The curries of southeast Asia are diverse so it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that this is the curry of southeast Asia. I do not claim particular authenticity or experience in actually cooking with the real thing in the actual place; however, I have read several books that address the subject and I feel fairly confident with my pre-made curry paste and fish sauce. Perhaps, someday, when I no longer have a young family, including a self-asserting three-year-old who may make his mommy certifiable before he reaches age four, I will attempt my own curry paste in an authentic mortar and pestle. At this juncture I am happy to rely on the mass produced paste even if it does lack an element of authenticity. It is the coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste/lime juice, curry paste, and sugar that marry to form a lovely salty-sweet-spicy-sour sauce that never fails to lift my spirits.
Unless a curry calls for braising meat to a point of tenderness it is generally best to cook the vegetables separately and then add them to the assembled sauce. Cooking lean meat, such as chicken, pork, or fish in the sauce can add a nice flavor element. Vegetables cooked in the sauce release too much moisture and muddy the flavors and gum up the texture of the sauce. I like roasting the vegetables best but you could saute them.
My curry sauce above is a lovely magenta because I included beets among the vegetables. Beets are very common in the Spokane farmers' markets right now so they have been frequently part of my menus recently. I also added other root vegetables, including onion, garlic, sweet potato, and carrot, as well as a nice summer squash from my garden. Any array of vegetables would be delicious.
4 cups 1-inch cut vegetables, including onion and garlic (roast whole cloves then squeeze out)
2 Tbsp oil
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. Rub the vegetables with the oil and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables and turn them over after about 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven when they are tender and beginning to caramelize.
1 can coconut milk
3 Tbsp fish sauce
2-3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp tamarind paste OR 1 lime, juiced and zested
1/2-1 tsp curry paste
12-14 oz protein (I used one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas), sliced thin if meat
Whisk together these ingredints in a large saucepan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the protein and allow this to simmer for about five to ten minutes. Add the vegetables and any caramelized bits you can scrape off the pan to the saucepan. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves and into the curry. Adjust seasonings (if you want it to be a little more salty, add fish sauce; a little sweeter, add sugar; a little more tart, add a bit of tamarind; and, a little more spicy, add more curry paste. Serve with rice or flatbread.
VEGAN NOTES: This recipe is vegan as long as you use vegan protein.
GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.
© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012