Between my mother and I, there are numerous cuisines which we enjoy making at home. Unfortunately, neither of us has really had any success in perfecting the food of the Far East. I can’t even tell you how many stir-fry, noodle, and curry dishes have gone straight from the wok into the trash because they just tasted plain awful. Willingly, we had surrendered ourselves to the idea that when it comes to making Asian food, we best ought to leave it to the takeout joints.
I refused to abide by this mantra because I feel that as long you have the right recipe, ingredients, equipment, and technique, any dish from any culture can be created with ease. I was browsing through this cookbook, entitled Best-Ever Curry Cookbook, when I came across a recipe for a Tofu and Green Bean Curry. The ingredients were few, most of which I already had in my pantry, and after reading the method, it looked so simple to make. Boy was I right too. Tofu, eggplant, and green beans simmer away in a creamy coconut-based sauce enriched with Thai red curry paste and fish sauce. Heat comes from all levels starting at the curry paste and finishing with the fresh green chiles sprinkled on top. Fish sauce, a salty, fermented-fish blend, is as common in Southeast Asia as ketchup is in the United States. While people will happily dip spring rolls in it, fish sauce is also popular in cooking, with a role resembling that of anchovies. It provides a rather salty depth of flavor that is both complex and deeply savory. It’s not fishy at all, so even seafood-haters can enjoy this dish.
After making this curry, I felt as if Thai food was not a trouble anymore. Sure, I still have a lot to learn, as the cuisines of the Orient are full of variety and different techniques to learn and explore. In fact the flavors of Asia, perfumed with the aromas of exotic ingredients and deftly seasoned with just the right blend of spices, remind me of my own native Indian cuisine. Perhaps if I look more into examining the comparisons, perfecting the range of dishes hailing from Beijing to Bangkok, and everything in between, will no longer be a problem.
Adapted from Best-Ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar
- 2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
- 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 Japanese eggplant, cut into cubes
- 4 ounces green beans, trimmed
- 6 ounces firm Tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 4 kaffir lime leaves OR 6 fresh basil leaves, torn
- 2 fresh red or green chilies, sliced
- fresh cilantro springs, to garnish
Place a third of the coconut milk in a wok or large pan. Cook over high heat until an oily sheen appears on the surface and the milk begins to separate, about 5 minutes. Then add the red curry paste, fish sauce, and sugar to the coconut milk. Mix together thoroughly. Add the eggplant pieces and toss to coat in the spice mixture. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium high heat. Then add the rest of the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Then add the green beans and tofu and cook for another 5-10 minutes, just until they have warmed through. Stir in the kaffir lime/basil leaves and red/green chillies. Remove the pot from the heat and serve warm over steamed jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.
- Japanese eggplants are long and slender, and I happened to find them in my local fresh produce market. However, you can easily substitute with whatever eggplants you have available, just aim to have around 8 ounces total.
- Kaffir lime leaves are highly aromatic leaves of certain lime tree which is native to Thailand. I have yet to see them in any sort of grocery stores in my area, including Asian markets. Therefore I substitute them with a couple of fresh basil leaves. They tend to give a similar effect. Conventional basil will do, but if you can get your hands on Thai basil, that would be terrific, if not even better.