i have to find a more appropriate name for this meal. something more authentic, perhaps with the words ‘nam pla’ in it. as it is, its a bit of a mix of things, and isn’t really any one thing or another. the ladyboy curry then. or maybe i should just call it recipe number two. anyway, it came from another regular hankering for that fresh fusion of thai tastes, the hot and the sour. and also from a jolt of inspiration from undomestikated’s moqueca – brazilian fish stew. the hankering had been there for a while, and i’d already stocked up on fresh lemongrass and all that hot asian jazz. but i’d been rehearsing all day and felt tired enough not to want to make a green curry from scratch, but felt enough inspiration to try something out. at its heart its a version of a thai green curry – but without the paste-base and some ingredients, and with tomatoes. and it was good. you know how tv chefs say ‘mmm, just smell that, that is going to be SO good’, and then they call over some bemused local sous-chef and hold out a wooden spoon and say ‘what do you make of that, consuela?’ and consuela sips from the spoon and goes ‘mmmm’? well that’s what thai cooking does in its sleep. the ingredients just naturally do that and you just know its going to be SO good and the consuela in you is going mmmm the whole time.
i did it with chicken, but i suspect it would suit fish as much if not more so. there’s a fish-free august drive now, to give the oceans a break and raise awareness of over-fishing, so chicken felt right for now. a vegetarian version would be good too, in which case i’d use more green beans and add mushrooms and pak choi. i left out dried lime leaves as i wasn’t making a paste and they can stay fairly hard if not soaked (or removed); and i left out shrimp paste, or kapi, mostly because after much fumbling and reflection i realised i didn’t have any. but i don’t feel either of these were hugely missed. also i’d forgotten to buy chillies and was out, so i used a few extra dashes of my increasingly powerful homemade chilli oil.
time: about 30 mins
feeds: 3 quite hungry people
chicken breasts – 4, (ideally) free-range, chopped
oil – exactly 4 dashes of strong chilli oil (or 2 good dashes of regular oil, or similar amount of ghee, and then 1-3 chopped green chillies, according to taste and tolerance)
onion – i only used 3 little shallots as helen is still breast-feeding and is trying to avoid lots of onion, but normally i would use at least 1 large onion
fresh ginger – 1 large thumb-size root. like a handyman’s thumb. or a very big hitchhiker. obviously you could also use the more traditional galangal, soaked and chopped.
lemongrass – 2 sticks (outer leaves peeled off and discarded), lightly pounded with a mallet, then finely chopped
lime – 1, zested, and halved
tomatoes – 3, chopped
thai fish sauce, or NAM PLA – 2 dashes, a little more than a tablespoon. too much nam pla, and too much chilli are about the only ways to ruin a thai meal, so start with less and increase to taste
coconut milk – 1 tin
green peppercorns – 1 teaspoon
green beans – a handful, chopped. could use peas or mange-tout or courgettes
fresh basil – about 3 tablespoons, chopped
fresh coriander – 2 handfuls. like boxer’s hands. including stalks. chopped
rice – to serve. i used brown rice, with a handful of red rice – takes an extra 10 mins to cook, but is just a little healthier than white rice.
heat the oil in a wok and add the chicken and onion. after about 6 or 7 minutes add the ginger and lemongrass. just as the chicken begins to brown add the lime zest and tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.
(if using fish instead of chicken, start with only onion, then add ginger and lemongrass, cook for another 3 minutes and only add the fish with the tomato and lime zest. if using fresh chillies, add with the tomato and lime zest).
squeeze the juice of the zested, halved limes into the wok, and then toss the squeezed limes in too. add the top third of the tin of coconut milk – the thicker, creamier part – and the fish sauce, the green beans and the peppercorns and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. add the remaining coconut milk, the basil and half the coriander, especially the stalky parts, and cook for a further 4 or 5 minutes. finally, remove the limes.
serve on rice, topped with remaining coriander. go ‘mmmm’ a lot.
for an added flourish to impress the boss, top with a few seeded and very thinly sliced red chillies. i didn’t do this as i don’t have any red chillies. or a boss. or a regular job.