Thursday, April 16, 2009

Currying favor

I confess to being intimidated by curry. First of all, it's really an undefined term, referring essentially to a spice blend of no specific make-up. Different regions have their own flavors, and every household has its own twist. Thai curry has prominent lemongrass flavors and often has coconut milk, which I'm okay with, although I don't like coconut. Indian curry is...uh... Okay. The truth is I don't know much about curry. I know there are curry pastes in red, green and yellow, although there are probably many more. Plus curry powder. Then there are the cool Indian ladies who I overheard talking at a store one day who make weekly trips to some spice market in a neighboring city to make their curry. And knowing that "curry" probably comes from a word originally meaning "sauce," only lets me know that what's in one jar probably isn't much like what's in another.

Interesting side note: my father recently tried the Raj Mahal, our only Indian restaurant in town, and wasn't as impressed as I am with it. One of the things he didn't like was that the dishes seemed to be mostly sauce, with the chicken or veggies or whatever as a secondary feature. I saw his point, although I'd be happy with a bowl full of awesome sauce and some good naan. Seeing the etymology of the word "curry" reminded me of this conversation. It is all about the sauce, actually!

All of this rambling just to say I made curry shrimp last night! We had a jar of red curry paste sitting in the fridge, menacing me. In order to overcome my fear, I plunged on in and boldly used it. I took for inspiration some of the flavors I had at the Indian restaurant (previously blogged about), Raj Mahal. I did a large chop of a spanish onion, zucchini and some long green hot peppers (unfortunately, that's their name). I also finely diced a few serrano chilies. I got some oil in a pan and added the chilies, onion and some grated garlic, moving things around until the onions started to turn translucent. I then added several heaping spoons of curry paste and the serrano chili. I had planned on adding the chillies before this point, but forgot them. Better late than never! The curry paste began getting very fragrant in the oil, which was cool. I mixed to coat the onions and then added in the rest of the veggies. Oh, and some sugar snap peas, too! I added some water and covered, simmering.

Meanwhile, I made jasmine rice. The secret to good rice, I think, is to flavor it. One of the easiest ways is to drop a few boullion cubes into the pan while the water and rice is coming to a boil. It makes the most savory, wonderfully not-bland rice! Thanks, Mom, for the tip all those years ago! I've also added lemon juice and zest, (or orange, lime or grapefruit) red pepper flakes, spice blends like lemon pepper, or actual rice seasoning blends found in the Asian section. Rice can be fun! For this rice, the curry was going to be such a strong flavor, I didn't want to compete. A little chicken boullion added just the right about of pizazz.

Back to the curry, though. Once the veg were the appropriate level of done-ness, I stirred in some cream, and Darling Husband thickened with a little cornstarch. I threw in the shrimp close to the last minute to avoid overcooking. Served over the rice, it was a little slice of heaven. The heat of the spice was there, and built while you ate the dish, but wasn't overpowering. I did notice the zucchini absorbed more spice than the other parts of the dish.

If only we had naan. The stuff in the store that you get with the pita breads just isn't really naan. It's naanish, but nothing spectacular. I'd make my own but... well, to be honest, I tried it about a year back and it didn't come out. I can't get things made with yeast to work for me. I think I may have mentioned this before. It doesn't even have to have yeast, actually, but if it involves something with flour made from scratch, chances are I will end up throwing away ruined dough.

Lots of other veggies would've worked in this dish, as would tofu or chicken as alternate protein. I wonder how carrots or parsnips would've tasted, and if chick peas would be overkill. We'll make it (or something like it) again, because I am no longer afraid. I will hold my head up high and say, "Yes! I can!" Mostly I'm excited to have bridged the curry gap!

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