Curry favor

Lest you think, from my previous entries, that I’m all about the sweet stuff… I thought I’d add one more entry on what I’ve been doing in the kitchen lately.

Earlier this summer, I put in a modest garden. I saw some Thai chili pepper starts at the Brookside Farmers Market, and decided to plant them, along with some lemongrass, sweet peppers, tomatoes and basil (my userpic is from my first batch of Sweet 100s!).

When the chilis were starting to turn red, I obtained a copy of David Thompson’s excellent book, Thai Food, and ordered myself a granite 2-cup mortar-and-pestle from Temple of Thai, and got down to business. I made a couple of curries just by muddling through, but soon I wanted to try to make them more authentic.

Sure, I could get ginger… but I wanted to try galangal. Yeah, I had fish oil, but I wanted the shrimp paste… so I looked for a local source, and found a Chinese market just north of the Steamboat Arabia. It was mindblowing, like a several blocks of San Francisco’s Chinatown stuffed into a quarter acre of 8′ shelving. There was usually SOME kind of English writing on the packages, but often using some very creative Engrish (that, or teeny tiny 4 point lettering). I went with what I remembered from recommendations from web sites, and a lot of luck. I did have a sweet young Vietnamese girl try to help me out, but she was as lost as I was among the mountains of tea and coffee: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, green & black, leaves, blocks, syrups, varying grinds, different uses (one was labelled, with a Twiggy-ish silhouette, “Sliming Tea”). We found several promising packages, eventually, and I settled on one (they were all about $2-3, so I couldn’t go too far wrong).

I could go on for hours about what I saw in there (a head-sized spiky frozen durian, the “king of fruit”… about 200 different kinds of noodles… corn rolls that look just like little hair curlers, what the heck do you do with those?… piles of beautiful serving dishes) but for now I’ll just say I’m looking forward to returning when I don’t have the baby so I can really take my time and explore (he just wanted to grab anything he could reach and pitch it into the cart).

Back home, I made more curry… this time with galangal instead of ginger, date palm sugar instead of brown sugar, Chaokah coconut milk instead of the waaaay expensive Thai Kitchen stuff, Thai holy basil in addition to my homegrown stuff, Kaffir lime leaves and tamarind instead of limes, and (in the shrimp one) shrimp paste in addition to fish oil. Still got plenty of my own homegrown chilis and lemongrass… Oh, I also scored a bag of the Thai-grown Jasmine rice, and it does indeed cook up differently than the Basmati I usually use: fragrant, richer, and a little less nutty (I think it would make good risotto… will have to try that out soon).

Here’s the vegan curry I made for my daughter to take to a potluck:


And the shrimpy one I made for my husband & me later on that night (note yummy homemade Thai iced tea accompanying the meal… turns out that I did indeed choose the right bag!):


This week, I’ve been taking a break from pounding pastes (my sweetie was out of town, and messing around with killer chilis isn’t something to be done with a two-year-old underfoot), and mostly making use of my abundant tomatoes, sweet peppers and basil to make fast pasta dinners. But I’m looking forward to more curries soon, and perhaps making some extra to freeze for those cold winter nights.

Anyone else out there making their own curry pastes? Got some insight to share? I’d love to hear about it!



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4 responses to “Curry favor

  1. PS

    What kind of tea do you need to get to make Thai iced tea? It’s a favorite beverage of mine!

    • Re: PS

      The package I wound up getting had the words “Cha Thai” on it… Cha is Tea, so that might help if you’re looking locally. Here’s a link to the Temple of Thai beverage page, with tea info.

      You’ll also want to get either the milk/sugar mix, or condensed milk and sugar separately. You’ll need a LOT of this to make it taste like the stuff in the restaurants.

      Here’s more info on how to make Thai Iced Tea, with a photo of another brand of tea (actually, this whole site is fascinating… be sure to check out her articles. How I’d love to do one of her tours!).

  2. Wow, making your own curry pastes sounds amazing! I know I have all the same resources here that you described, so I’ll have to give that a try! A good friend of mine has done some work along those lines, so I’ll have to ask her for some guidance. She made a completely incredible meal for our supper club a few months ago.

    One of my sweeties is vegan, so I’ll be experimenting on non-fish/shrimp paste-containing curries, too. I’ll let you know if I come up with something worth sharing!

    • The thing that made the biggest difference so far was, believe it or not, using the mortar and pestle. Having the “real” ingredients was good, but getting the right texture and mixture by pounding was the ticket.

      Have fun with it!

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