Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thai green & red curries

Dear foodies,

I started off this month by preparing the fresh curry pastes and I am ending it now by using them in these splendid curries. I made three pastes with the limited amount of lemon grass I had - Red curry, Green curry and penang curry paste, all three based on the recipes on the Jugalbandit's blog. I had underestimated the potency of the home made pastes since I already loved the results from the store bought ones. Not any more, I am wiser now! Homemade pastes are very fragrant and you can smell the freshness they add to the dishes. And they surely are healthier since you get to control and customize the ingredients that go into them. Spend a couple of hours laboring over them and they will serve you for many many meals. So if the numerous posts that spring up on blogs this month hasn't yet tempted you into trying them, I urge you yet again :)

Thai red curry - Namprik Gaeng Daeng
While making the curry pastes the substitutions I made were - Indian red chillies for the New mexico chillies; lime zest for kaffir lime leaves and miso paste for the fermented bean curd; tender coriander stems for coriander roots. I was lucky to find frozen stalks of lemon grass and galangal root. You could substitute the former with additional lime juice and latter with ginger and lime zest/juice. Since I had just 4 stalks of lemon grass I made almost 1/3 portions of all three recipes so I could try the different flavor combinations.
For most thai curries, you start by cooking the paste in oil for a couple of minutes to cook out the rawness. Coconut milk along with the protein and veggies go in next based on their cooking time, the longest going in first. Soy sauce and palm sugar/jaggery are added to taste later on. Finally add in some freshly torn basil leaves for garnish and an additional boost of flavor. Serve with cooked thai jasmine rice. Kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass stalks can be simmered along with the rest of the ingredients, if available, to up the flavors a little more.
I made both of these curries on the same night so I had nearly the same set of veggies in both the curries, only the ratio of ingredients varied. For the red curry I used more of green bell peppers and the carrots, broccoli, snow peas, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mung bean sprouts and green bell pepper in relatively lesser quantities. My red curry paste was a lot milder, it could have been due to the chillies I used. So next time I might double to number of chillies if I use the ones I have at home. I did not get the signature deep red color (like the store bought one in the header has) either, it probably also got diluted in the curry since I used lite coconut milk. (Red curry paste recipe)

Thai green curry - Gaeng Keow Wan
The green curry, which was spicier of the two, got the bulk of the red bell pepper & carrots for sweetness. I added tofu (extra firm) only to the red curry, but you could use it in either of them. When I am better planned, I also coat the tofu chunks with a little oil and broil them in the oven for 5-6 mins turning them once in between so they brown on all sides. This helps them hold their shape and also adds a little texture to them. (Green curry paste recipe)

And jasmine rice is a perfect accompaniment to these fragrant curries, its the only one that can give any kind of competition to the potent curry pastes :)) You could surely pair these with the nutty brown rice too. Both, my brother and I, liked the green curry more since the flavors were more pronounced in it. I might add red pepper flakes while using my red curry paste the next time I use it. As you can see, the robust curry pastes can carry many vegetables with ease and make them enjoyable, and even addictive! I have enough of each curry paste to last me 3-4 more meals, so I am a happy camper :) Give them a try and let me know how you like them, these will go into the IAVW-Thai treasure chest.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I will be doing the round-up over the weekend, and so if you have any recipes lined up, send them to me by Saturday night. Non-bloggers are welcome to send in entries too, I will try and post your recipes before I do the round-up post with due credit for your efforts :) The fabulous round-up is coming up next, so be sure to come back, have a splendid weekend until then!

Oooh! and my entry to Click -Spring/Autumn
Diced melon, mango & strawberries doused in yogurt-maple syrup-lemon zest dressing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thai style chickpeas & fried rice

Dear foodies,

I've made thai curries and noodles at home, but it was always using the store bought pastes. So this month, with the pretext of being the host I pushed myself to make the curry pastes at home. Apart from those, I also wanted to look for the recipes that I wasn't familiar with. Going by the fact that a mere 10-15% of Indian food gets showcased in restaurants, I knew that thai food too would have many gems waiting to be uncovered. Looking at the various entries coming in, its clear that many of you also did the same too, and tried newer dishes in your kitchens. It was also surprising to see the diversity and cultural influence each country has on another. There were salsa's that I only thought existed in Mexican food, the spring rolls that we usually attach to Chinese food and our very own samosa's being a popular Thai street food.

