Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cooking: Red Curry

I have a friend who is, when left to her own devices, entirely un-Chowhoundish. I invited her and her beau over to my place for dinner one night, and they turned down the invitation in favor of a trip to Olive Garden. They could have at least been a little diplomatic and said they weren't sure where they were going yet! She lived in a house with three college age guys at one point. The default meal was Hamburger Helper. She figured it was one of the few things that everyone could devour without putting her in the poor house. Something about the idea of dinner from a box scares me. Maybe it's the list of ingredients that look like they belong in a science lab, or the tendency for different flavors to taste less like the real items they're trying to emulate, and more just like each other. I'm utterly tired of mass-produced, processed junk masquerading as a wholesome meal. I want my food to resemble FOOD, darn it!

Fear not, good citizens. Your friendly local Asian grocery store is to the rescue! There's all kinds of wonderful things inside, but this time I'm focusing on curry, specifically Thai style red curry. Three styles of Thai curry are known by colorful names- Green curry, with green chilis and shallots; yellow curry, with plenty of turmeric and usually potatoes and onions as ingredients for the curry; and red curry, with red chilis. This time, I'm making red curry. There's a lot of ingredients in the curry that are pretty hard to find outside of specialty grocery stores, including galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Thankfully, red (and green and yellow) curry pastes are available with all of the herbs and spices already mixed together for you. All you need to add is some coconut milk, meat, and vegetables, and tah-dah! It's dinner!

If you can make any of those dinners in a box, you can certainly make Thai red curry. Take 3.5 ounces of curry paste (for a less spicy curry, use less curry paste, down to half as much), and moosh it around in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Then, add two cans of coconut milk one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next ingredient. Add 8 ounces of any meat you like (we've been doing chicken a lot here just because I always have some frozen chicken breasts from Trader Joe's at hand), and let the mixture simmer until the meat is as done as you like. Add 4 to 8 ounces of your choice of chopped vegetables (we like carrots, onion, and snow peas quite a bit, but let your imagination go wild), let that simmer until the vegetables are done (just a couple of minutes), and serve. Yes, it's that easy, and there's only one pot to clean up afterward. Well, two pots... steamed rice on the side is essential.

Speaking of rice, here's how I do rice for any Asian meals. Mix 3 cups of water with 2 cups of rice (I use jasmine rice) and about half a teaspoon of salt. Let that boil over medium high heat until the water level drops below the surface of the rice, about 10 minutes. Cover the pot, turn the heat down to low, and let it cook for another 15 minutes. Take it off the heat, give it a quick stir/fluff to stop the cooking, and serve.