… in which your humble author is careful and still gets a good capsaicin burn.
Part of the Chanukah trove was Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai. The recipes are straightforward and offer substitutions where they’ll be most likely needed and for that, we can overlook the touch of earth-motherism.
Curry pastes are an ingredient of many Thai recipes, so before tackling any of them, I had to start with the basics.
Red Curry Paste
20 dried red finger-length chilies [I used Thai chiles, but the recipe cites chiles de arbol and chiles japones as alternatives]
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
10 whole peppercorns or 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 stalks lemongrass, trimmed of dry/tough outer leaves, and cut finely
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped shallot
2 tablespoons (8-12 cloves) chopped garlic
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger or galangal
1 teaspoon finely minced lime zest
1 teaspoon salt
Stem the chilies if necessary and break into big pieces, discarding most of the seeds. Place the pieces into a small bowl and cover with warm water; let sit 20 minutes to soften.
Separately toast the coriander (2-3 minutes) and cumin (1-2 minutes) and grind them, along with the peppercorns, in either a spice grinder or a mortar. (If you need to use the already-ground kinds of cumin and coriander, use equal amounts and dry-fry.)
Put all ingredients into a blender/food processor and grind down until you get a fairly smooth paste. You might need to add a bit of water to aid the process, but do so sparingly.
Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a month.
This is where I met my Waterloo. I used my right hand as a strainer as I poured out the soaking water. And then I washed my hands with soap and hot water. It was not the last time I did so during the process. I was fine for a few hours and then I started to feel it – the burn. Which lasted for about three days. Thankfully, I’m left-handed.
Almost everything else, none of which gave me any trouble. Yes, the lemongrass looks a little beat-up; it’s a little old and I’d folded the stalks to get them home in my backpack. I only ended up using one of those shallots because they’re huge.
Lime, ginger, and defrosted cilantro. Freezing chopped cilantro in ice cube form is a little messy to accomplish, but so very worth it.
Toasted coriander, cumin, and the peppercorns waiting to be ground. Cheapest coffee grinder Zabar’s sells? $17. Not having to clean the actual coffee grinder before and after each non-coffee use (and having everything taste like coffee anyway)? Priceless.
The ‘before’ shot of everything but the spices and the chilies. The bit of liquid at the bottom is just the water from the cilantro ice cubes.
The final product. Gorgeous, ain’t it?
I haven’t made anything with it yet, but I’ve got plans.