I’m not sure if the super-extremely nice man at the Thai restaurant by the Home Depot near my place will ever see this post. But if he does, he needs to know that: This relationship? Whereby the mancompanion and I stop by once in a while for some amazing pumpkin curry? Rock. Solid. You’re not getting rid of us! I’m not trying to find a way to sidestep you and the restaurant so I can eat warm, coconut-y sweet, spicy goodness in my sweatpants.
In my mind at least, trying to recreate restaurant favorites is not about that at all. It’s fun, interesting and challenging, and (cheese alert) I swear, in some way it brings me closer to the food and those who make it. It makes me pay more attention to what I’m tasting.
Curry, until somewhat recently, was kind of mysterious to me. It has a very specific, complex taste, but aside from a few basic ingredients, I’m not sure I could tell you what made curry curry. Curry paste, sure, but really, that’s just a (delicious and easy, I might add) shortcut. There is a lot going on, and it’s totally worth demystifying. Let’s, uh, look under the hood, so to speak. There we find chili peppers (I used serrano instead of red Thai, in a pinch), onion, lemongrass, garlic and galangal (you can definitely substitute ginger).
All that stuff goes in a blender, with additional spices and things. There’s sugar, lime juice, ketchup, fish sauce and shrimp paste. Two of those things smell like death (violent death at the bottom of the ocean), but are totally indispensable to delicious curry. Coconut milk makes everything creamy.
Oh! Look. A pumpkin. Imma peel it and seed it and chop it.
And that’s pretty much it! Blender sauce, chicken (if you’d like), and veggies of choice (in this case, pumpkin and red peppers). Finding everything you need may require some hunting depending on where you live, but that’s the hardest part, really. Everything goes into a pot to simmer together.
Pumpkin Curry with Chicken
(adapted from about.com)
For the sauce:
1 can coconut milk
2-3 tbsp. lemongrass, finely chopped
1 shallot or 1/4 cup purple onion, sliced
1 thumb-sized piece of galangal or ginger, grated
4-5 cloves garlic
1-2 fresh red chilies, sliced (I used serranos)
2 tbsp. tomato ketchup or tomato paste
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. shrimp paste (available by the jar at Asian stores)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 to 1 cup chicken broth (optional; I usually add some because I like lots of sauce)
For, well, the rest:
2 chicken breasts, diced into chunks
1 small sugar pumpkin or kabocha squash
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves (I substituted bay leaves)
1/2 a cinnamon stick
A handful of fresh Thai basil and cilantro
Jasmine rice, for serving
Blend all of the curry sauce ingredients except for the broth in a blender. In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine chicken and sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add pumpkin and peppers and simmer for an additional 15 minutes or so, until vegetables are cooked. Taste your sauce and add more sugar, lime juice or fish sauce to taste. Add broth if you’d like more sauce. Serve over jasmine rice and top with fresh basil and/or cilantro.