I won’t speak for anyone else, but I had just spent the past four days stuffing my face with casseroles of various sorts and an amazing fra diavolo Michael’s Uncle prepared for Christmas Eve. I wanted (and let’s face it, severely needed) some unadorned crispy veggies.
So we headed to the farmer’s market for some veggies, but alas, it’s winter and there are only so many veggies to choose from, few of which taste best raw. What’s a hungry girl to do? Thai curry, of course. My ultimate favorite vessel of vegetables. I’m not the best at Indian curries, I’m still learning with them, but a decent Thai curry is simple! Especially if you always have curry paste on hand, and lucky for me, Cynthia does. Although that’s probably because she knows if she has it, I’ll make it ;).
And even better is that you can really use ANY veggies you want for a Thai curry. No, it might not be traditional, but it will be delicious. This time around I made a red curry and added some winter veggies.
Recipe is as follows:
1/4 c. curry paste* (red, green, yellow, whichever you prefer)
1 tbsp chopped Thai red chilies (optional: leave this out if you don’t like spicy food, or de-seed if you don’t like a lot of heat.)
1 can OR one freezer package coconut milk (you can buy the non-fat kind but I’m warning you it just won’t taste as good. You can also use almond milk or soy milk in a pinch, but this should really be full fat as well)
4 or 5 c. chopped veggies (this time I used leeks, cauliflower, celery, sweet potato, red bell peppers, mushrooms, and shredded cabbage)
1 clove garlic, minced (or more if you’re a garlic lover!)
8 oz protein (chicken, extra firm tofu, fish, shrimp/prawns, or a mix)
Peanut or canola oil (do not use olive oil, it burns when used with high heat)
Jasmine or basmati rice (really any white rice will do)
Chop all of your veggies into medium chunks and slices and arrange them in terms of tenderness, least to most. Raw potato, onions, cauliflower, bell peppers, cabbage, then leeks and mushrooms last. You’ll add them at different stages according to how quickly they’ll become al dente. This seems silly, but it saves me a lot of time. Heat a few tbsps of oil in a large skillet or wok over a stove top medium heat. You want the pan to sizzle when you add the garlic and curry paste. If you can’t hear it, it’s not hot enough. Add the garlic, curry paste, and red chilies – hear them sizzle! Watch the paste, you’ll see oils rising up from it after 30 seconds or so OR when you can smell the paste without sticking your nose into the pan :). Turn the heat down to just between medium and low.
In the meantime, start your rice according to the directions on the package. A secret – I was terrible at cooking rice until Mer taught me her secret skillz. Bring the rice and water to a boil and then turn down the heat so it doesn’t over bubble. Keep the lid on (this is important because it helps steam the rice, thanks Mer) and then just LET IT DO IT’S THING!!! I know. Amazing. Something that basically cooks itself. I know you’re going to want to stir it, but resist the urge. I promise it’s for the best. It’ll take 6 or 7 minutes to cook up which is perfect timing for you to finish the curry! You’ll notice the water disappear slowly and little holes where the air bubbles are coming through when it’s done.
Back to the curry. If you’re cooking with raw potatoes and/or tofu, throw them in and let them fry up for 2-3 minutes, every so often stirring the paste/garlic mixture. If not add your coconut milk and stir it until the paste and garlic are incorporated. Bring to a simmer and add your meat if you’re including it (chicken, shrimp, or fish). Now you add your veggies according to how well-done you like them. I don’t like mushy veggies in my curries, I like them to still be partially crisp, so I add the really crisp veggies (cauliflower, onions, cabbage, celery) in about one minute after the meat goes in. After another minute turn the heat down a bit and slowly add your softer veggies (red peppers, mushrooms, and leeks). Cook for one to two minutes, check the meat to make sure it’s fully cooked (it really should be but just double check) AND YOU’RE DONE! Your rice should now be perfectly cooked. Tilt the pan a little to see if you have any water left in the bottom and if so let it cook a bit longer. Otherwise, dish that up and nom nom nom! And guess what – it’s just as good leftover (I’ve had it for lunch twice now).
*Curry paste is a fickle thing. You can find it in jars at Giant or elsewhere by Taste of Thai or Thai kitchen. These are the worst curry pastes I’ve had. They’re not nearly as powerful as the kind you can find in your specialty Asian food stores. The best kind is the brand Maesri, and they come in little cans, like a small can of tuna fish. So good. And they’re much much cheaper than the Thai kitchen kinds. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous you can make your own, there are a million recipes out there for it, but trust me, it involves a million obscure ingredients. And for those of you in DC Metro region, Balducci’s carries the Maesri brand! Woo!
Ok, we’ve spoken of New Jersey Thai food – now to discuss this dessert I made for Christmas Day. It’s a lemon gingerbread trifle, and I totally stole it from Bobby Flay. I made it once in April for Mer’s birthday, and once for Easter. It certainly wasn’t the appropriate season for gingerbread, but Bobby Flay shouldn’t have made it sound so delicious. Apparently it was a hit because Cynthia asked me to make it for Christmas! His recipe is here, but I just use a box of Bob’s Redmill gingerbread mix instead of baking it from scratch. I’ve actually done both, and what I’ll tell you is that his gingerbread recipe is really delicious, but sort of hidden by the lemon whipped cream layers and blackberry sauce. I would make his recipe if I was planning on just eating straight up gingerbread. Also, if you can’t find blackberries, you can cook down some blackberry seedless spread. It’s basically cubes of gingerbread, layered with whipped cream that has been mixed with lemon curd, and then drizzled with blackberry sauce, repeated three times. So easy. You can doctor the gingerbread cake too, adding a little bit more molasses and fresh grated ginger before baking.
And then, follow Libby’s advice and take a big snooze after!
Anyway, figured I’d add a bit of healthy and a bit of not so much to your holiday season. If you’re like me and totally sick of any kind of casserole at this point, Thai food is a great remedy. And if you have Indian food instead, and you haven’t brought me some, we’re no longer friends you jerk.