There comes a time during the week when I find myself with lots of bits of vegetables in the fridge, none which can be used on their own to make any meaningful meal, but it would be a shame and a waste to otherwise throw them away. Oddly enough, this fridge raid often occurs on a Monday evening, the night when I try to empty the fridge in readiness for my weekly trip to the farmers’ markets on Tuesdays.
Faced with an odd assortment of vegetables, I often resort to making a sweet and sour sauce which beautifully brings everything together, or a spicy curry which can perk up any vegetable a bit past their prime.
The fastest route to a curry in a hurry is with a store-bought curry paste, something which I only tried for the first time when we were in the Swiss alps a few weeks ago. After having spent a week in a holiday apartment and trying my best (but failing) to cook simple meals each night with minimal ingredients, I found myself with an assortment of lone vegetables and a craving for something Asian (this is always bound to happen when we have eaten cheese and potatoes too many days in a row). I was pleasantly surprised to find that the two supermarkets in Grindelwald were well-stocked with Asian pantry ingredients, and that they even sold coriander (cilantro) at this altitude! Moreover, pre-prepared packs of fresh vegetables and spices for curries were available; these packs included Thai eggplants, snake beans, baby corn, Kaffir lime leaves, fresh green peppercorns, red chillies, lemongrass and galangal. I couldn’t believe my luck! Later that night, in our cozy apartment in the mountains with the fireplace crackling softly in the background, I managed to surprise our friends and family with a Thai yellow curry. Not a typical meal after a day on the slopes, but a delicious and hearty meal nonetheless.
Whilst store-bought curry pastes can mean dinner on the table in less than half an hour, I usually always make my own curry paste, not least because I can control the chilli heat so that our young children can also enjoy the meal (i.e. I tend to leave out the chillies if our children will be eating with us).
The following recipe for green curry paste is one which I have been using ever since I started cooking for myself during my years at university. I have adjusted the ingredients a bit along the way, but it is a good blueprint to have. Any leftover paste can be kept in the fridge in a sterilised jar for a week or two.
As for the curry itself, the variations are limitless. I love to make a simple vegetarian curry with pumpkin, green beans and chickpeas. But more often than not, I find myself using whatever leftover vegetables I have in the fridge – eggplant (aubergines), zucchini (courgettes), carrots, capsicums (bell peppers), broccoli, cauliflower … even a medley of frozen vegetables will work well. And as we always have salad of some sort in the fridge, often baby spinach or Lamb’s lettuce, I like to stir this through the curry towards the end.
- For the green curry paste:
- 3-4 lemongrass stalks, roughly sliced
- 2-3 red or green chillies (depending on how spicy you like your curries)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3 cm (1 inch) ginger or galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 small shallots or 1 small red onion
- 1 large handful coriander (cilantro), leaves and stems
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- For the curry:
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 small chicken breast fillets, largely diced
- 1 brown onion, largely diced
- 1 x 400 ml tin of coconut milk
- 500 ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
- 5-6 Kaffir lime leaves
- 1 courgette (zucchini), largely diced
- 1 aubergine (eggplant), largely diced
- 6-8 fresh baby corn
- 1 green capsicum (bell pepper), largely diced
- 1 red capsicum (bell pepper), largely diced
- fish sauce, to taste
- coriander (cilantro), for garnish
- To make the curry paste, place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and blitz until you have a fine paste.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Cook the chicken until it is brown all over.
- Add the onion and cook for 1-2 minutes until the onions have softened slightly. Use slotted spoon to remove the chicken and onion mixture to a bowl.
- Place the saucepan back on the heat. Add 4 tablespoons of the curry paste to the saucepan and cook for a few minutes to release the spices.
- Scoop the cream from the coconut milk into the saucepan, and mix into the curry paste. Add the rest of the coconut milk (the liquid) and chicken or vegetable stock. Add the Kaffir lime leaves. Simmer gently for a few minutes.
- Return the chicken and onion mixture to the saucepan.
- Add the vegetables to the saucepan and cook until they are tender. Depending on what type of vegetables you use, you might have to add them at different times. For example, carrots and potatoes take longer to cook and should be added first, whilst capsicums (bell peppers) only need a few minutes.
- Taste for seasoning. You might need to add some fish sauce, lime juice, or perhaps more water or stock. If the curry needs more flavour, you could stir through more curry paste and simmer for a few more minutes.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
As mentioned above, you can change this recipe to use whatever vegetables you like.
To make a vegetarian version of the curry paste, substitute the fish sauce for soy sauce.
If feeding young children, I always leave out the chillies and serve freshly chopped chillies on the side. It’s not the same, but it’s a good way for the family to enjoy the meal together and for young palates to develop.
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