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I’ve mentioned before that during the summer between George’s two years in business school, we spent a month in Bangkok, Thailand. What I didn’t mention in that newsletter was that this was actually our second trip to Bangkok. In 2013, George deployed to the Philippines, and when the deployment ended, I met him in Manila for a two-week jaunt across Southeast Asia. I have absolutely nothing to share with you about Filipino food, since I spent my only two days in the Philippines hugging the toilet of the extremely fancy hotel room that George had surprised me with. Nothing like a bout of debilitating food poisoning to make a post-deployment reunion extra special!
When we boarded our plane to Bangkok two days later, I weighed about 5 pounds less than when I started the journey from San Diego, and I was starving. When we got to our hotel, we threw our bags down and took off for our first Thai meal.
When I travel, I go mildly insane, cataloguing every single tourist destination, bar, and restaurant that I want to visit on Google maps. At any given moment, I can pull up my map, and triangulate the closest location to get a cocktail, bowl of noodles, or cultural education, depending on the mood. I do not eat at random restaurants — ever. Every meal, every snack is methodically planned.
So that afternoon, I led the charge through the thick, swamp-like humidity to our first meal at a hole-in-the-wall spot that I found via Anthony Bourdain. It didn’t even have a name, just a street address. Upon arrival, we found that it didn’t have a door either, just a garage door that was rolled up when the “restaurant” owner arrived, and rolled down when she decided to call it quits each day.
It was here that I discovered just how much my new-at-the-time husband could sweat while eating spicy food, and it was here that I discovered my unbridled adoration of massaman curry. After we placed our orders (thank you, Google Translate), we watched as the woman scampered around her completely open kitchen, which was right in the center of all of the folding plastic tables and chairs that made up the dining room.
She had a large mortal and pestle and she flitted around, flinging ingredients into it from at least 15 different containers. Peanuts, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, lemongrass. She worked quickly, pounding it all into a paste, then flung the freshly made curry paste into a giant wok where it hissed and popped. We were several feet away, but the aroma was overwhelming — I still remember it so vividly, almost eight years later.
Is my version of massaman — i.e. peanut — curry authentic? Hell no. I use Skippy peanut butter and maple syrup, not freshly ground peanuts and palm sugar. But it is so delicious, so wonderfully cozy, warming, and delicious. I know you will love it.
the best present… ever?!
It’s beginning to look a lot like holiday gifting season! I’ll remind you of this a lot between now and Christmas but… MAN OH MAN does this newsletter make a fun and unique holiday gift! It is truly the gift that keeps giving… every single Sunday!
peanut vegetable curry
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 cups white or brown rice
2 tablespoons cooking oil (I like using coconut oil for curries)
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 tablespoons red curry paste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (12- to 16-ounce) bag cauliflower florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ cups sweet potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (peeling is optional — I just wash them well)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut ¼ inch thick
1 (14-ounce) can of coconut milk
1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or coconut sugar or brown sugar or omit)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (use the leaves AND stems!)
Optional: chopped peanuts, for garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (as if you’re cooking pasta). Add 1 1/2 cups rice and cook until tender, about 17 minutes for white rice or 30 minutes for brown rice. Drain the rice, then return it to the pot and cover it until you’re ready to eat.
While the rice is cooking, heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Warm 2 tablespoons oil then add 1 diced yellow onion. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Once the onion is soft, stir in 5 tablespoons red curry paste, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Cook for 1 minute. It’ll be clumping around the onion and starting to stick to the pot — you’re right on track!
Stir the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and carrots into the pot until they are coated in the curry mixture.
Stir in 1 can of coconut milk, 1 cup stock, 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup.
If all of your vegetables are not covered with liquid, add more stock until they are. Crank the heat up to high, and once you reach a low boil, reduce the heat to medium-low so that it’s just barely simmering (small little bubbles). Cook for 15 minutes uncovered, until all vegetables are tender and the curry broth has thickened.
Remember: We cook with the lid OFF when we want the liquid to “reduce” — AKA evaporate off and become thicker. We cook with the lid ON when we want the liquid to stay exactly as it is. Here, we’re cooking with it off because we want the curry sauce to thicken.
Turn off the heat and stir in the juice of 1 lime and 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Taste. Add more soy sauce if it needs more salt, more lime juice if it needs more tang, more peanut butter if it needs more… peanut flavor.
Serve the curry over rice.
Leftovers are a good thing: This curry freezes wonderfully. If you are cooking for one or two, go ahead and fix it all and freeze the rest in a freezer-safe Ziploc. You could even double the recipe if you want a yummy freezer meal ready to go in the coming weeks/months.
What to cook when you really don’t feel like cooking: Save time by buying pre-chopped vegetables. Look for pre-chopped fresh onions or frozen onions. And you can always find pre-chopped butternut squash this time of year. Add a pound of pre-sliced mushrooms and you’ve got yourself a delicious curry!
Gimme greens: Chopped spinach, kale, or chard would be delicious in this. Just add it at the end, stirring until it wilts.
Must have meat: Add cubed chicken breast or thighs (I prefer thighs here!) at the same time as the liquids. Or you could add cubed tofu, also at the same time as the liquids. First press the tofu between two paper towels and under a heavy book for 20 minutes.
Dairy-free/gluten-free: It’s both vegan and gluten-free as is.
Now I’m on a Thai kick: I know: Thai flavors are addicting. Try my Thai Turkey Curry Meatballs or One-Pan Coconut Curry Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Lime next! They’re fan faves.
Rice: Rice is delicious here but you could use quinoa if it’s all you’ve got in the pantry. Or you could serve the curry alongside fresh pita or naan.
Yellow onion: White or red onion or shallot
Curry paste: 1 teaspoon curry powder for each tablespoon curry paste.
Cumin: Ground coriander or curry powder
Cinnamon: Allspice, nutmeg, or omit
Cauliflower, carrots, and sweet potatoes: Use any hard vegetables you have on hand or that look good at the farmer’s market. Any potatoes, squash, fennel, parsnips, mushrooms… all would be great.
Coconut milk: While the subtle coconut flavor is fab in this dish, you can get the same creamy effect from plain Greek yogurt, heavy cream, cashew cream, or even sour cream.
Soy sauce: Coconut aminos or tamari
Creamy peanut butter: Almond butter, sunflower butter, or cashew butter
Fish sauce: Oyster sauce, tamari, or extra soy sauce
Maple syrup: Coconut sugar or brown sugar or omit
Lime: Lemon juice or any type of vinegar except for balsamic
Cilantro: Just omit if you don’t have any!