I’ve always stated that I’d never live anywhere without a Thai restaurant or an airport. And then we bought a house in Geneva. Although I have no regrets about having chosen to make a life here, it is true that the choice of local restaurants featuring really good Asian foods is quite limited. Fortunately, as you may happen to recall, I like to cook & embark on culinary adventures. And being a former academic, my first inclination is always to purchase books on Asian cuisines, especially Thai and Vietnamese. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few Asian-themed cookbooks, and these, combined with a couple of courses I took at the New York Kitchen (when it was still the NY Wine & Culinary Center), have given me confidence in how to build Asian flavors in classic dishes. I now feel quite comfortable with Thai dishes, and have begun branching out to pot stickers, pho (a delicious Vietnamese soup), and beef nagamaki.
Asian cuisines often layer flavors at the beginning of the cooking process, rather than at the end, as Western dishes tend to do. A classic example is Thai curry, which includes a variety of dishes that begin with a curry paste base, and to which coconut milk, broth, vegetables, and sometimes meat are later added. I fell in love with curry when I was in college, but did not learn to make it until a few years ago, when I used a most unlikely ingredient as the feature item: pumpkin. I am not necessarily a huge fan of autumn squashes, but something made me try it, and it is FABULOUS! It works with butternut squash as well as pumpkin, and I imagine other squashes would be delicious, too. It’s especially nice on a cool day, when the delicious flavors waft through the house and amp up the cozy feelings!
The fastest way to make it is to buy a jar of curry paste at the grocery store. But here in the BGTK, it’s all about home-made foods, so I buckle down for the somewhat time-consuming, but not otherwise difficult, process of making the paste. It requires many ingredients and a food processor. The upside of making your own curry paste—in addition to the deliciousness!—is that it makes enough for 3 batches of curry, which is good, because you will definitely want more.
You will need:
1 t. each of curry powder, coriander, and turmeric
½ t. each of cinnamon, white pepper, cumin, shrimp paste, and salt
the juice and zest of one lime
2 T. brown sugar
1-2 T. tomato paste
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4-6 garlic cloves
3 fresh long red or green chiles
2 T. lemongrass
Zap all the ingredients in the food processor until you have a relatively smooth paste, adding a little water to thin it, as desired. Reserve about ¾ of a cup for your curry dish, divide the rest into two halves (each of which will be about ¾ of a cup), place into freezer-safe containers, and freeze them for next time. Or you can make the paste in advance, and freeze all of it for future use.
The rest of the curry is easy and not so time-consuming. In a large Dutch oven, saute a large onion in a tablespoon of grapeseed or canola oil over medium heat until it’s soft, 5-10 minutes. Stir in the reserved curry paste and mix until the onions are coated. Add two cans of coconut milk, 1 quart of stock, 3-4 tablespoons of fish sauce, and stir to combine. Add 4-6 cups of cubed squash or pumpkin, and simmer until tender, about 10-25 minutes, depending upon the type of squash you use.
When the squash is tender, you may add a chopped pepper or two, a sliced potato or two, mushrooms, some kind of greens, or any combination of these that you wish. You may also add tofu, or cooked chicken or beef, but it really is lovely without any of these, too. Serve with basmati rice, and top with cilantro before serving, if you like.