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Thai Curry talk -Shooshee- part one

An introduction to true Thai curry pastes by a person who sets out to correct the misconception of her most favorite cuisine.

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Thai Curry talk -Shooshee- part one

An introduction to true Thai curry pastes by a person who sets out to correct
the misconception of her most favorite cuisine.

Thai curry

Let's talk curry.

Out there on the Internet somewhere, there is an article that I wrote floating around, titled "Where is the real Thai taste." Somewhere in the article I mentioned my curry ingredients - my THAI curry ingredients - because I know what's real and what's good, and would like to share it with the world.

In Thailand, the same dish, made by people from different regions and with different up-bringing, may contain a few different ingredients; therefore, each dish will have a different look and feel.

I come from Bangkok, the capital city, situated in the central plain of Thailand. Bangkok is intriquing and amazing and is as metropolitan a city as New York city. Although my family is what you can say is an "old Thai" family, its members are modernized and westernized in many ways. (And no, we do not live in a house built on stilts on the water, and our prize possession is not a water buffalo, as stated in the geography text book that's used in the middle school where my children attend.) But, when it comes to food we preserve the traditional tastes. A long time ago, most of the Thais' households had outdoor kitchens with charcoal stoves, but these have been replaced by many granite countertops and top of the line gas/electric cooking appliances and sub-zero refrigerators. Many even replaced their various sizes of good old mortars and pestles from Ahngsila province with one electric blender, but the true Thais stay with their original ingredients and methods, and, therefore the flavors of the dishes remain the same.

Don't get me wrong: I am not a "remain-in-the-past" person. As people, you and I evolve as we expose ourselves and expand our horizons. I see myself as a very hi-tech person, but I choose to take things and technology that will improve our quality as people. I do not discard something "old" just because it's "old"; or, even -gasp- "outdated." Instead, I keep what's working well, and enhance that by adding only the things that will make it better.

As far as I'm concerned, my curry paste recipe is as Thai as it can be. --I learned by observing my mother, who learned from her grandmother, who learned from her mother, and the list goes on-and-on. I know, we skipped a generation. My grandmother did make curry, but she did not enjoy it as much as making grilled freshwater prawns with her famous "sweet nampla" dipping sauce, her famous namprikkapi mole, or, her most mouth-watering banana in coconut cream or glouy buodchee. She was married to my grandfather who came from the beautiful southern region of Thailand, and his passion was cooking great central and southern curry dishes for the family.-- But I do taste very Thai and excellent curry dishes made by different true Thai -or "Thai tae" families.

The bottom line is, no Thai curry tastes the same, BUT, for the true texture and flavor, the ingredients should be exact.

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What is shooshee anyway?

I have written about types of "soup" dishes when I introduced tomyum. In the curry family we have ghangped - ghangdang - red curry, and ghangkeowwan - green curry. Ah, please be careful when you say ghangped - the soft "p" makes it the hot spicy curry, but when letter "p" is pronounced like a double "p" - hard "pp" it means duck. We do have a wonderful curry made with grilled duckmeat, and it's called ghang ped (soft p) ped (hard pp) yang (long ah). Ghangkoa is red curry without coriander and jeera seeds, but with a bit of sweet and sour taste from the juice of tamarind paste. Ghangpa, or "jungle" curry, is a paste that we don't fry, but would dilute right in the water and is made without coconut milk. Now, ghangshooshee is ghangkoa that calls for cooking with fish - usually freshwater, sometimes with prawns, and is usually less soupy and thicker in paste than other curry dishes. Cilantro roots are used to enhance the aroma in order to set the balance with the fish. Some people like it a little sweet but that's not necessary - the option is yours. Some cuisine crispy-fries whole fish. My father prefers his fish -not necessary whole- to cook along with the curry because he enjoys the tenderness and sweetness of the fish. Shreded Kaffir lime leaves make the dish perfect, and you can find them in most Oriental grocery stores - they cost way too much in regular food stores for my approval.

After moving to the northeast of the United States, the lack of fresh kaffir limes made me regret that I didn't move to warmer climes such as Florida, Texas, or California. Due to the lack of easy access to kaffir lime, I have made only pastes for ghangsom curry, ghangleung - the southern curry, ghangkaree which is derived from an Indian dish, but not ghangped, ghangkoa, ghangpa, or ghangshooshee. Every summer, when my parents send my sister from Bangkok to pick up my children for their visits, she would bring for me a large batch of green and red curry pastes that my mother had prepared, already cooked in olive oil, individually packed and sealed to preserve their freshness. The use of olive oil is not a must, it just happens to be our choice. I would immediately label the date and store them in the freezer, and they are my supply for the whole year. I make very good curry pastes, but my mother's curries are just divine!! All the time spent leaning over from the tree branch, lurking in her grandmother's kitchen, paid off. My mother was never her grandmother's favorite; in fact, it was quite the opposite, so she was not welcome anywhere near her kitchen. Fortunately for us, she was a natural learner who learned by observing and using all her senses - being an excellent tree-climber did come in handy, too, in this case. Lately, I've been contemplating visiting my parents next summer so that I can make my own curry pastes and bring them back with me. We shall see how that plays out.

