So we had this pineapple. At first, I didn't notice it, nestled deep in the shredded-paper grass in the Easter basket my mother sent last week. But sure enough, a second glance revealed its thorny crown protruding on one side.
DPaul doesn't really care for pineapple. Truth be told, I'm not really nuts about it either, at least not raw. However, I do have a penchant for pineapple when it's cooked, particularly when used in a savory application. My first instinct was to grill it, develop some caramel goodness on the surface, but as the week wore on and I continued to ignore the thing, it lured me with its strengthening perfume.
Curry beckoned. It was just a tickle at first, an unformed idea knocking around my olfactory centers. As my mind chewed on it further, the picture became clearer. Green curry. Prawns. Herbs. Chili pepper. Yum.
I wasn't exactly shocked to find that Bell Market didn't have Thai green curry paste. I was, however, a little nonplussed that they had no curry paste of any color or national provenance whatsoever. Maybe I'm being a little San Francisco snobby here, but in this day and age, curry paste is hardly exotic.
Okay, time to improvise. How to make a respectable Thai-inflected curry with supermarket ingredients. Ginger, check. Cilantro, no problem. Hey, lemongrass! We're getting somewhere.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to Thai food, and I surely cannot pretend I was aiming for any particular traditional dish. But I had a clear vision of where I was heading, a sense of what I wanted the final dish to taste like, and that was my culinary compass.
My only other imperative: Easy. I really didn't want to spend hours pounding herbs in a mortar and pestle, toasting spices, what have you. This was going to be a Cuisinart meal.
Right. Ingredients in and set the food processor to obliterate. Get a pot of rice going. Whip up a simple salad of red onion and cucumber (thanks to a little inspiration from Anita). And there you have it: A tip of the hat to Thailand in practically no time. Not bad for a white guy.
These recipes are broad at best. I wasn't measuring anything, and this is all strictly from memory. In other words, your mileage may vary.
Thai-inspired green curry with pineapple and prawns
For the curry paste (adapted from this recipe):
A good fistful of cilantro
Several leaves mint
2 small shallots
3-4 cloves garlic
1-2 serrano peppers
1 small knob ginger, peeled
Zest of one lime
Juice of two limes
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp turmeric
3 Tbsp peanut oil
Throw it all in a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste.
For the curry:
1/2 small pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2" chunks
1 lb prawns, peeled and deveined
1 stalk lemongrass
Several leaves basil
1/2 medium red onion, cut in 1/2" squares
2 small scallions, chopped
1 can coconut milk
Cut small incisions in the lower, white portion of the lemongrass stalk, keeping it in one piece. Heat a small amount of peanut in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, just a couple minutes. Add the curry paste, toss with the onions and fry until most of the moisture has evaporated off. Add the pineapple, toss, and cook for another minute or so. Add the coconut milk and prop in the lemongrass stalk; bring to a boil. A few minutes before you're ready to serve, add the prawns, scallions and basil leaves and cook just until the prawns are done. Serve with jasmine or white basmati rice.
Red onion-cucumber salad
1 English cucumber, peeled in stripes and cut thinly on the bias
1/2 medium red onion, slivered
1 serrano pepper, seeds and ribs removed, very finely slivered
Several leaves mint, julienned
Zest of one lime
Juice of two limes
2-3 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Whisk together the lime juice, zest, fish sauce and brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Toss with the remaining ingredients and let stand for at least 30 minutes.