I woke up on Sunday with a hankering for something fragrant, spicy and defiantly Thai. Not Chinese, not Japanese, Italian or Turkish. Not even Vietnamese. It had to be Thai. There’s something so comforting and yet explosive about the delicately balanced flavours and textures you get in a Thai meal. The heat, the sweetness and wonderful, dark, deep pungency. I love it.
Until I was 21 and found myself in Australia, Thai was a completely unknown cuisine to me. And then there we were, standing on a Sydney street, jetlagged and exhausted, wondering what to do and where to eat. Opposite, a Thai restaurant, gleaming in the dusk. The food was fantastic and my eyes were opened to a whole new cuisine. It was unlike anything I had yet experienced. There was something of the freshness of Italian, the heat of Mexican, the textures of Chinese but utterly different from all three. The lemongrass, the birds eye chilli, the dried shrimps, the rice noodles were all brand new.
It wasn’t until we spent 6 weeks in Thailand however, that I really realised the sophistication, variation and sheer breadth of Thai cuisine. From the salty mussel omelettes and coconut curries in Bangkok, the salty-sweet BBQ Isarn dishes of the north east, the searing salads we had in the north and the red hot dried fish curries and beef of the muslim south, it was a life changing experience. My tastebuds travelled further than my feet. Street food, posh restaurants, home cooking, we tried the lot.
Ever since then, Thai has been consistently in my top five cuisines. Happily we live in London where there enough places that sell the right ingredients. Astringent galangal, fragrant lime leaves, egg aubergines, and so on can all be found in the Oriental supermarkets in China town or on Mare Street, East London.
To go with the curry I made the prawn cakes I blogged about last month, stir-fried some fresh greens with garlic, ginger and Soy sauce, and steamed some basmati rice.
Enough for four with rice and veg
This is one of my favourite Thai curries – fruity and not too spicy, it’s a gentle, salty-sweet and nutty curry that really complements the strong flavour of the beef without the whole thing becoming too rich. If I were to make it again I would add one or two more birds eye chillies for a bit more oomph. However, if you like your curries fragrant, soothing and tasty – this is just right.
You can use pretty much any cut of beef here. I happen to have grabbed some ribeye in the butcher which is why it’s in the ingredients. But I’ve had great success with rump (it was The Ginger Pig’s 90-day aged rump mind you), and brisket, hanger, shin would all work well. You just need to adjust the simmer time to match the cut. The tougher the cut, the longer you simmer it (and the better flavour you get). This definitely isn’t something for a fillet steak, it would get totally lost in the parade of strong flavours.
You can also add pretty much any veg you like. Previous versions I’ve made have included carrots, courgettes, tomatoes and no vegetables at all. It’s a supremely versatile dish, you could make it with prawns, chicken, duck, game or pork as well. Some tough tofu would also be good here. Maybe with mushrooms…
300g rib eye steak
1 can coconut milk
1.5 tsp caster sugar
2 tblsp fish sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 birds eye chilli deseeded and sliced very finely
6 egg aubergines (the ping-pong ball sized ones)
4 tablespoons of peanuts/peanut paste
7 long red dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in cold water for 15 mins
pinch of salt
3 scraped and chopped coriander root
2 stalks of lemongrass very finely shredded
.5 small red onion diced
3 cloves garlic crushed
.5 whole nutmeg pounded into pieces
Start off by making the paste. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend to a paste – mine came out the consistency of a good hummus. Cover and put to one side.
Pour the coconut milk into a pan and bring to simmer. Slice the steak into large bite sized pieces, removing the fat, and add to the bubbling white liquid. Turn the heat down to low, cover and leave to simmer for at about an hour and a half. Remove from the heat and leave to cool down.
Heat a tablespoon of oil (ground nut or rapeseed is good) over a high heat and add four tablespoons of the curry paste. Put the rest aside for another day, it freezes for a few weeks quite well. Stir and fry for a couple of minutes and then add the birds eye chilli and stir and fry for another couple of minutes. Quarter the aubergines and chuck them in stirring as you go. Continue cooking for about 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the beefy coconut milk slowly stirring as you go. Drop in the beef, splash in the fish sauce and add the sugar and lime leaves. Turn the heat down and leave to bubble gently for about 20-30 minutes until everything else is ready.