STORY AND PHOTOS BY PAOLA THOMAS
One of my most memorable culinary experiences happened a couple of years back on a trip to Thailand. I booked a cooking class at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok and arrived to find that I was the only person in attendance. So I ended up having a four-hour private lesson and personal lunch with the chef. That day, we made curry from scratch, grinding up the paste ourselves from whole spices and making coconut milk from fresh coconuts.
This recipe doesn’t claim to be as authentic, but it borrows from the techniques I learned that day, using ingredients more readily available in our supermarkets. Adding fresh Thai herbs to commercial curry paste and canned coconut milk really lifts this dish to another level, while the inclusion of sweet pumpkin and earthy mushrooms makes this dish rich and satisfying enough for the darkest winter evening.
Serves: 4–6 | Preparation time: 20 minutes
2 tablespoons peanut or coconut oil
2–3 tablespoons red curry paste (about half a small jar)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 stalk lemongrass (cut into 3 x 2 inch pieces and bruised with the flat of a knife)
2 cups pumpkin or winter squash, cut into 1-inch dice (kabocha squash works very well and does not need to be peeled, just cut out any blemishes)
10 Thai basil leaves, shredded
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or palm sugar if you can get it)
3 lime leaves, shredded
2–4 heads bok choy or 2–4 cups spinach
6 ounces fresh white crab meat (or canned crab, cooked shrimp, or cooked salmon)
cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish
lime wedges to serve
Heat the oil and red curry paste in a large pot or wok over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 3 tablespoons coconut milk and cook for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the water, fish sauce and lemongrass, and stir in the diced squash or pumpkin and simmer 8–10 minutes over a medium heat, or until the pumpkin is cooked through and tender to the fork.
Stir in the rest of the coconut milk and return to a simmer. Stir in the basil, sugar, lime leaves, and green vegetables, and cook for another minute or two until the greens have wilted. Stir in the crab and simmer for another 30 seconds to warm through.
Remove the lemongrass pieces and serve the curry sprinkled with cilantro and accompanied by lime wedges. This curry is perfect ladled over fragrant jasmine rice.