While flipping through recipes in Vatcharin Bhumichitr's 'Thai vegetarian cooking', a recipe for chickpea curry caught my eye. I love chickpeas in all their forms - plainly cooked as a flavor packed sundal, or a spice filled choley, a tangy chaat or tikki, toasted up as a cricpy snack or pureed into a hummus, its versatile and enjoyable in every preparation. And a Thai inspired dish can surely not be left out without a warm welcome into my kitchen.

The book mentions that this recipe comes from a Buddhist monastery located West of the capital city, Bangkok. The monks in the temple follow a vegetarian diet and so include a lot of beans and tofu to add protein to their meal. Simmered with fragrant cilantro and potent garlic in a mild coconut sauce, spiced with peppercorns and hints of basil, this is a recipe you must add to your repertoire. I made slight changes to the recipe, it also called for potatoes but I skipped them. And this curry tastes better the longer it sits.
Thai style Chickpea curry
(Gaeng Kari Tua)
  • 1 cup - Chickpeas, canned or pre-soaked and cooked dry beans
  • 2 nos - Tomatoes, medium sized
  • 1 tbsp - Cilantro roots, finely chopped (I used the tender stems instead)
  • 1 tsp - Garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 -1 tsp - Peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 tsp - Curry powder/garam masala
  • 3/4 cup - Coconut milk - I used the lite version
  • 1 Tbsp - Tamari, low sodium
  • 6-8 nos - Basil leaves, lightly torn
  • 3/4 Tbsp - Oil
  • 1 tsp - Sugar
  • Salt to taste
Method :
  1. Mince together the cilantro stems and garlic, add the coarsely ground peppercorns to this and pound together. Heat oil in a pan, add the fry this paste for a couple of minutes on medium heat.
  2. Add coconut milk and stir well to incorporate the paste. Add all the remaining ingredients to this and simmer for ~10-13 mins until the chickpeas soak up all the flavors and become tender. Garnish with a few more basil leaves and serve warm with jasmine rice.
This curry is so easy to put together and tastes fabulous. It even beats my quick choley, with no onions to chop and no'cook-onion-tomato-until-oil-separates' step! Since it uses minimal ingredients, all of them shine through and you see what each one adds to the dish. The only heat in this recipe comes from the peppercorns and the subtle basil leaves taste lovely in this dish. I had this with quinoa instead of rice and it tasted just as good or even better :)

I also made this fantastic fried rice a couple of nights back. A few weekends back I took on the task of preparing the curry pastes at home, I referred to a bunch of recipes, but mainly used the recipes given by the Jugalbandits. I used the penang curry paste in this fried rice since it was the milder of the curry pastes I made. Fried rice I think is one of those dishes that has as many recipes as there are cooks. Each one is unique in its own way, but the one thing they have in common is flavor and short cooking times, and this one is no exception :)
Thai Basil fried rice
(Khao Pad Krapow)
  • 1.5 cups - Rice, cooked and cooled
  • 1/4 cup - Green bell peppers, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup - Carrot, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup - Tofu, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup - whole Moong bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup - Snow peas, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp - Red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp - Turmeric
  • 1 tsp - Penang curry paste
  • 1 tsp - Tamari, low-sodium
  • 1 tsp - Sugar
  • 10-12 nos - Basil leaves, thinly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp - Oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat oil in a wok and 1/2 the basil leaves, red pepper flakes and garlic to the cold oil. As it heats up the oil will absorb the flavor of the two ingredients. Be careful to not burn them though :)
  2. Next add the turmeric, diced bell peppers, carrots, sprouts and curry paste. Cook on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile blanch the snow peas, in a microwave safe bowl, add enough water to cover the chopped snow peas, a few pinches of salt and cook for 2 mins. Let it sit in the warm water for a few more minutes then drain then under running cold water.
  3. Add soy sauce, sugar, drained snow peas and the cooled rice to the wok. Toss well to blend all the ingredients without breaking the rice grains in the process. Garnish with the other half of the basil leaves, and taste to adjust seasonings before serving it warm.
This was a very flavorful rice, I made it when my brother was here this weekend and he enjoyed it too. The fresh curry paste adds a lot of fragrance, flavor and freshness to the rice. The best part is you can add a ton of veggies and it will taste fab in this dish. I had made some potstickers that night and added a couple of spoonfuls of leftover filling to the rice. I had used the same set of veggies along with some crumbled tofu to fill them and so they gelled well with the flavors in the fried rice. The basil I used on both these dishes came from my tiny patio garden. After killing the first plant, I got another one and its been doing great so far, been more than week, yippieee :D

So there you go, two flavor packed, quick dishes in one long post because I was lazy to do them separately. These ofcourse go to IAVW - Thai that I am hosting this month for Vaishali. I will be doing the round-up over the weekend and so if you have any recipes in the pipeline, send them to me by Saturday and I will include them in the final post.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spring is almost here...

