When most of us think of curry we think of Thai or Indian dishes.
In fact, there are dozens of countries that love curry, including Great Britain, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines. But all curries are not equal, and recipes differ widely within each country by region.
Another fundamental difference can be found in the use of curry powder and curry paste. We tend to think of powder as being Indian, and paste as being Thai, but this is an over simplification.
Curry powder was first made by enterprising Indians for the Brits in colonial times. It became hugely popular, and found its way back to Great Britain, and then the rest of the Western world. Today you will find a variety of curry powders used in Western and Indian style curries. Some of the most common ingredients are coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and hot chili peppers.
You would be hard pressed to find curry paste in big box grocery stores, and that's a pity. Any self-respecting Asian shop will have a handful of curries for you to try. There are three basic kinds of Thai curry paste: red, green and yellow, which might be a bit easier to find than others. The basic difference is in the type of chilies used, but if you visit an authentic Thai market you might find a dozen or more different kinds of curry paste. The basic ingredients in commercial curry paste are shrimp paste, chilies, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and coriander, and combined they are fragrant and pungent.
It is obvious that there is a fundamental difference in curry powder and paste, and they are not interchangeable. In truth, most connoisseurs would make their own curry from fresh ingredients, grind by hand and use fresh. Those of us with time constraints must be satisfied with store-bought paste or powder. There are dozens of curry recipes online for those who want a more authentic experience, and have the time to make their own.
If you have been holding out, and have not yet visited an Asian grocery store, now is the time to finally give it a try. Asian grocery stores are most often inexpensive. Those exotic items you pay an arm and a leg for at your regular store will be cheap by comparison, because here they are staples of everyday life. Certainly there will be many things you will not recognize, but there will also most certainly be someone there who can point you in the right direction. Will there be a language problem? Perhaps. Will you find everything you want on the first trip? Probably not. Will you have a culinary adventure that just might open doors for you that have not yet been envisioned? You can count on it.
THAI RED CURRY CHICKEN
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
1- 1/2 tablespoon red curry paste (adjust to taste)
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1 chopped onion
1 can coconut milk
Olive or canola oil
1 cup steamed jasmine rice
Consider cubed sweet potato as an interesting addition for this curry
Cut the chicken into1/4 inch strips. Take 1/2 tablespoon of the curry paste, add a little water to thin, and toss the chicken until thoroughly covered, let rest for 30 minutes or so. Heat oil in a sauté pan, add the chicken and cook to brown, add the curry, bell pepper, carrots and onion and cook 3-4 minute more. Add the coconut milk and simmer until the chicken is done. Make sure to taste and re-season as necessary. Curry paste can be quite spicy, so adjust to your taste. Serve with freshly steamed jasmine rice and a garnish of cilantro.
1 pound peeled shrimp
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups coconut milk or cream
1 chopped carrot
1 quartered onion
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 hot chilies (optional but suggested)
Oil as needed
Season the shrimp with a few pinches of curry powder and sauté over high heat in a little oil, 3 minutes maximum. Remove and set aside. In the same pan add a little more oil and cook the carrots, and onion for 3-4 minutes, add the ginger and chopped chilies and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the coconut milk and simmer until thick. Add the shrimp just a minute or two before the curry is as thick as you want it. Taste and re-season as necessary. Serve with steamed jasmine rice or for something different, try sticky rice.
GREEN CURRY BEEF
1 pound cubed beef sirloin
1 chopped bell pepper
1 can coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons green curry paste
1 tablespoon palm sugar
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
Small bunch fresh Thai basil
Optional hot peppers
Combine the coconut milk and the curry paste and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Sear the beef in hot oil, but do not cook through. Add the beef, bell pepper, sugar and fish sauce (peppers if you use them) and simmer slowly until the beef is tender. Garnish with Thai basil and serve with steamed rice.
If you are just not sure about this curry business or are in a serious hurry, consider this recipe. It is not authentic in any way, but it will give you a basic introduction. You can add other vegetables that sound interesting to you or that you have in the fridge. Make it as spicy or hot as you like by adjusting the amount of curry or by adding hot chilies. Always serve curry with steamed rice.
1 cup cubed, cooked chicken
1 chopped onion
1/3 cup raisins
1-2 tablespoons curry paste (your choice)
1 can coconut milk
Sauté the onion in a little oil, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until thick. Serve with steamed rice. A garnish of cilantro would be most welcomed.