I don't hold much store for recipes when I cook. I follow my own instincts. This post is about an extreme case where I decided to make a famous dish from a faraway land. Without a recipe or without a ready made mix. The recipe I discovered in the process is at the bottom of this longish post. Scroll down if recipes are what you are here for.
I hosted a Bengali polau and kosha mangsho (mutton) party for our friends last night. Most of our friends are non vegetarians save one or two like H. We normally order Kanchipuram Idlis for him during parties which he sits quietly in a corner and eats. I once cooked a vegetarian dish for him. Some stir fry with mushrooms, bell peppers and stuff. Turned out that he liked it and he keeps raving about it even now. I love appreciation. Even from vegetarians. So I decided to make something special for H this time too. The pulao would be vegetarian of course. Harshad's quite fitness conscious so potatoes and paneer wouldn't work that well. We are talking of 'real' vegetables here. A concept which I am not well acquainted with. After much thought, I settled upon creating an oxymoron called 'Vegetarian' Green Thai curry.
'Oxymoron' because a real Thai curry should start with shrimp paste and has to be laced with fish oil from what I gather. As 'vegetarian' as a Bengali fish curry.
There were some other basic problems. I could not use the central ingredients (fish oil, shrimp paste) as we just saw. I did not have a recipe. AND I was too pig headed to look for one! I refused to buy readily available Thai curry sachets. I didn't have Palm sugar which I think is another ingredient. So the curry had everything going against it.
I was going to create this from start. And poor H would have to sink or swim with me. But the dish would be based on coconut milk and I have tremendous faith in the ability of coconut milk to make anything taste good.
I went shopping to Pali Market (Bandra) first. I knew that green curries have basil. Picked that. And a set of Thai ingredients - galangal (Thai ginger), lemon grass, bird's eye chillies and Thai baigan (brinjal) from the enterprising vegetable lady there. Not knowing much about 'healthy' vegetables, I picked up broccoli, mushrooms and baby corn. We'd never bought baby corn or broccoli before and I wondered about how to slice them for a while. Perplexing.
Folks were supposed to come at nine at night. I made the sauce base in the afternoon. In a mixer instead of a pestle. No recipe but very vague memories of TV shows. Banu chopped the mushrooms and stuff under my directions.
Kainaz and I stepped out for a coffee in the evening. The mangsho was cooked. Pulao was half done. I came back and decided to write for a while and then hit the kitchen at 8.30 PM to finish the cooking.
The bell rang at 8 PM. Thanks to IPL and hair cuts from hot hair dressers the first guests had arrived. And some were hungry. Including another vegetarian candidate.
I shut my laptop. Headed to the kitchen leaving the guests to fend for themselves. I was a bit frazzled. There was too much happening. Not the right mood to begin a journey into the unknown. Still I set off on the green curry trail. Put the vegetables in first. Then realised that this was wrong. It was the sauce base that should be made first. A sip or two of Jack and I began to gather my wits, shoo'd everyone out and focussed on delivering the baby. I took the vegetables out of the pot, put them onto the kitchen surface, and began cooking again.
The serendipitous path to the curry was finally over. The colour of the curry was to my satisfaction. Not the florid green of Mumbai restaurant Thai curries. It didn't have fish oil. But it had Thai brinjals, core to green curries, maddeningly absent in local restaurants.
Photographs done, I took a bowl out for poor D who was hungry and was not tended to by a rather unprepared host. Others had just trooped in and a tasting session began. I decided to take a sip of the curry too after I heard sufficient 'oohs' and 'aahs. The curry was quite authentic if one ignored the broccoli and baby corn.
The man of the moment and my muse for vegetarian cooking, Harshad, arrived. I waited while he tasted it. Didn't give him time to catch his breath. It seemed to meet his approval. I let a sigh of relief and went off to make sausage starters. I was back on familar ground.
How did the Thai curry fare? The vegetarians had to fight with some sworn non vegetarians for it. As Kainaz said, we were a few spoons away from murder. And M, who is a light eater, took three helpings. H had his own dish and pulao instead of an idli. My evening was made.
Here's the recipe. I am very proud of it. It is my baby. So what if it is vegetarian?
(The portions below are tempered down for two to three people.)
- Slice 500 g button mushrooms
- Slice four bird's eye (red) chilies with diagonal cuts
- Slice 200 g of baby corn into long strips
- Break 5,6 ears of broccoli
- Paste: put a handful of fresh basil leaves, a teaspoon of jeera/ coriander powder (I saw a Thai chef in Delhi do this on TV), 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 bird's eye chillies, 1/2 an inch of galangal, 1/2 an inch of lemon grass and 6 Thai Brinjals in a mixer. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and start the mixer. Switch it on it two or three times till the paste becomes a dark green, grainy mixture. (The real Thai curry would have shrimp paste too)
- Take a deep pan and heat a tablespoon of olive oil in it (The real one would be made in Fish oil)
- Add 1/2 an inch of finely chopped galangal, 1/2 an in inch of shredded lemon grass, 4,5 Thai brinjals and 2 split bird's eye chillies
- Add the curry paste. Stir
- Add 200 ml of ready made coconut milk and 1.5 (300 ml) times the amount of water. Stir
- Let the sauce come to a boil. The colour will turn a faint green
- Add the vegetables - mushroom, broccoli, baby corn ... or prawns or pork if you are making the real thing
- Cover with a lid and let it cook for 5 minutes (veg version)
- Uncover the lid and add two finely chopped bird's eyes chillies (the curry has to be hot), 1/2 an inch of galangal finely chopped, 1/2 an inch of lemon grass stalks, chopped into circles, a few basil leaves and 6 - 8 of the pungent devils, Thai Brinjals
- Let it cook for a couple of minutes more and you are done
Here are some photos from last evening:
1500 hrs: calm before the storm
2045 hrs: 'hold on, hold on, I am coming'
2047 hrs: 'These vegetarians'
2147 hrs: "Let's have some meat now?"