One of the perks of spending a week and a half on holiday in the UK is that there is a good chance the timing will be right for me to pick up an Observer Food Monthly. I'm a big fan of the Observer food editor, Nigel Slater, and the magazine (like the paper) tends to be aimed at people just like me: wealthy enough to make food a hobby instead of just a necessity, liberal and eco-conscious. Unfortunately, my love affair with the Observer has started to pall over the years. The blind anti-Americanism gets on my nerves. (Politically, I agree with them but they go far beyond the political pages.) Over the years I've noticed that the writers and editors are in a real self-promoting circle, continually reviewing (very positively) each others' work. And the food section has, in my opinion, become extremely slipshod. A few months ago I was delighted to see the food issue was to be devoted to secret Paris restaurant finds: it turned out to be an excerpt from an Observer columnist's new book on Paris restaurants and covered all the well-known places in the same kind of depth as a Fodor's. And this last time? Well, see for yourself: in a section on "the world's best curries", a recipe for Thai Green Curry. Good, I tend to agree that TGC is a wonderful sauce and am forever indebted to my sister for bringing its wonder to my attention. However, this isn't - to my mind - a recipe. It's a How To Jazz Up The Jar Of Curry Paste From The Back Of The Cupboard.
Don't get me wrong: we are not about fussy food here at Too Many Chefs. I don't think we are snobs. But we don't tell you how to cook with curry pastes. Or if we do, we at least hold a taste test so we can tell you which ones we liked best. The oddest thing about this recipe is the fact that it tells you how to fiddle around with turning dessicated coconut flakes into coconut cream, although coconut cream and coconut milk tend to be available in the same stores that sell the flakes. Sigh. Maybe I AM a food snob. All I know is that my former-favourite magazine is failing to thrill me like it used to do, leaving a real void.
The irony, of course, is that Nigel Slater has his own recipe on the BBC site. And so I was able to turn to Nigel for inspiration, despite the sloppy state of the Observer Food Monthly. Below is my take, largely true to the original except for the exclusion of cumin, which made no sense to my mind. I wonder if he meant coriander? Hard to say but I didn't miss it.
The result is just what you want a Thai Green Curry to be: hot and salty and sour with a rich creamy base. It made enough for two dinners for 2-3 people.
Thai Green Curry Paste
6 lemongrass stalks, tougher outer leaves discarded
3 tsp hot green chili paste (would have used fresh, but I couldn't find them)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
125 g ginger, peeled and chopped
3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup chopped coriander
zest from half a lime
1 1/2 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
a good grounding of black peppercorns
Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and zap well. Add a little water if necessary to get a smooth paste.
To use the Thai green curry with chicken, you'll need:
2 large free-range boneless chicken breasts
3 tbsp oil
8 mushrooms, quartered
300 ml coconut milk
8 lime leaves (optional - I couldn't find any and so added some more lime zest)
1 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tsp bottled green peppercorns, drained
Small handful of leaves from a large bunch Thai basil, shredded
Medium handful of coriander (leaves and stalks,) roughly chopped
Cut the chicken in thin strips and cook it quickly in the oil. Add half the Thai Green Curry paste and stir around a bit for three to four minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, lime zest or leaves, nam pla, peppercorns and half the herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes (while you prepare the rice, for example) and add the remaining herbs two minutes before serving. Yum.
It's really not that much work to make the paste; once you find yourself sourcing the ingredients for the rest of the recipe (fresh coriander, llime leaves, coconut milk) you'll probably be in the right place to get the lemongrass stalks and ginger too. And, honestly, once you have the ingredients assembled it takes about five minutes to prep and three minutes to zap. Not only does it taste a thousand times fresher and zingier than a jar of store-bought paste, but over time you can fine tune it to your tastes: a little more ginger or lime, perhaps more nam pla to up the salt. It's all up to you!