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Passport & Plate - Massaman Curry

Thailand | Thursday, March 5, 2015 | 4 photos

Red curry paste
3 Large dried whole red chillies, soaked in water for at least 1 hr & chopped.
1 1/2 tablespoons galangal
1/4 cup garlic cloves
3-4 tbsp sliced lemongrass
3/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tbsp fresh coriander root
1 tbsp Kaffir lime zest
1 tspn cumin powder
1 tspn White peppercorns
1 tspn shrimp paste

For the Curry
1 pound chicken or beef, cut into cubes
1/2 cup just cooked potatoes, cut into cubes
3 tbsp Red curry paste
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 1/2 tspn tamarind paste
2 bay leaves
3 cardamom pods
3-4 tspn fish sauce
2 cups coconut milk (fresh if possible)

To make the curry paste;
In a large mortar and pestle, grind the cumin powder and peppercorns. Once finely ground, place in a separate bowl and leave for later.
Grind together all remaining ingredients (except the shrimp paste) until it becomes a paste. Grind in the cumin peppercorn mix & shrimp paste.

Note: a mortar and pestle is the traditional method for grinding curry paste, it is said that there is no other way to get all the flavour from the spices and herbs. It is however, not a crime if a food processor is used instead.

Making a meal of it;
1. In a large saucepan or wok, heat 2 tbsp oil (sesame or coconut) on high heat and add the curry paste until aromatic.
2. Add meat and all other ingredients except the coconut milk.
3. When everything is coated in the curry paste and Palm sugar has melted, add coconut milk.
4. Simmer until meat and potatoes are well cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
Serve with steamed rice.

The story;
The sound of hundreds of scooters and motorbikes honking for their right of way, seeps through the walls of our hotel room, it's enough to get us up from our deep slumber & out into the frantic city that is Bangkok. We leave the relative calm of our hotel and exit into a wall of muggy air and saliva inducing scents. Homemade shacks and stall tables cling to the side of the streets, smoke filling the air from the frying satay skewers, boiling fish balls and tofu sticks. Morning commuters take their pick of protein which is roughly chopped up with scissors, dropped into plastic bags and served with sweet chilli sauce. Some start the day with a bag of green mango and guava to dip into a mix of sugar and chilly. It's breakfast on the run for many here.
We resist the temptations and head to what we've heard to be the best cooking school in the city.
We begin the lesson at one of many food markets. The smell as we round the corner to the square is a potent mix of fresh & fermented fish, aromatic lemongrass and earthy coriander with the sweet tang of ripened fruit.
We're told about the different chillies used and the importance of thai basel, galangal and kafir lime (amongst others) in thai cuisine.
Purchases in hand, we're led down a small trampled walkway wedged between two orange stained concrete buildings, towards a wooden family home on stilts.
We're greeted by a wonderful young man who is running around, placing small bowls of spices and herbs into the centre of a handwoven mat on the floor.
That day, we squeezed freshly shredded coconut for milk & ground the perfect combination of herbs and spices to create our curry paste. We produced meals that rivalled anything we'd ever eaten. Cooking food the way it should be, without modern day shortcuts, reminded us of the importance of fresh ingredients and tradition equipment. I realised then, my love for traditional foods. I felt i'd discovered a secret that other people didn't realise existed.

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