Stay with the ingredients.

I had enough of people telling me that they make great Thai curry with onion, ginger, basil leaves, lemon peel, curry (yellow), lemongrass, and a lot more - oops, I almost forgot to mention chopped peanuts. And don't forget the sugar. Alright, so, what I am about to bare is my family recipe. I don't have any secret ingredient that I have to keep from you, since my reason for coming out is to bring folks closer to an understanding of the true Thai curry taste. Please keep in mind that, like everything else, the more you practice the better you will get. Have fun with your experiments, and, there's no failed experiment here!

Ghangped paste

This measurement is for a 1/2 kilo -around 1 pound- meat portion

9 dried roasted large red peppers - Look first in an oriental store and, if you luck out, go for dried jalapeno. Take off the stems and cut the peppers length-wise and get rid of the seeds, as well as the core in the middle (if any). Let them soak in water for as long as you can afford the time. When I want to make curry for dinner I normally soak my peppers in the morning of the same day - that is, if I remember. Warning, wash and rinse your hands well after handling hot peppers - I still burn parts of my body, especially my eyes, with that hot hand of mine that I thought I had rinsed really well!

2 teaspoons of kapi - shrimp paste. Kapi Klongkohn is the brand that I use- it comes in a milky color plastic jar with a red lid. Please stick with Thai kapi, not the ones from other countries.

6 small red onions - Nowadays they can be found in your regular food store, and a typical oriental food store will carry it. I prefer it over a large red onion because the small one has a stronger scent and is less watery. But, if a large red onion is what you have, use from 1/3 - 1/2 of one large red onion.

9 cloves of Thai garlic - You know what, since I returned to the US, I have not been able to get hold of strong-aroma Thai garlic. Go ahead and substitute with 3-4 smaller cloves of your typical everyday garlic - please, do not exceed 4 cloves. Please note, one clove, not one bulb, you will not be happy if you put in 4 bulbs of garlic!

4 slices of galanga - Frozen is alright, fresh galanga is even better, and we cut it across the width then julienne. Powdered galanga isn't the same. -Like other manufactured powdered spices, everything is grinded in the mix and we would like to avoid that :-)

2 tablespoons of finely-julienned lemongrass (from about 2 stalks after you have cut off the heads-the largest hard section toward the root, and the tails-the thin, almost dry stem on the opposite side, from which you should cut off about 3 inches) - If you come across good-looking fresh lemongrass (large and white), you can buy and freeze them. Whether you plan to hand-grind this batch of curry paste, or use an electric blender, you need to julienne the lemongrass as finely and evenly in size as you possibly can.

1 teaspoon of kaffir lime skins, thinly sliced then julienned - In the United States, there's a Thai produce supplier in California who carries fresh kaffir limes. Instead of ordering the hard-to-find kaffir limes from them I'm thinking about visiting Thailand so I can buy fresh ingredients and make my whole year supply of pastes from there - and that's how pricey it is to be on the east coast trying to order from the other coast of the US. As far as I know, it can not be substituted - not with lemon peels, lime peels, or orange peels. If you happen to live near Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Dallas, San Diego or San Francisco (urban centers with large Thai populations) you will have no problem finding these at Thai grocery stores.

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds - Most stores carry them - Indian stores, most definitely.

1 teaspoon of jeera seeds - For all these years I have enjoyed eating and cooking, I just found out today, when I looked for the correct spelling of the term, that jeera seeds are cumin seeds - Ha!

1 teaspoon of black peppercorns

There, you have a list of Thai curry ingredients - no ginger, no yellow curry, and no peanut. These ingredients comprise the base for most "ghangped" curry dishes. As I introduce each curry, I will go into details of what makes one different from others. All ingredients will be grinded, or blended together at the beginning of the cooking process. At some point along my curry experience I don't go by the measurement anymore- my nose and my eyes usually tell me when something needs to be added to the paste.

I will finally put the shooshee salmon together for you in my next article, please stand by.

Have the most wonderful Chef-Me-NOT!!! day.

Pradichaya Gafaae Poonyarit Pradichaya Gafaae Poonyarit

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