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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Memories of Chiang Mai

Thailand is an exotic fragrant place. The Thai people are so warm and kind and peaceful. As I meandered through the Chiang Mai night markets, shopping with my eyes and snacking from stall to stall. I watched artisans craft incredibly detailed works of art from the thinnest sheets of tins and stumbled upon carts upons carts filled with traditional souvenirs of Thailand and some not so traditional chochkas like knock-off Premier League kits.

Thai ingredients are so readily available in the supermarkets these days. Our taste buds have become more global and it is reflected in the selection at the grocery store. I remember walking up and down the aisles of a Wal-mart grocery store in a suburban neighbourhood several years ago and to my surprise, I found an array of Indian and Thai ingredients. I guess there was a time when Italian food was considered exotic. Baby, we've come so far.

If you are having difficulty locating lemongrass or lime leaves at the regular grocery store, (and I do!)- try an Asian supermarket. They may have it in the fresh produce aisle or you might be able to procure it frozen. It is really worth the venture because it adds a rich layer of complexity which is unparalleled. You can buy these ingredients fresh and chuck them in your freezer in a freezer bag. They keep.

Thai curries make great vegetarian meals. Although, chicken, turkey and beef are also great with red curry. We have been receiving organic vegetables on a weekly basis and I have found that this is a great way to make sure this gorgeous produce gets eaten.

Vegetable Red Curry

1 tbsp red curry paste – more if you dare!
3 lime leaves
1 lemongrass stalk – halved and bruised slightly
1 can coconut milk (I use a lower fat brand)
1 medium red onion
2 small blocks of soft tofu (or 2 chicken breasts)
1 large carrot
1 medium eggplant
1 large green bell pepper
1 large acorn roasted squash*
2 tbsp of noc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)

1. Heat a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, add the red curry paste and coconut milk. As the curry melts into the coconut milk, prepare your vegetables by dicing the red onion, the eggplant, and green pepper. Peel and slice the carrots into quarter inch discs. If you roast the acorn squash the night before, take it out of the fridge, scoop out the flesh and break up into small chunks. Add the vegetables to the pot, place the lid on the pot and turn down the heat to a low simmer.

2. Simmer on a low-medium heat for 15 minutes until the carrots cooked but still firm. Cut the tofu into small dices and add to the pot alongside 2 tbsp of the Vietnamese fish sauce. Give it a quick stir to incorporate the tofu, being careful not to break up the tofu. Don’t be put off by the smell, it’s pungent! It does lend the curry a salty, briny, rich flavour.

3. Serve on a bed of rice and enjoy!

*In the autumn, the farmers markets have an abundance of squashes. To prepare them, I give them a quick wash, slice them down the middle, and scoop out the seeds and innards. Place the squash on a baking tray, add two heaping spoonfuls of brown sugar and bake in a 350 degree oven for at least an hour. Leave on the counter to cool slightly. Once cool, scoop out the flesh and add to your favourite recipe. Be sure to add the amber brown sugar syrup to the recipe. It makes the red curry shine!
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