Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thai Curry With Fall Produce

With the arrival of frost, we have harvested both lemongrass and ginger, and we have an abundance of each. At the same time, we have cool season green crops such as arugula and parsley, so I went in search of recipes that might encompass these products. I discovered the perfect recipe in a Thai cookbook I own. It is "Jungle Curry," an example of Thai "country cooking" than can be varied endlessly.

Ginger flowers in the fall garden
You may have seen the little cans of Thai curry paste in Asian markets. The basic ones are green, yellow and red. All of them are made by grinding different combinations of herbs and vegetables together, creating a complex flavor that surpasses the individual notes of which it is composed. Because the basic varieties of curry are somewhat "standard" in Thai cooking, many people rely on canned products. The result has been that the art of making curry by hand is becoming unfamiliar.

"Curry" simply means "mixture" or "blend." Thai curries and those of other southeast Asian countries differ from the spice mixture people often associate with Indian curry. Southeast Asian curries rely more on fresh ingredients and are therefore often wet pastes, rather than a dry powder. In this regard, they resemble the Middle Eastern condiment, harissa.

Jungle curry involves combining ingredients often found in other curry mixtures, chili peppers, lemongrass, ginger and cilantro, with herbs and greens more often seen in European than in Asian dishes. Traditionally, rural people would gather plants from the surrounding forest and incorporate these into their curries. Because the recipe varied depending upon what was available from Nature, these dishes can incorporate whatever ingredients you may have on hand.

Thai Jungle Curry with Grilled Beef and Vegetables
2 large servings

Curry paste:
1 large lemongrass stalk, trimmed and the lower 3 inches chopped coarsely
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 anchovy filet, oil packed, drained
1/3 cup chopped onions
5 green Serrano chilies, stemmed and chopped
3 red Thai chilies, or cayenne peppers, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup fresh arugula leaves, torn
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

Grilled beef and vegetables:
1/2 pound flank or breakfast steak, thinly sliced across the grain
2 tablespoons soy sauce
black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
the zest from one lime
1 leek, trimmed and chopped
2 cups mixed vegetables in uniform pieces, such as broccoli florets, mushroom caps, cubes of squash, sliced carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts, etc.
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 cup beef stock, fresh or canned
1/2 cup fresh arugula leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
steamed jasmine rice, to serve

Make the curry paste in a large, heavy mortar, or use a food processor. The mortar will produce a more traditional curry, while the food processor will produce a smoother one. Combine the ingredients and pound or process until crushed and blended. Scrape down the work bowl of the processor several times, if using one. Transfer the curry to a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. The curry will keep a week in the refrigerator, or a month in the freezer. You can double the batch easily if you prefer to freeze the extra.

To complete the dish, place the sliced beef in a small bowl with the soy sauce and a generous amount of black pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Prepare a charcoal grill, or heat a grill pan over high heat for about 10 minutes. Grill the beef slices until they are just marked but still slightly pink, about a minute per side. Discard the marinade. Set the beef aside on a plate.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet and add the oil. When it ripples, add the garlic and stir fry until it is pale golden. Add the lime zest and the curry paste and stir fry 30 seconds. Add the leek and the vegetables, and stir fry until they are crisp-tender. Add the sugar and the fish sauce, and stir fry until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the beef stock, lower the heat, and bring to a simmer. Add the reserved beef slices and the fresh herbs and greens. Simmer just until the herbs wilt. Serve hot over jasmine rice.

Grilled tofu can be substituted for the beef, in which case use vegetable stock. If you prefer a vegan dish, leave out the anchovy and fish sauce, substituting soy sauce, about a tablespoon for the anchovy and 3 tablespoons for the fish sauce. Similarly, you could use shrimp and seafood stock, or grilled chicken and chicken stock. Parsley, oregano, spinach, corn salad, or other greens and herbs can be substituted for those given in the recipe. Just make sure to use sufficient amounts to create a bold flavor.

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