the appetizer:

The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living by Su-Mei Yu, includes excerpts and recipes like Thai Curries; Jungle Soup Gaeng Paa; Almond Milk; Stir-Fried Okra; and Ceviche, Thai Style Plah Pla.

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Thai Curries

by Su-Mei Yu

Thai Curries


Instead of the word curry, which is synonymous with Indian cooking, Thais use the word gaeng for these types of dishes, stew-like preparations or soups, which are the heart of Thai cooking. All spicy Thai gaeng use a chile paste as the primary seasoning. These pastes combine fresh medicinal herbs and dried spices with the tastes, flavors, and aromas of two opposing elements (Earth and Wind).

Curry pastes are traditionally made, even today, using a mortar and pestle. To do this most effectively, mince the fresh ingredients and dry-roast and grind the spices first to make for easy pounding. Place the mortar on a dish towel on the counter, preferably about 9 inches below your waist. Use one hand to cradle and secure the mortar, the other to hold the pestle near the top of the mortar. To pound, bring the pestle down into the center of the bowl in a measured, even rhythm. Use a spoon between poundings to scrape down the paste as it creeps up the side of the mortar.

Beginning with the first two ingredients listed in the recipe, pound them into a paste in the mortar. Add the remaining ingredients one at a time and only after the previous one has been incorporated into the paste. Transfer the paste to an airtight container and refrigerate. It will keep for a month.

How to Dry Roast Spices: Place the spices in a small skillet over high heat. Shake the pan constantly back and forth over the burner until the spice is fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from the heat and transfer to a plate to cool completely.

How to Grind Spices: Place the roasted spices in the mortar and grind with the pestle in a circular motion, pressing the spice hard against the inner wall of the mortar until they turn to powder. Or, place the roasted spices in an electric coffee grinder or spice grinder. Cover tightly and grind until they turn to powder. Let the powder settle before opening the lid. Clean the grinder by putting 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar in it and grinding for a couple of seconds. Discard the sugar and wipe clean.


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This page created August 2010