I really appreciate a recipe where the sauce is the best part of the dish. Butter chicken? Yes, please, I’ll take a bowl of sauce and a piece of naan for dipping. And the wine-infused gravy from my family’s chicken and mushrooms is basically liquid gold, perfect for dunking chunks of crusty bread.
I’d put coconut-based Thai curries in the same category. Give me a generous pour of curry liquid – red, yellow or green – and a plate of jasmine rice, and I’m a happy camper.
You’ll agree once you take a slurp of this green curry from cookbook author Leela Punyaratabandhu. Of course, what makes the sauce is the curry paste, and you’ll need a good one, preferably from Thailand.
I can appreciate the impulse to make your own paste, and initially that’s what I wanted to do with Punyaratabandhu’s recipe. But after a couple of fruitless calls to my local Asian markets and largely striking out online (makrut limes are especially difficult to come by), I decided to take Punyaratabandhu up on her suggestion that commercial pastes are the best way to get the traditional flavors if you can’t acquire the right ingredients to make your own.
Plus, at only a few bucks for a whole container, it’s a cheaper upfront investment than buying everything individually, particularly if you’re not sure you’d use up all the components. Asian markets and some well-stocked grocery stores carry curry pastes from Thailand. Brands to look for include Mae Ploy, Maesri, Pantai, Nittaya and Lobo. Maesri, for example, is available at some Wegmans, and some Targets carry Mae Ploy.
One other ingredient note: If you can’t find round green Thai eggplants, which should be at most Asian markets and even some farmers markets, I tested the recipe with halved and sliced long Asian eggplants. They cooked up softer than the Thai variety, which wasn’t necessarily bad, but you might want to knock back the cooking time a bit to account for the difference.
Once you have your ingredients in hand, it’s pretty much smooth sailing with this one-pot meal that is completed in just about an hour. The beef (boneless, skinless chicken thighs work well, too) essentially poaches in the aromatic, rich liquid. That leaves the meat beautifully tender and also means it infuses the broth as much as the broth infuses it.
As to that broth, it includes coconut three ways – oil, milk and cream (the solids that rise to the top of a can of coconut milk, don’t mistake it for cream of coconut). Low-fat this is not, but you can certainly control how much liquid you include in your portion even though it’s pretty difficult to resist. If you do manage to end up with extra, you’ll be left with a next-day treat that I can confirm is fantastic on its own poured over rice or any other grain or stir fry your heart desires.
Recipe note: You’ll need two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk for this dish. For the cream, skim off the thick top without stirring. For the milk, stir the contents of the can together to incorporate.
Kaeng Khiao Wan Nuea
(Green Curry With Beef and Thai Eggplant)
Adapted from “Simple Thai Food,” by Leela Punyaratabandhu (Ten Speed Press, 2014).
8 ounces round Thai eggplants, stemmed and quartered through the stem end (see headnote; may substitute Asian eggplant, halved vertically and cut into ½-inch slices)
½ cup coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a 14-ounce can of coconut milk)
2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons green curry paste (see headnote)
1½ cups canned coconut milk (from one 14-ounce can)
12 ounces chuck roast, cut against the grain and on the diagonal into bite-size pieces
2 phrik chi fa (fresh Thai long chiles; may substitute ½ green bell pepper), cut lengthwise on the diagonal into ¼-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons packed grated palm sugar (may substitute ½ teaspoon granulated sugar)
½ cup packed Thai basil leaves (may substitute Italian sweet basil)
Place the eggplant pieces in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice.
In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the coconut cream, coconut oil and curry paste over medium-high heat and stir until the paste is fragrant and the coconut fat separates (you’ll see shiny droplets of fat on the surface), about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and beef and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drain the eggplants and add them to the pan along with the chiles, fish sauce, sugar and, if necessary, just enough water to keep everything submerged. Turn up the heat just enough to return the curry to a simmer, cover and continue to cook until the eggplants are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Taste for seasoning. No more sugar should be added, but more fish sauce might be needed. When the flavor is to your liking, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the basil leaves and serve.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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