My son Remy would walk on molten lava for a bowl of red chicken curry. He says he doesn’t like curry and purports to hate coconut, but I don’t need to solve this paradox to benefit from the fact that curry offers great leverage to get kids and adults alike to eat their vegetables.
A good curry allows you to work with whatever’s fresh, and there are almost as many curry recipes around the world as there are vegetables at the farmers market. I like Thai curries because they’re the easiest to make — and the most delicious to taste.
Green curry is pungent, bitter and often the most challenging of the Thai curries. Yellow curry is sweeter and mellower but no less complex, reminiscent of Indian curry due to the turmeric. Red curry has lots of red chilis, coriander and shrimp paste.
Remy has no interest in green or yellow. It seems that some ingredient or combination of ingredients specific to red curry must cancel the element of coconut that so offends him. It shows the power of Thai coconut curry, the flavor of which is built on the interaction between two powerful and opposing forces. On one side, there are concentrations of spices that would be too intense to handle were they not neutralized by the other side, the equally off-the-charts force of rich, creamy, fatty coconut.
Thanks to the availability of spice paste and canned coconut, we can plug in our local veggies and proteins and make homemade curry on the level of what you might eat in Bangkok — an extraordinarily high bar. You could argue it’s more authentic to grate and squeeze out the coconut milk or grind your own spices, but in Thailand, it’s totally normal to use canned coconut, unless it’s a special occasion or you’re living on the beach. They also purchase curry paste at the market from their preferred curry-paste vendor.
The curry paste you can find stateside at your local Asian supermarket is just as authentic, if more mass-produced. While you’re at the store, get a sack of high-end jasmine rice, some boxes of unrefrigerated silken tofu to use as a thickener and a bag of shrimp shumai dumplings for extra fun.
Although there are three colors of Thai curry, as well as countless veggies and proteins available to incorporate, you only need one recipe. Here it is, in the form of red chicken curry with seasonal veggies like potatoes, carrots and onions from last year’s harvest and some fresh herbs and greens of spring, supplemented with Mexican zucchini and bell pepper from my local supermarket.
As with a stir-fry, you should add the vegetables in order of how long they take to cook. Tomatoes, potatoes and winter squash can go in early, while broccoli, zucchini and dumplings go later.
Fry the tofu and chicken pieces in the oil on medium heat. You don’t need to stir them. If they all have a single browned side, it’s fine.
While that’s happening, add the rice to another pot and fill it with water, stirring the rice with your hand to get the starch off, which will make the water cloudy. Change the water and repeat as often as it takes until the water comes out clear. Then add 2 cups of water, so the rice is covered by about ¾ of an inch. With a tight-fitting lid, heat the water on high until it boils, then turn it down to medium for about 10 minutes, until the water is gone and the rice is puffy.
When the chicken and tofu start to brown, add the onions. After about 10 minutes, add a cup of water to loosen the fond and give the whole pan a stir. Add the coconut milk and potatoes.
Bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes. Add the curry paste, sugar and carrots. Simmer for 30 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep it thin and soupy.
Add the zucchini, dumplings, bell pepper and fish sauce. Simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings with fish sauce, soy sauce or salt. Serve garnished with fresh herbs.
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