Dear foodies,

Spring is finally getting close, yes, it officially started a few weeks back, but I don't see it in the temperatures yet :D I do see tiny blossoms on every tree branch and new leaves popping out everywhere though. The bright green color of the new leaves and lush green on the grass instantaneously brightens up my mood too. The vegetable section at the the store is also seeing springs' bounty coming in. Tart strawberries, supple tomatoes, tender asparagus, fragrant herbs, new potatoes and a lot more fresh produce is getting stacked onto the shelves. The temperatures are slowly going up, but the nights are still cold. So there's still some time left for making a pot of hearty soup or roasted vegetables for dinner and ofcourse, the quintessential hot cup of masala chai or filter kaapi in the evenings.

spring garden
I planted some methi and bought a pot of basil and rosemary to start off my spring garden. Last year it was only flowers and so this year I thought I'll make it a herb garden. The basil though is shriveling up, I may have to buy another one and give my brown thumb another chance :( On the other hand, the rosemary plant is thriving and the methi has a few more weeks before it gets into the kitchen :)

Like the saying 'April showers bring May flowers' the last few days have been overcast and its been raining all through the day. I made some hearty lentil soup for dinner tonight going with the mood. The recipe is very similar to the one I made earlier. I made it all in one pot this time, by sauteing the veggies on low heat for sometime and then adding the lentils along with water. Instead of the bay leaves I used 2 tsp of chopped rosemary from *my garden*, tomato paste instead of the fresh ones, and threw in a few pearl onions too. Another change I made this time was to add 2/3rd portion of the lentils first, and when they were half way through I added the rest 1/3rd and cooked covered for 20mins on medium heat. So in the end you have the creaminess from the initial batch and a little texture from the final 1/3rd. I also added a handful of arugula at the very end so it could wilt in the residual heat from the soup.

I hope all of you have your Thai dishes planned out, you have just 8 more days to send them over.

Carrying on the Earth theme all through April, which is Earth month, today is celebrated as Earth day in many places. It was started to create awareness and urge everyone to think about the planet we live in. In Ohio, we have a 'Lights out Ohio' program that urges everyone to turn off the lights for one hour anytime during the day, and also to start putting in place energy conservation acts that will continue to save energy every single day, be it at home, schools, workplace, shopping areas or industries. Look for similar events in your area, or start one in your own little space :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fresh spring rolls & citrusy dipping sauce

Dear foodies,

So all of you have your dipping sauces ready right ? Good. Last week, I was going through those Thai cookbooks, I browsed through the appetizers & snacks section too. There were a variety of offerings, from steamed dumplings and lettuce rolls to deep fried spring rolls and even samosa's, inspired by the Indian snack. Thai spring rolls are filled with noodles, veggies, shrimp/meat and rolled in rice wrappers and deep fried. The moment I saw the title spring roll, for some reason fresh spring rolls came to my mind. I know, there must be something wrong with the wiring in my brain! And no matter how many times I saw the word ' deep fried' in the end of the recipe, my mind had decided it was going to be fresh rolls. So I used similar ingredients for the fillings and made these fresh rolls that seem to perfectly compliment the spring time that's blossoming around me. And to my credit, an online search did result in some hits for 'fresh Thai spring rolls' ;)
Before we get started with the rolls though, I made a quick sauce to drizzle over the rolls. Its a very simple citrusy sauce that perks up your taste buds and is very refreshing with the spring rolls. I meant to make this post earlier, but I could not find the source for this recipe :( I jotted down the recipe in my book, but did not note down where I got it from :( I will continue looking for it and update this post once I track it down, promise!
For the dipping sauce, mix together -
  • 1 nos - Thai bird chili, minced
  • 1/4 tsp - Salt
  • 1/2 tsp - Jaggery/ Palm sugar
  • 1/4 cup - Orange juice
  • 1/4 cup - Lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp - Peanuts, dry roasted & skinned
Fresh spring rolls are part of Vietnamese cuisine. They need almost no cooking and can be the perfect platform to showcase fresh vegetables. You can serve them as an appetizer/snack, but with a combination of vegetables & protein they can easily stand on their own for a light meal. The cellophane noodles used in this recipe have the shortest ingredient list - mung bean starch and water. They are also called glass noodles or bean thread noodles. You should be able to find them in the Asian foods section in the grocery store. They need to be soaked in warm water to soften up, same is the case with the rice roll wrappers, no other cooking involved.

