It used to be a running joke that when my brother visited the States from London he invariably brought the weather with him. He never found it funny, I now have a better understanding of why.
Four years ago, Pascal and I got married. While I meticulously planned the invitations, décor, and menu (albeit not without some input from him) he got started on the honeymoon. Our choice of a September wedding precluded the obvious Caribbean destinations due to hurricane risk; he would have to look farther afield. And to his credit, he decided to keep it a surprise only to be revealed as we flew over the Atlantic days before our nuptials.
After tying the knot, we were to return back to London, change bags and head back to the airport to begin our eastward journey towards the dry season of South East Asia. The trip itself was wonderful: Indonesia and Thailand. A mixture of culture and beach, great food, lovely people and, shockingly, rain. And not just any rain, all encompassing, can’t stay dry no matter how big your umbrella is rain. We took it in stride. Temples shrouded in mist, an excuse for a lazy day out of the sun but when we arrived in Bangkok camping out in our hotel room didn’t seem like the best option. We wanted to see the city, how were we going to do that without venturing outdoors? A full day cooking class was the answer, complete with market tour (rain or shine). And off we went.
The first half (and thankfully drier half) of the course was devoted to the market. We sourced our ingredients; met the durian fruit; saw piles of white powder on offer (MSG in case you were wondering) and marvelled at how foreign everything was. Once finished it was back to the kitchen.
We chopped and ground and fried and poached and learned to make a handful of things. But if I took anything away it was Thai curry. That day we made our own. Panang I think it was. And I encourage you to do so too, once! Then find the type you like and buy some paste. The cooking school recommended Mae Ploy as the brand they liked the best. When looking for it the other day at my nearest Asian specialty store, the woman (jury's still out on that one, actually) told me to take another brand, “all the restaurants use it”, she said. It was good and came in small packets so I could try a bunch of different flavours. For me, one brand is as good as another.
Thai curry has become my go to weeknight meal. It is great for using up mangy looking vegetables and is as satisfying with only vegetables as it is with meat. You just need to be a little prepared, or well-stocked, I should say. A trip to the Asian food store is worthwhile because once you have the ingredients you are more likely to make more Asian style foods. For Thai dishes, the basics include: curry paste, fish sauce, rice vinegar, coconut milk (one can is usually good for two people so buy a couple) and Kaffir lime leaves (frozen). While you are there, pick up some sesame oil, soy sauce, palm sugar, mirin and some hot sauce of your choice.
So assuming you did your shop, you will also need some garlic and ginger. Chillies optional. Some stock or bullion. Vegetables and maybe some chicken.
For two people, fry a tablespoon or two of curry paste in some olive oil being careful not to burn it. Curry paste includes ginger and garlic but I like to add some more, so add the ginger and garlic. Microplane is easiest here. Add the chillies if you plan to and a bit of fish sauce. Fish sauce replaces salt.
Wait until the mixture become fragrant and add a little of your coconut milk just so the paste and the coconut milk incorporate. By doing this slowly you reduce the risk of the coconut milk splitting, which isn’t the end of the world but we’d rather it didn’t happen. Just keep adding until it’s all in and smooth.
Now add your thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves. The easiest way to do this is by rolling them into a cigar and slicing them that way.
Add your vegetables. Start with the ones that take the longest. You may want to add some stock or water to thin out the consistency. I usually have some vegetable bullion on hand and use that. When all of the vegetables look they are about 5 minutes away from done add the chicken if you are using it. It will poach gently in the liquid.
Now curry does not a pretty picture take but it's sure to warm your spirits.