Guest post – Thai Prawn Curry

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Hello from beautiful South Africa! I have finally arrived to join my family here in Johannesburg – and not a moment too soon. My journey involved a bus to New York and a night in my friend’s very plush apartment, the subway to JFK and a 14hr flight from JFK to Johannesburg. I arrived on my birthday, and spent most of it asleep!! But it’s wonderful to be here.

I’m taking full advantage of my mum’s wonderful cooking, and so I’m not in the kitchen as much as normal – I am hoping to share with you some South African recipes later in my trip, but for now, I thought I’d share a wonderful guest post my friend Ben wrote. I met Ben just over five years ago when we both worked at the Royal College of Music in London. Ben’s a sound engineer, and worked in the College’s studio, along with Avgoustos, Stevie and Seb. Stevie and Seb both joined the staff at the College about the same time as I did, so we all ended up doing our induction sessions together – the sessions were held in the studio, and Seb famously made me a cup of tea when I arrived very hungover for one of the sessions, so I am devoted to him for life. The studio boys became my partners in crime during my time working at the College – a time I think of very fondly. We would go for lunch most weeks, usually on a Wednesday, to the nearby Imperial College bar for what became known as Beer Wednesday – clue’s in the name there. They kept me entertained at work with silly emails – including, famously, a photo of their pants.

Ben is also living the expat dream – in Amsterdam with his lovely wife Jenny. We keep in touch via facebook and email, and let each other know what recipes we’ve tried recently! Here is his recipe for Prawn Thai Curry, with a lot of helpful tips from Ben which he’s figured out along the way. I can’t wait to make it!

I’ve know Sarah for some time but I had no idea we both shared a love of cooking to the extent that we do. If I’d known we both had this passion I’m sure we would have ventured out together more on the hunt for exciting bites than we did before we both left the UK.

Like so many aspiring foodies I’m a food obsessive. I decide I want to master a particular dish and I don’t move on until I’ve achieved this goal. Recently that’s been sourdough breads, salt-caramel ice cream and flavoured foams but the one I want to discuss today is the Thai Curry. I spent my honeymoon in Thailand and completely fell in love with the cuisine. Beautifully simple and elegant, Thai food takes great tasting ingredients and combines them in a way that just work harmoniously, balancing sweet, sour, spicy and salty into something explosive.

The last time Sarah and I ate together was at Kaosarn in Brixton, London. Brixton market was not only very close to where we lived but had also been heralded as the new food-mecca in London by the british press. Kaosarn was a new Thai restaurant in the market that was causing a few waves. I don’t think I discussed it with Sarah over dinner but during that time I was on the hunt to find the best Thai curry in London. I was fed up of ‘westernised versions’ that just didn’t taste as good as the real thing I remembered eating.

Kaosarn was indeed something to talk about and I would tell anyone traveling to London who likes Thai food to go there, however… there was something about sitting outside what is effectively a cafe in February, covered in blankets provided by the restaurant, that just didn’t bring that feeling or the smells of Thailand back.

Obviously I wasn’t going to match being in Thailand but but i decided that I’d do away with restaurants on this one and match the taste of a great Thai curry at home. I began doing some research and came across David Thompson as many who have an interest in Thai cooking will have done. His book Thai Food really is the bible on Thai cookery and I have never made anything Thai since without referring to this book. Gone are the ‘cheats’ that I found from websites and famous british chefs. You know the ones, substituting ginger for galangal, limes for kaffir limes, fresh chilli for dried long Thai ones etc etc etc. All these things had never produced the authentic result. The following recipe is adapted from that book but to my own taste along with a quick side I thought I’d share as you cannot have a true Thai meal without there being a few dishes.

Prawn Thai Curry
Serves 4

Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food

For the Curry:

  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 200g Prawns
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • a little red chili
  • 1 tbs coriander leaves

For the Curry Paste:

  • 6 dried long chillies, deseeded, soaked and drained
  • large pinch salt
  • 1 tbs galangal (10 slices)
  • 4 tbs lemongrass (1 big stalk)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped garlic (8 cloves)
  • 3 tbs sliced red shallot (6 small shallots)
  • 1 tbs scraped and chopped coriander root
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp gapi

Sticky Rice:

  • 300g sticky rice (soaked overnight)

Stir Fried Samphire:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g samphire
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • a little oyster sauce

Before beginning the recipe it’s worth noting a few things about the ingredients:

  • Galangal looks a bit like ginger but tastes completely different. Essential in the curry paste and can be bought in most supermarkets now.
  • Coriander root is another one of those things that get substituted with coriander leaf. This is one of the ingredients I’ve come to realise is the most important within the paste and cannot be missed out not only because if you use the leaf you’ll only ever get a green curry. I have only found this in Asian supermarkets but it’s worth hunting down along with Kaffir limes and their leaves. (SP note: to any readers in Boston, I have seen coriander (cilantro) with the root attached in Market Basket. They also stock galangal).

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The recipe is only really a guide, nothing is set in stone here so just keep tasting and tasting until the balance between the flavours is what you’re after.

