Thanks to all of you who voted for me to advance to the next round of Project Food Blog! For challenge #2, we have been asked to tackle a classic dish from another culture. Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with, and try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal.
When I initially read the challenge rules, I had a flood of ideas come to mind. As vegetarians, we LOVE ethnic food, as they tend to be the most vegetarian friendly and accommodating. It would have been easy to pick some of my favorite ethnic cuisines that I make at home all of the time – Mediterranean, Chinese, Italian, etc. But I really wanted to embrace the challenge of stepping outside of my comfort zone, so I tried to pick something a little less predictable.
Many times the reason I choose to eat out at ethnic restaurants is because I want to eat something that I don’t think I could make for myself. Through this blog, the message I always try to deliver through my food is that “cooking should always be fun, and never be scary.” So on that note I decided to face my own fears, and embrace an ethnic cuisine that I have never attempted before.
After extensive Googling and research, my culinary challenge took me to the Asian aisle of Whole Foods, where I picked up all the makings of…
Thai Green Curry with Tofu over Rice Noodles
My original plan was to actually head to an authentic Asian market, but after driving around in circles for 45 minutes unable to find Asia Bazaar, I changed my game plan. And in the end, I’m glad I did. I was able to make a totally authentic, true to the original ethnic dish – and at the same time show you guys that doing so was possible from my local grocery store.
I looked at a lot of different recipes for traditional Thai green curry, and most of them included a combination of coconut milk, lemongrass, green curry paste, and vegetables. I picked up this green curry paste at the grocery store, but something about using a prepared ingredient kind of felt like cheating to me.
I had seen a few other recipes that included directions for actually making your OWN green curry paste, and that’s what I ultimately decided to do. After all, the challenge was to tackle a classic, and I feel fairly certain that traditional Thai cooks don’t scoop their green curry paste from a jar. I followed this recipe almost exactly, buying several new-to-me ingredients like kaffir lime leaves…
And a stalk of lemongrass…
I got started on my homemade green curry paste, and followed these instructions on how to prepare the lemongrass, since this was my first time. The smell was INCREDIBLE!
Preparing it was actually very similar to using green onions – I removed the woody outer layers and then thinly sliced the softer inside, about 2/3 of the way up the stalk.
Next up – SPICES! A hefty dose of coriander…
Along with a few tablespoons of soy sauce (since I didn’t have vegetarian fish sauce).
A bit of brown sugar to add some sweetness…
All into my mini food processor, along with lime leaves, shallots, chilies, garlic, ginger, and fresh basil.
I mixed it well, and thinned it out a bit with coconut milk while it was processing. The final product was colorful and PACKED with Thai flavor.
In order to see if my homemade green curry paste (on the right) was a success, I did a side by side comparison with the jarred paste (on the left). The color was almost exactly spot on.
And I have to admit, I was kind of blown away by how similar the taste was – I was really proud of myself for capturing such unique flavors! The recipe that I used called for using the entire batch of the homemade paste, versus typically just using 1 tbsp of the jarred paste. So while the jarred paste was much more concentrated, the flavors and spices were almost exact.
I’m really glad that in the end, I decided to really make this dish from scratch, instead of using the safety net of a pre-made ingredient. But it’s also nice to know that the pre-made option is available when time and ingredients are limited.
With my paste ready to go, I started to assemble my dish. I cubed up a block of tofu and shook it in a bowl along with salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander.
And then got it nice and crispy using my traditional sauteed tofu technique. I don’t know why I’ve never thought to add dry spices to the raw tofu before cooking – it was incredible.
Can I just step away from this recipe for one minute to tell you that the minute my tofu hit the pan, Casey turned around and says, “Oh my God, the dogs are gone.” While we were busy cooking and prepping, the boys had slipped out the back gate and had been gone for who knows how long. With tofu browning in screaming hot oil on the stove, I went flying out the back door in my apron and slippers, sprinting down every side street screaming for my dogs.
It was already dark out and they were nowhere to be found. I’ve quite honestly never been that scared. Several blocks away, a man walking home told us he had seen two dogs a few streets back, and we both took off. Headed in full sprint (still wearing an apron, and thinking about my kitchen most likely burning down), I finally found them about ten city blocks from our house, fifteen minutes later. Believe it or not, they were still together, and of course having the time of their lives. I caught up with Casey and we dragged them the entire way home by their collars – BAD dogs. I came home to a kitchen full of smoke, blackened tofu, and the need to start over.
But at least my dogs were home safe and sound, and the house had not burned down. Quite the ordeal in the midst of my Thai cooking experiment! Here’s me, dripping in sweat after my marathon sprint around the neighborhood, and Indy, happy as a clam after his great escape.
Back to my cooking, I sliced some red bell pepper (and eggplant), and sauteed them in a little coconut oil until browned.
Added all of the homemade green curry paste…
Let the paste cook in with the vegetables for just a minute or two…
And then added a can of coconut milk to start the actual cooking of the sauce.
I let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes, and at the end, added snow peas and shredded carrot – just enough to heat them up but not let them lose their crunch. While the sauce simmered, I also cooked a package of Thai rice noodles in boiling water.
Before serving, I tossed the tofu back in the sauce, finished it with a dash of salt, and then we were ready to EAT!
I spooned the vegetables, tofu, and green curry sauce over the rice noodles, and topped it with a few fresh bean sprouts and leaves of basil.
The result was absolutely amazing, and I honestly couldn’t believe that we made such a flavorful and complicated dish in our very own kitchen.
It was also nice that, having prepared the dish from scratch myself, I knew there were no added excess oils or non-vegetarian ingredients (like fish sauce) that I wouldn’t have wanted.
Tackling Thai green curry proved to me that you really can make anything at home, if you do the right research and don’t let yourself feel intimidated.
Because after all, cooking should always be fun, never be scary, and if you follow those rules, it should inevitably be delicious.