The choice of filling for these spring rolls is limited only by your imagination. You can include veggies, a protein, herbs, seasonings/dressings. I used carrots, savoy cabbage, red & purple radishes and asparagus. Other options could be mung bean sprouts, cucumber, blanched broccoli, avocado, lettuce, spinach or any other greens of your choice.
Fresh Spring rolls
  • Rice roll wrappers
Filling: the quantities for each are dictated by how much of it you like in the spring roll.
  • Extra firm tofu - cut into matchsticks
  • Cellophane noodles - soaked in warm water for 8-10mins
  • Carrots, cut into match sticks
  • Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced/shredded
  • Red/purple radishes, sliced thinly
  • Asparagus
  • Cilantro/mint, chives/scallions & Basil leaves
  • Peanuts, dry roasted and skinned
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • dipping sauce
  1. Grease a baking sheet with some oil, and coat the tofu matchsticks with the same. Broil on 'low' for 5-7mins until the outer layer starts to blister and has brown spots. If using asparagus, bring some water to a boil, salt it and blanch the asparagus for 1-2mins. Prep the rest of your veggies and have them ready to go, the dipping sauces too.
  2. Fill a shallow vessel, wide enough to hold the rice roll wrappers, with some warm water. You will be dipping your hands in it, so don't make it too hot :-) I work on one roll at a time. Soak the wrapper in water, depending on how warm the water is and the thickness of the wrapper it might take 30sec to 1min to soften and become flexible. A little longer and they will turn to a mush.
  3. Place it on your work surface, layer the filling, horizontally, on the bottom 1/3 rd portion of the circular wrapper, leaving just enough wrapper area to fold it over the filling. Don't overdo the filling, use a couple of pieces of each and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Top with fresh herbs, peanuts and dipping sauce. I alternated between the grilled salsa, peanut sauce and the one above. Fold the bottom part of the wrapper over the filling, roll it once, and fold over the left & right portions of the wrapper onto it. Holding the filling tightly together, roll it till you reach the end of the wrapper. Try to remove as much air as possible while rolling, it makes it easier to eat.
  4. Repeat the steps to make as many rolls as needed and line them up with a little room between each other so they don't end up sticking to each other.
I am sure you will mess up the first wrapper while soaking it ( a few more for me :-P) but, once you get the hang of it, nothing can be easier. For a wrapper that thin, they are pretty sturdy and can be easily filled and rolled. Its so much fun to play around with flavors and fillings for these rolls. I can surely say you will make them often after the first time, there is no real recipe here, so you cannot really dislike it! Keep experimenting till you find the one you like, and then... move on to the next combination :) The citrusy dipping sauce brightens the flavor of the veggies. The slight heat from the grilled salsa, crunch from the veggies and peanuts, and protein from the tofu and noodles make these a complete package. Oh, and did I mention its healthy ?!

P.S: Puthandu nalvazhthukkal to all the Tamilians reading this, Happy Vishu, and Happy New year to everyone else welcoming a new year today :-) Have a wonderful day all!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Dip, dip...dip - Thai dips/sauces

Dear foodies,

Thai cuisine faces the same misconception that Indian cuisine faces outside of its land, both are popularly thought of to be a single cuisine. Once you start looking closely though, and reading recipes you realize there are clear distinctions between the cuisines of each region. Thai cuisine can be divided into the food from the North, Northeast, Central and Southern regions of country. The food in each of these regions is influenced by its neighbors, the local produce and climate conditions. Today I am going to give you recipes for a couple of dips & sauces, with one of them coming from the Northeastern region of Thailand.

The food of the Northeast is known to lean more towards hot, salty & sour flavors and is influenced by the cuisine of Laos. They tend incorporate many condiments into their meals, be it rice & curries or roasted meat dishes. One such relish that I found in the book, A taste of the Far East by Madhur Jaffrey, is a Grilled Chilli and Tomato relish. It looks similar to a Mexican salsa but uses a different flavor combination. I started off with the basic recipe given in the book but added a few more ingredients as I went along making it. I've highlighted the changes I made, so you can follow the original recipe too.

