Note from Libby: This edition of ‘Recipes from Abroad’ comes from Laurel Miller, a travel writer and culinary educator who has, quite literally, worked every food-related job from farm to table. Currently, her main goal is to educate and inspire others about the importance of sustainable farming, agricultural land preservation, and ecologically responsible travel through the Sustainable Kitchen ®, an independent food, travel, and copywriting business and culinary education program based in Seattle. Below, she shares one of her many adventures in food from across the globe.
In 2000, I took a private class with the chef and owner of Apple’s Retreat and Guest House when I stayed in Kanchanburi, Thailand. It was there that I had the most heavenly green curry ever. My teacher’s nickname was “Apple,” and she’d spent some time studying under a chef in Canada, so she spoke English. I spent the entire day with her, including going to the market so she could teach me how to choose a good shrimp paste, fish sauce, etc. Then we cooked all day.
I took notes on how she made her curry, so while not her own recipe per se, this is my interpretation. You really need a mortar and pestle, ideally, to make a traditional curry. Her food was honestly the best Thai I’ve ever had. I loved the recipe so much I used it for teaching Thai cooking to kids when i ran my cooking school in Berkeley.
Kang Keaw Wann’s Thai Green Curry
2 green Thai chiles, cut into slices
1 green serrano chile, cut into slices (don’t add this with the Thai chiles- it gets added later)
2 stalks lemongrass (about 2 T.), use only bottom two inches, ends trimmed
1 t. galanga, sliced and finely chopped
1 T. shallot, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, skin on, smashed
1/2 t. kaffir lime peel or equal amount lime zest
1 t. coriander seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 of a cilantro root (you may subsitute one stem of cilantro, leaves and all)
2 kaffir lime leaves, crushed in hand
1 t. shrimp paste (kung pe)
1/8 t. curry powder
1/4 t. ground turmeric
2 T.canola or vegetable oil
2 c. coconut milk
1 chicken breast, cut into 1/2” cubes
4 Thai eggplant, stemmed and quartered
blanched green beans, assorted vegetables (do not use onion)
1 T. fish sauce (nam pla)
2 t. sugar
1 t. salt
Place both Thai chiles in a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Add lemongrass and grind to paste. Continue to add the following items one at a time and grind to a paste before adding the next ingredient: galanga, shallot, garlic, kaffir lime.
Toast coriander seed and cumin over medium heat in a small fry pan. Add to paste in mortar. Grind until coriander seed is completely broken down. Add serrano chile and grind. Add cilantro root and shrimp paste and grind. Add curry powder and turmeric and grind into paste. Remove curry paste from mortar and add to a large skillet. Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil to paste until heated through. Add one tablespoon water and crushed kaffir lime leaves to curry paste.
In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups coconut milk (make sure you add cream from top of milk) to a boil. While coconut milk is heating, add eggplant and chicken to curry paste mixture and saute, stirring constantly, until chicken is cooked, about 2 minutes. Add coconut milk to curry mixture and any remaining veggies that need to be cooked. Heat through, about 1-2 minutes, then add nam pla, sugar, and salt, and bring curry back to a boil. Remove from heat and serve immediately over steamed Jasmine rice.
Notes from Laurel:
*You may store curry paste by heating 2 T. oil, adding paste and cooking, stirring constantly, for 20 seconds. Add salt, stir, and store in tightly covered container in refrigerator. Will keep one month.
*Apple’s Retreat and Guest House prefers to use Saowaros brand nam pla, but I’ve never been able to find it here. Other good brands to try include Golden Boy and Tra Chang, but Thai Kitchen makes a very mild fish sauce for the unitiated. The quality of coconut milk varies wildly. Mae Ploy is one of the best, with a rich, thick texture and pleasant coconut taste. Avoid buying “light” coconut milk, which has too thin a texture, poor flavor, and is often thickened with flour or cornstarch.
Has travel ever shaped your perception of the world, or have you ever tasted something in your travels that you just had to learn how to make at home? Don’t keep it a secret. Share your story and the recipe by getting in touch with me at libbyzay [at] gmail [dot] com.