Thai food is without hesitation my favorite cuisine. An assortment of curries, with their distinct flavors, dry dishes sautéed in fresh chili paste and salad dishes pulling together several extremities from cold to hot, sweet to sour, crunchy to soft. The cuisine is an amalgamation of the best culinary practices of Asia. It draws from the spice treatment and curries of India and Persia and the cooking techniques of sautéing and blanching from China.
Despite these influences, the cuisine has its individual and very bold personality. After all, Thailand, home to the lush rainforests of Chang Mai and stunning temples has its own beauty to communicate through the medium of food. And it does. The dishes are flirty – they make you break a sweat with their fiery heat and then tease you with a little coolness of cucumber or a little sweetness of palm sugar. It is this very toying of the tongue that gets people like me going back for more.
From Thai barbeque to heartwarming curries, the two Thai words that sum up the dishes are ‘som’ (sour) and Tum (the pounding of ingredients, such as lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chili). These pounded ingredients is what leaves Thai food highly differentiated from other cultures as does veal stock for French cuisine or a tadka of caramelized onions and roasted spices for Indian food.
Going to a Thai restaurant can be overwhelming at times. I want the tight little Thai fish cakes, the beef salad, the satays, the curries, the noodles, the mee krob and quite frankly the list could go on. One of my non-negotiable staples is red curry. Unlike the Indian curries I have grown up eating, Thai curries are a base of the ‘tum’ and coconut milk. Refreshingly aromatic, this dish has spring in its step with the fruitiness of lime leaves, the liquorice sweetness of the holy basil and plenty of zing from squeezed lime and Thai bird chilies – flavors that are all perfectly rounded out by the sweet and creamy coconut milk.
When I make this, I love to incorporate seasonal vegetables that will add to the texture and flavor of the dish. Today, I am using butternut squash to satisfy a 2 fold purpose – aesthetics and flavor. Pieces of chicken and amber butternut coated in a sauce of spiced and fragranced coconut and topped with roughly chopped cilantro can be a nutritionally balanced and rustled in moment’s week day dish. Go on; add a touch of Thailand to your meal plan this week.
Red Thai Curry
- 2″ stick of lemongrass
- 5 kaffir leaves (lime leaves)
- 1 ½ tbsp. Thai red curry paste
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1lb chicken breast or thigh, cut into thin strips
- ½ fresh lime
- Handful of cilantro sprigs
- Handful of fresh holy basil
1) Heat oil in a pan on medium/high
2) Bruise the lemongrass with the back of a knife in several places and add to the hot oil along with the kaffir leaves. Add the red curry paste and reduce to medium/ low heat. Cook for approx. 4 minutes until oil separates and an aroma emerges. The heat must be lowered to avoid scorching
3) Add half the coconut milk to the red curry and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken strips and cook until tender
4) Add remaining coconut milk and garnish with holy basil and cilantro
5) Splash with the juice of half a lime
Traditionally, this dish is eaten with plain boiled rice, but why not try serving with a toasted baguette for variation.
Saira Malhotra is a classically trained French chef and graduate from the French Culinary Institute. A British born Punjabi, Saira has grown up around food with her family pizza business where she helped spreading tomato sauce and smuggling cheese for her own little stash. Having studied in France and Italy and living in the Big Apple for the past 12 years, Saira has brought her European, Asian and American influences together via the palate and communicated through her food blog: www.passportpantry.com