Grilled Chilli and Tomato relish
(from Northeast Thailand)
  • 3 nos - fresh, hot Green chillies or a combination of fresh red & green chillies
  • 3 nos - Shallots, cut in chunks
  • 5-6 - Cherry tomatoes
  • *2 Tbsp - Spring onions, chopped
  • *1 Tbsp - Chives, chopped
  • 2-3 tsp - Lime juice
  • 2-3 Tsp - Soy sauce
  • *2-3 - Basil leaves, roughly torn
  • Salt to taste - I used low sodium Tamari and so needed the extra salt.
  1. Set the oven on broil, spread the chillies, chopped shallots and cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil for 5-6 mins. You could also do this on a grill or open flame. Be really careful with the chillies though when you do that. The fumes of the chili can get really strong, based on which kind you are using. Have the air vents in the kitchen open and be really cautious.
  2. Once they get a light char around the edges, transfer the chillies & onions to a mortar & pestle and pound together, next add the cherry tomatoes and blend to get a chunky consistency. You could also give them a rough chop before using the mortar.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and check for seasonings before serving.
Note: The ingredients with a '*' next to them are my additions to the recipe.
This is a flavor packed relish and you can adjust the heat by controlling the amount of chillies in it. I was overly ambitious and used half a tiny habanero :D It was a really hot, well, its known to be one of the hottest in the world, so no surprises there, duhh! The heat kicks in only after you are done chewing and you feel it in your throat. You guys can choose to be sane and use regular chillies instead :D Serve it with a thai meal, or with chips like you would any other salsa or....something more special ;-)

After the fresh salsa, I tried another one that is made from an ingredient that most pantry's have, Peanuts. I absolutely love peanuts and will eat them in any form. The inspiration for this sauce was drawn from many recipes, I looked at so many different versions online and finally ended up making a combination of them.
Chunky Peanut dipping sauce - Thai style
  • 3 Tbsp - Peanuts, dry roasted & skinned
  • 4 Tbsp - Water
  • 2 tsp - toasted Sesame oil
  • 2 tsp - Soy sauce
  • 2 tsp - Jaggery /palm sugar
  • 1 tsp - Tamarind extract
  • 1 tsp - Chilli sauce
  • 1/2 tsp - Red curry paste - or more chilli paste
  • 1/4 tsp - Galangal, chopped (use ginger+lime juice as a substitute)
  • 1-2 tsp - Lime juice
  • Salt to taste - again, I used low sodium tamari.
  1. Place all the ingredients (except the lime juice) in a blender or mortar & pestle and blend to get a coarse consistency. Finally add the lime juice to balance out the flavors. It tends to reduce the saltiness of the recipe so check for seasonings before serving. You can use more water to thin out the sauce if needed.
This is a very versatile recipe that you can play with to highlight the flavors of your liking. The peanuts give a creamy chunky texture and are a perfect base to play with the rest of the ingredients. The sauce can be used as salad dressing, or as a dip for vegetables, I could eat it on its own by the spoonfuls :) There are soo many flavors playing different roles, and still in perfect harmony with each other in this sauce, and you will not get tired of it.

I made one more sauce, but I'm going to save it for a later post, okay ? Okay. Are you curious to see what I made to dip into these flavor packed sauces though? Here's a peak...

fresh spring rolls...
The recipe is coming up next, so have your dips and sauces ready by then :-) Off this goes to the event I am hosting, IAVW-Thai, originally started by Vaishali.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What's cooking ?

Dear foodies,

Tea spiced with lemon grass stalks
All of last week I was looking for local stores where I could buy some of the essential ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, thai chillies, make thai curry pastes at home. I've been partially successful at it. I've also been bookmarking many recipes online, going through books borrowed from the library and, for a change using a pen and paper to keep track of the recipes & ingredients. My handwriting is definitely not the best and I don't want to loose touch and make it completely illegible! [now you know why the writing is completely blurred out in the pic :D]

Today, all I've been doing is prepping for the curry pastes. Here's what kept me busy the last few hours...

chopping, and more chopping...
Chopping bulk amt of lemon grass, galangal, shallots, coriander stems, garlic, and everything else to try out 3-4 recipes.

smacking the poor garlic out of its skin :D
All these ingredients are very aromatic and they fill your kitchen with fragrance. But well, your hands are not spared either. If soap does not help in getting rid of the smell, don't invest on any of this fancy stuff, instead just rub your hands against the stainless steel kitchen sink, or a stainless steel spoon/bowl. There is no hard scientific evidence for if/how it works, but many find that it reduces the odor, give it a try :) And a useful tip from my aunt - after handling chillies, massage your hands with some buttermilk for a couple of minutes, followed by a soap rinse.

Have you decided on a dish to cook for IAVW - Thai ?
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