September 18, 2006
Thai green curry: a rant and a recipe

tgc.jpgOne 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!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at September 18, 2006 12:58 PM Print-friendly version

Oh dear Meg!

You could have just asked darling. You should have.

I see red every time I see another 'green' curry paste that contains cilantro (coriandar) leafs. It really does irate me. I'm afraid it began with JGV, whose 'Thai' Green Curry recipe is no less than blasphemy.

There is no cilantro leafs in curry paste. We used the base of the stalk and the roots only. The light green hue of the curry -no it's not supposed to be bright green- comes from the use of fresh green chilli instead of the usually dried red chilli.

Ginger is also not used in green curry paste, Galangal is. Galangal and ginger have such different flavors that it's pointless to substitute one for the other.

There are plenty of Thai green curry paste around. I have one on my blog, so does Khun Kasama, on her website

Throw out Nigel's recipe please. Just do me a favor! I love his new book, and also an avid reader of the OFM, but the man should be ashamed of that recipe!

Posted by Pim on September 18, 2006 at 5:15 PM

So does the recipe taste good? If so, I'd stick with it.

I certainly wouldn't make a lot of changes for the sake of culinary purity. It's difficult to find galangal in European and North American supermarkets while ginger is abundant. If ginger satisfies you, use it.

As I pointed out in another comment about my hummus recipe that seems to have been eaten by the spam guardians, Chicago style, Sicilian style, New York and New England and California pizzas are all very different but all are identifiably pizza. I'd say this is certainly a green curry recipe.

I suppose that if you want to be a purist, you can take the "Thai" out of the title.

Posted by barrett on September 18, 2006 at 9:28 PM

...I'm an FT (Financial Times) kinda guy, myself.

Posted by David on September 19, 2006 at 1:44 AM

Il love Thaie curries (green and red) and usuallu use a paste I buy, next time I'll try to make my own!

Posted by Mayacook on September 19, 2006 at 2:25 AM

Just one disclaimer (especially for Mayacook): it's not that I have anything against commercially bought pastes per se - I just think that a paper of the Observer's calibre should assume we actually want to MAKE something, not USE something from a jar.

That said, do give it a try! As I mentioned, it's very quick and tasty. (Though, in the absence of absolutely athentic ingredients perhaps not exactly the same as you can get in Thailand. But I'm a working momma and don't have time to run down to Chinatown every time I have a hankering for Thai green curry!)

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 19, 2006 at 3:34 AM

Hello from the UK. I absolutely agree with about OFM, it has gone downhill since it first came on the market a few years ago. I used to count down the weeks until it was due, it was such food and cooking Heaven, but now I simply can't be bothered any more. I content myself with reading my old back copies.

(You were wrong about Marmite though, way back in a much earlier post. It is food of the Gods).

Posted by Paintgranny on September 23, 2006 at 1:56 PM

Get hold of a copy of "Thai Food" by David Thompson. It is a fantastic book, a real work of love. Not only does it have very good recipes but also a lot of background and pictures - a good read - almost a tourist brochure.

His recpipe for Green Curry looks complex but is quite simple once you get the hang of "cracking" the coconut cream. But, it does take time as there is a lot of peeling and chopping. However the taste is great....and yes there are roasted cumin seeds in it.

However, even heading to the 13th to buy in the markets of Chinatown does not guarantee you can get ingredients...last trip no lime leaves (but tons of kaffir limes).

Posted by Phil on September 29, 2006 at 1:36 PM

Phil, thanks for the tip - will keep an eye out for it. As for the ingredients, I forgot to mention that you can usually find lemongrass shoots at a place called Kanae in the 15th. It's a Japanese grocery store, but also has a lot of other Asian ingredients and is a lot more convenient (for me anyway!). It's just across the street from the Beaugrenelle shopping center, down the road from Darty!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 29, 2006 at 3:19 PM
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