Recipe:
The paste is the most important part of a Thai curry so it’s worth taking the time to get this right. The end result should be pureed as finely as possible and smell mellow and rounded as opposed to each individual ingredient coming through. With a view to cooking this curry for friends I have previously made the paste in advance and kept it in the freezer. DO NOT DO THIS! As I discovered the re-thawing process creates an undesired bitter aspect to the curry and completely changes its flavour for the worse.

Traditionally the paste is made by gradually adding the ingredients to a pestle and mortar starting with the hardest. This is the way I would always do the paste if I have time as compared to a food processor as you get much more of a flavour and smell coming from the paste. If you are going to process the paste add a little water to help it along. Similarly if you have time, make the coconut cream yourself from a fresh coconut as the end result is far superior to the canned, blocked or any other form of coconut cream you can buy.

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Ok, first add the coconut cream to the pan over medium heat and then the paste, stir regularly and fry for 5mins until fragrant. Season with the fish sauce and palm sugar. Add coconut milk and simmer until reduced and separated. Add the prawns and half the lime leaves and continue to simmer until the prawns are just cooked. The curry should be salty, a little hot and smell absolutely amazing! Serve with remaining lime leaves, red chilli and coriander.

Pile the rice into a steamer evenly spread, place over boiling water and cook for about 30 minutes, check the rice and if tender in the middle it is ready to serve.

For the samphire pound the garlic and salt together and add it to a hot wok along with the samphire. Stir fry for 3-4 mins until tender then add the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar and simmer for another minute. Serve with sprinkled white pepper. This also works well with asparagus or sugar snap peas etc.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the final meal, but I was serving friends and they ate it all before I could get the camera out. Bowl up each dish and allow your guests to take bits of everything, there’s something very social about eating like this and it was always the way in which I ate food while in Thailand. I didn’t detail it here but a great sweet that I loved while in Thailand was Coconut Rice & Mango and a perfect
end to this meal. Here is David Thompson’s recipe; http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/thai-sticky-rice-mango.aspx

A sunny soup to chase away the blues – Thai-style squash soup

Thai-style Butternut squash soup

It’s nearly Christmas! Here in the orange kitchen household, we are preparing for our first American Christmas, and, for that matter, our first Christmas together, which happens also to be our first Christmas without either set of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles etc… This will be the first Christmas in four years together where Noel and I open our presents to each other on the day itself – normally, we open them together early before I jet off to see my parents or he makes the trip to see his family. It feels pretty… momentous. And slightly scarily grown up. Not so grown-up, though that we won’t be watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve – a Pantcheff tradition for as long as I can remember.

So in the midst of this Christmas-tide, I bring you… soup. Not a Christmas soup, but a delicious, warming, sunny soup. Sunny because it is a glorious gold colour, and is spiced so as to warm and brighten. It is also wonderfully easy to make, and a great standby to have in the fridge or freezer over the festive period.

Roasted squash

I love butternut squash, but it is a pain to prepare. I find the skin is usually so tough before cooking that I feel as if I’m a lumberjack attacking a tree if I try and peel, or even dice, it before cooking – and I find this boring and frustrating. So – almost every time I use butternut squash, I roast it, whole, before doing anything else. After even 20 minutes in the oven, it is so much easier to deal with – and if you can spare 30 minutes to roast it, it will reward you by yielding to your knife so easily. It also means that the cooking time in the soup itself is reduced, which can be handy. Of course, if you have more patience than me, you can prepare the squash when it’s raw, but if you happen to have the oven on (because, for instance, you’re making this incredible braised short ribs recipe…) then this is an easy way to cut down the effort involved.

Spice base

My recipe below uses a base of coriander, ginger, lemongrass and chili along with the more usual diced onion and garlic – I also use a small amount of shop-bought thai curry paste. If you don’t have the fresh ingredients readily available, feel free to increase the amount of curry paste – the soup will come to no harm as a result. When I made it, I chopped the ginger and lemongrass fairly roughly, as I knew I was going to blend the soup later – this meant that when I ate the finished product, I would come across small pieces of both which ‘popped’ in my mouth and were so delicious – however, if you don’t like the sound of this, you can chop everything more finely or use a food processor.

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Small bunch of coriander (leave and stalks), roughly chopped, plus leaves to garnish
  • 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small chili, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 tsp thai curry paste
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 pint / 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

Heat the oven to 400F/200C and place the squash in the oven, directly on the racks. Roast for at least 20 minutes, preferably more like 30.

While the squash is roasting, heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until it is starting to soften – around 5 minutes. Add the coriander, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chili, season well with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the thai curry paste, and allow the base to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat until the squash is ready.

Once the squash has roasted, remove from the oven and once it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds. Dice into 1-inch pieces, and add to the spice mix in the pan – bring the pan back up to heat if you’d taken the spice mix off. Add the tin of coconut and the stock – bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the squash is tender. The time this takes will vary depending on how long you roasted it for – it will take at least 15 minutes, and could take up to 40 minutes if your squash was only roasted briefly.

Once the squash is cooked, turn off the heat and use a stick blender to blend the soup to your desired consistency – I like mine smooth, but you can leave chunks of squash, if you prefer. If the soup is very thick, add a little more stock or water. Check the soup for seasoning, and add lime juice to taste.

Serve garnished with coriander leaves.