I am very very fond of Thai green curry. I don’t care that it’s a bit old hat, or that there are more interesting, and probably authentic Thai dishes to cook and eat. It perfectly combines just enough spiciness with a lightness that most ‘Indian’ curries available in the UK somehow miss. And, since we are still, still!, having the most glorious October weather, it’s not quite cold enough for really heavy food and yet it is definitely cold enough for something spicy and warm.
I learnt how to make this in Chiang Mai on a one-day cookery course that was aimed at the hordes of foreign youth who land on the town every year. The cooking was kept very simple and easy, so that it wasn’t too taxing for our farang brains. Foreign, I was/am, young I was not but it didn’t matter; it was brilliant fun and probably the highlight of my trip there. In the space of seven hours we learnt to make curry pastes, soups (spicy Thai soup is, I’m sure, the best cold medicine in the world), Thai fishcakes, chicken with chilli and basil, papaya salad and, unfeasibly and disgustingly, steamed pumpkin with coconut custard.
What is brilliant about Thai food is that, after a bit of prep (chopping or paste-making), the dishes are incredibly quick and healthy and they sing with flavour. Some of the ingredients are a bit of a pain to find (lime leaves, galangal and palm sugar for example), at least in mainstream shops and supermarkets, but there are loads of sources, like this one, online. You can also make substitutions: lime zest or dried lime leaves are bearable if not perfect; ginger is a good enough replacement for galangal and caster sugar can be used instead of palm. Fish sauce, coconut milk, fresh coriander, fresh chillies and lemongrass are pretty indispensable though.
This is the recipe that I make but, obviously, it is infinitely adaptable to your own tastebuds (more or less chilli, more or less fish sauce, more or less basil…). For a vegetarian version, a combination of sweet potato, mushrooms and broccoli instead of chicken works really well. And, if you don’t want to make your own curry paste, I’m told this one is quite good.
Thai green curry
For 2-3 portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
chicken stock, 500ml (usually 1 cube)
sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon (or something equally neutral; not olive)
sugar (palm or caster), 1 dessertspoon
green curry paste (my recipe below), 1-2 tablespoons
coconut milk, 500ml
chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on are best in terms of taste/authenticity but thigh fillets are fine too if you can’t be bothered with the chopping) 200g
broccoli (or some other crunchy green veg, like green beans), 100g
fresh lime leaves, 5
fresh basil leaves, a small handful (about 10g)
fish sauce, 1 tablespoon
a couple of small, red Thai chillis, sliced, for garnish
rice or noodles, to serve
1. First, skin and bone the chicken thighs. I know this sounds like a faff but they are a) cheaper than thigh fillets and b) they taste better. Also, if you are making a Thai soup as well, or need to beef (as it were) up your chicken stock cube, you can shove the bones into the liquid for a bit of extra flavour. Chop the meat into small, bite-sized pieces.
2. If you are having rice, put this on to cook now since the curry only takes about 15 minutes to cook.
3. In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil on a low heat for a minute or two then add the curry paste.
4. When you can smell the curry paste, add half of the coconut milk, stir to mix and, again, leave it on a low heat until it begins to smell fragrant.
5. Add the chicken and the chicken stock to the paste-milk mixture and make sure the meat is covered in liquid (add a bit more coconut milk if necessary). Add the lime leaves too and cook for a few minutes until the chicken is white, but not cooked through (that happens in the last step).
6. Add the rest of the coconut milk, sugar, broccoli and fish sauce and cook for a few minutes.
7. Finally, turn up the heat so that the liquid boils, cook rapidly until the chicken is cooked through (shouldn’t be more than a minute or two), add the basil leaves and serve garnished with small slices of red chilli.
Green curry paste
(enough for 10 portions; it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks but don’t freeze it)
coriander seeds, ½ teaspoon
cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon
long green chillis (finger chillis I think they are called), 7
small green Thai/bird’s eye chillis, 5
garlic cloves, 6
lemon grass, 1 long piece
galangal, a piece about an inch/3 cm or so long
lemon zest, half a lemon’s worth
coriander root (from a leafy bunch)
fresh grated nutmeg, a pinch
salt, ½ teaspoon
black peppercorns, a pinch (about 7 should do it)
You will also need a small food processor/blender, or a pestle and mortar and a strong arm.
Basically, peel, top and tail anything that needs it, toast the seeds and blend everything together. A detailed version follows…
1. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry frying pan over a low heat until they smell fragrant and, well, toasty. When done tip into the blender/processor.
2. Top and tail the chillis, peel the garlic and shallots and put them all into the blender/processor (no need to chop down smaller unless your machine is a bit unhappy with big bits). Pulse for a minute or two.
3. Peel the outer layer from the lemon grass, top and tail the galangal, chop into large bits and add to the blender. Pulse for a minute or two.
4. Zest the lemon half and add to the mixture.
5. Rinse the coriander root and add to the mixture. Pulse for a minute or two.
6. Add the grated nutmeg, salt and black peppercorns and blend until you have a paste. It won’t be smooth but it should be blended and a mixture, not lots of separate bits.