It’s a Thai

In the fi­nal part of her se­ries on cook­ing take­away food at home, Rachel Allen ex­plores the de­lights of south-east Asia’s en­chant­ing flavours. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Tony Gavin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - APPETITES -

Ever since I put a ruck­sack on my back in my early 20s and trav­elled around south-east Asia with two friends, I have been mildly ad­dicted to Thai food. The flavours are com­plex and bal­anced; a care­ful dance of in­tri­cate tastes, com­bin­ing salty and spicy, bit­ter, sour and sweet, with fra­grant aro­mat­ics such as limes, lemon­grass, co­rian­der and basil.

For many of their cur­ries, Thai peo­ple rely on curry pastes as their flavour base. Apart from the paste, the only in­gre­di­ents are what­ever veg­etable, fish or meat is in the dish, and co­conut milk. The curry paste must con­tain the in­gre­di­ents to de­liver all the nec­es­sary com­plex­ity. For­tu­nately, many curry pastes can be found in an av­er­age su­per­mar­ket, though you will find more au­then­tic ver­sions in an Asian food shop.

Ready-made Thai curry pastes are eas­ily avail­able nowa­days, but a home-made ver­sion, such as the recipe be­low right, will blow any bought jar out of the wa­ter with its ut­ter fresh­ness. If you are mak­ing your own curry paste, it’s a good idea to make a big­gish batch and freeze what you’re not us­ing for an­other time.

The clas­sic ‘traf­fic-light’ Thai cur­ries are red, green and yel­low, but the ba­sic method to make them is es­sen­tially the same. You start by heat­ing up some oil in a pan, with gar­lic and onions, if you’re us­ing them, then in goes the thick co­conut cream (in a can of co­conut milk, the co­conut cream will have sep­a­rated from the thin­ner co­conut milk) which is cooked un­til it spits and splits. Then you add the curry paste, and, fi­nally, the co­conut milk.

Af­ter the curry base is made, you can add in raw seafood (which will cook in the sauce); browned meat such as beef; or veg­eta­bles, which are some­times browned or blanched ahead.

As well as the ubiq­ui­tous de­li­cious cur­ries, you have Pad Thai, far right. Some­times called Phat Thai, or Phad Thai, it’s a stir-fried ri­cenoo­dle dish with eggs, tofu, and some­times chicken or shrimp, flavoured with ta­marind, palm sugar, dried shrimp, shal­lots, gar­lic and chilli, topped with lime wedges and roasted peanuts.

Though I lived on the stuff in Thai­land and swore I’d never eat it again, it is for me, sim­ple Thai street food at its best.

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