Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 5: Lazy Foods #1 - Thai curry

Last night, I got this lazy vegan cooking party started right with my all time favorite food, curry. More specifically, I whipped up a batch of Thai style red curry.

Oh, Thai curry. How I love you. When I was little, my mother cooked very good, very spicy Asian food all the time. At the time, she and my stepfather were heavy, heavy smokers. I theorize that their love for super hot Asian food came from a need for something super flavorful to tickle their dulled down tastebuds. Me, I was a kid... my tastebuds were fresh and new... and I still grew up eating that stuff. And that's why I do things like eat sriracha right out of the squeezy bottle to this day.

Naturally, my favorite type of curry is green curry... delicious hot green curry. Mmm. My husband doesn't particularly like spicy things, and his favorite is the sweet Massaman curry. Unless I am really, really in the mood for it, Massaman just tastes like candy to me. So, last night we compromised and went for a middle of the road red curry.

Curry is wonderful because it is only as complex as you feel like making it. All one really needs to make curry is curry paste (canned or fresh) and a can of coconut milk. Everything else is optional... delicious, but optional. I've made ten minute curries that were nothing but curry sauce and tofu, and I loved them. I've made curries that took me hours to prep for that contained fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, all sorts of peeling intensive vegetables... curries that I spent long minutes tweaking the seasoning on... and I loved them. And I've eaten basically every kind of curry in between. Seriously, you can't go wrong with curry.

I think that some people are under this wrong impression that if you want vegan curry, you have to make your own curry paste. Making your own curry paste is not very hard, but it's also not necessary in most cases. Canned curry paste is excellent, cheap, and non-perishable. And best of all, most of it's vegan. I'm all about Maesri paste*. I've also heard that Thai Gourmet makes decidedly vegan paste. And these dudes in Australia, Blue Kitchen, make specifically vegan paste that sounds pretty good to me.

Did I mention that I like curry in part because it's cheap? Unless you're buying fancy ass Australian curry paste, you shouldn't be paying more than maybe 79 cents a can. If anyone ever asks you for like $3 for 4oz of curry paste, shiv them and run.

Okay, on to coconut milk. From a vegan perspective, brand doesn't matter a whole lot for coconut milk. You'd have to be pretty wacky to put something non-vegan in coconut milk. Though, on that note, I have seen powdered coconut milk with casein in it. Save yourself the worry and don't buy the powdered crap, it's weird anyway. Flavorwise and (more importantly) consistency wise, brands do differ. My favorite is Chaokoh, the one pictured in the middle of this picture. I've never had trouble finding it on the east or the west coast, though it's worth mentioning that I'm generally looking in, y'know, asian groceries, and not in Safeway.

Oh yeah, and on that note, Safeway has the Thai Gourmet coconut milk if nothing else, but it's overpriced and always seems watery to me.

Much as with curry paste, coconut milk shouldn't be expensive. We're talking maybe $1/per. You're going to want some sort of grain along with it, of course, and maybe some tofu at the very least... but even with those additions, you can have a totally satisfying curry meal for two people for < $5. Mmm. The delicious taste of cheapness.

If you want to go fancier but are stuck for ideas, here's the rough recipe for the curry I made last night.

Thai Red Curry with Eggplant

1 tbsp oil of your choosing
2 medium shallots, sliced very thin and then chopped
4oz vegan red curry paste
1 full-sized (14oz) can of coconut milk, preferrably not light
1 large black eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
1c chopped fresh basil
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 baby bok choys, chopped
1 stalk of broccoli, chopped

1. Heat the oil over medium-low, then add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
2. Add the curry paste in 1oz increments. After each increment, add a small amount of the coconut milk and mix well. (The point is to make sure your curry isn't full of lumps of paste at the end.) Add all of the remaining coconut milk once all of the paste is in and stir again.
3. Then add the eggplant and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until eggplant is soft enough to pierce with a gentle fork poke.
4. Finally, add all of the other ingredients and simmer uncovered until your accompanying grain is ready to eat. If you're eating the curry alone or something, make sure you simmer for at least 5 minutes so that the tomatoes and bok choy aren't totally raw.

Eat on top of brown rice, white rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, soba, udon, toast, or whatever other grain tickles your fancy. Me, I even like curry on lentils. Mmm. Curry lentils.

*A note on Maesri curry pastes: some online sources list them all as having shrimp paste in them, including the red and the green. I'm more inclined to trust what's on the can than what's on the internet, especially since the can's been telling me the same thing for the past 10+ years. One thing to watch out for when buying Maesri curry pastes at a store is that they look VERY similar to Mae Ploy brand curry pastes... as far as I can tell, Mae Ploy DOES put shrimp paste in almost all of their stuff. Also, some curry pastes (sour curry, especially) always contain fish... so yeah, read carefully.

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