I love curry, especially Thai curries. Growing up, the closest I came to Asian food was American-style sweet and sour pork (which, I know, is not all that close to Asia). When I moved to San Francisco after high school, I encountered a whole new world of hot, sweet, and spicy. I was hooked.
This favorite recipe of hot, sweet, and spicy curry love is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites: From Family Meals to Elegant Dinners. I’m posting her ingredients with my variations in parentheses. The instructions are mine. If you have a few basic ingredients in your freezer and pantry, you can whip this up in 30 minutes. I use whatever vegetables I have on hand in the garden or pantry to make this, and it can be made vegetarian too. Just omit the seafood and substitute a vegan fish sauce. How to find Asian ingredients? Read my note below the recipe.
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 to 2T yellow (or red) Thai Curry Paste (I prefer red)
- 1 1/2 cups fish stock, chicken stock or water (I usually use water)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (called nuoc mam or nam pla)
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or regular sugar)
- 3 lemongrass stalks, each cut into 3 sections
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, or grated zest of one lime (I use 5 leaves)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 medium winter squash or pumpkin (1-2#), peeled and cut into chunks (I’ve used both winter squash and sweet potatoes. It’s all good!)
- 1 pound wild Pacific salmon, cut into chunks (I leave the skin on)*
- 12-16 ounces peeled raw shrimp or langoustines (I usually use a bag of frozen langoustines from Trader Joes)**
- Large head of greens (kale, collards or chard, or any other green vegetables of your choice)
- 1/2 to 1 lime, juiced, or more to taste
- Cilantro (I occasionally add basil also)
- Jalapeno, chopped, optional (in case you want to spice things up more)
- Jasmine or other rice
1. Put rice on to cook (2 cups water per 1 cup rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, stir once, cover and let simmer until done, usually 15-30 minutes. On my electric stove, I usually turn off the heat about 10 minutes before it’s done. The residual heat on the burner will finish the cooking without scorching. )
2. In a heavy pot, heat a few tablespoons of the heavy cream part of the coconut milk over a medium heat (if there is no heavy cream, just use the milk. Add curry paste and saute briefly to bring out the flavors. Add stock, fish sauce, lemongrass, lime leaves (or zest), and sugar. Bring to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, cut up squash. Add to pot. Let simmer, covered, until squash is nearly done (about 10-15 minutes, depending on the variety of squash). Add roughly chopped greens. Cover the pot and let the greens steam while you cut up the salmon.
4. Once the greens are wilted, add the shrimp and salmon. If the shrimp are frozen, add them with the greens because they’ll need more time to cook. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes or until salmon is cooked. I add cilantro, basil, and juice of 1/2 a lime now, and put more cilantro and quartered lime on the table. Adjust seasoning for salt or fish sauce. Serve over jasmine rice with garnishes.
How to find Asian ingredients? Curry pastes and coconut milk can be found in most urban grocery stores in the international section. But your best bet for one-stop shopping is to go to an Asian market and stock up. Here in Albuquerque, we have Ta Lin (on Louisiana and Central). Here you can find fresh lime leaves and lemongrass stalks. I buy several at a time and keep them in the freezer. Your Asian grocer might already have the lime leaves in the freezer. Look for fish sauce in the Vietnamese or Thai aisle or adjacent to the soy sauces. When I lived in the Catskills, I would occasionally go to an Asian grocer in New Jersey or NYC’s Chinatown to stock up. Palm sugar is either sold in hard disks or in a jar as a thick paste. I prefer the jars but lately, have only been able to find the disks. These can be incredibly difficult to shave or cut off sections. So what I like to do is put one disk in a jar and fill it with boiling water to melt it. Then I just keep it in the fridge to spoon out as needed.
*I only buy wild Pacific salmon. All Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon that is not labeled “wild” is farmed which is not a good thing. You are not getting the health benefits touted for salmon if you are eating farmed salmon. You could use other fish, but the salmon really holds up to the bold flavors of this dish. Try it.
**There is a lot of environmental degradation involved in the fishery industry. Shrimping is not always sustainable. It’s a tricky dance figuring out what’s “okay” to eat. I just try to minimize the seafood I eat unless it’s line caught or sustainably farmed (for shellshish). Mussels are a good example of a shellfish that is okay to eat when farmed. Salmon is not okay.