By Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, LLCC
It was recently National Curry Week, and since I mentioned it before, I’d like to share more with you today. Curry dates back over 4,000 years ago. Writings of using a mortar and pestle to grind spices appear in the oldest known Roman cookbook detailing the use of spices and fresh herbs to flavor meat and vegetables.
India and Southeast Asia are home to various kinds of curry, and there are hundreds of styles. Curry powders are most common in India and readily available in grocery stores. Curry pastes are most often used in Southeast Asia and are my favorite. Over the centuries curry has evolved into distinct flavors and aromas and with the introduction of chili peppers from the Western world they have become what we are more familiar with today.
Powders are made from ground, aromatic spices such as cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, black pepper and turmeric which gives traditional Indian curry its distinctive yellow color. Pastes are made from fresh herbs, peppers and rhizomes like ginger and galangal. Some other ingredients are more exotic and floral. Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are extremely fragrant and gives Thai curry its strong, bright flavor.
Curry leaves are another ingredient used, and its sweet and bitter flavor tones make rice taste rich and bold. Most stores stock powder and paste of one variety or another, but if you are looking for that authentic flavor then you must venture to an Asian or Indian market – and there are several in town. My “go-to” brand of curry paste is Mae Ploy. Here is my recipe for Thai green curry with coconut milk and basmati rice. Be sure to crack your windows and turn on the fan as searing the paste in hot oil creates a lot of eye-burning, fragrant smoke, but is a necessary step to awaken the aromatics in the paste.
Thai Green Curry with Beef (Gaeng Kiaw Wan Neua)
1 pound beef sirloin
1 TBS cooking oil
3 TBS green curry paste
3” piece of lemongrass, pounded
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 thumb of fresh ginger, smashed
2 kaffir lime leaves (these are in the freezer of most Asian markets)
2-3 fresh red spur chilies, or serrano chilies
1/4 cup sweet basil leaf (Thai basil is the best)
2 cans coconut milk plus 1 can water
3 cups assorted vegetables, sliced thin – celery is not often used in curry as it is too bold
1 1/2 TBS fish sauce
Sweet basil leaves and red chili slices for garnish
Slice the beef into thin pieces, about 1/3″ thick.
Sauté the green curry paste, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, ginger and peppers in oil over medium heat in a wok or large sauté pan until fragrant, reduce the heat, gradually add the coconut milk, water and fish sauce a little at a time, and stir until a film of green oil surfaces.
NOTE: garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chilies and kaffir lime leaves are already in the curry paste and not necessary for this recipe, but they really make for an authentic flavor!
Add the beef to a large sauce pot and strain the curry sauce over the meat. Bring the meat and curry sauce to a simmer and cook 3 minutes. Add the vegetables and simmer for another 3 minutes. Garnish and serve with rice.
Ginger Cashew Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1 can coconut milk
1 can water
¼ cup fish sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1” cube minced ginger
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 cup lightly crushed and toasted cashews
Place all but scallions and cashews into rice cooker and set to cook. When done allow to sit for 5 minutes and then carefully remove lid, don’t let the steam get you, and stir in cashews and scallions, serve immediately.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, use a large pot. Bring the rice and other ingredients to a boil, turn to low and cover tightly for 15 minutes. Stir in cashews and scallions, serve immediately.
Tips: Shake the cans of coconut milk before opening to loosen up the solids that settle in the bottom. Also, take note of the can – some cans are narrower at the top to allow for stacking on a shelf. If this is the case it is much easier to open the can from the bottom. This recipe works great with chicken, pork tenderloin and seafood. To make vegan, omit the beef (obviously), add more veggies and substitute vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce. If you like very hot double the curry paste.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.