For years I would eagerly sit down at a Thai restaurant and order whichever curry was their most popular (extra spicy because I have a devil tongue). Growing up in the boondocks of Northeastern Washington, Thai food was a new exotic mystery to me. I was in my early twenties before I ever even tried my first Thai curry. The amalgamation of flavors was pure bliss: sweet and creamy, no—spicy and crunchy, no—intense but subtle.
If you’re new to curry, let me explain. First of all, “curry” is an Anglicized term for an Indian word meaning “sauce.” It’s evolved to describe a wide variety of dishes, usually south or Southeastern Asian in origin, which include a richly spiced sauce smothering meat and/or vegetables. The three spices most often included in curry are turmeric, cumin and coriander. These spices are known for being anti-inflammatory and detoxifying, making curry a pretty healthy food for you.
It never even occurred to me to make curry. It seemed too exotic; the balance between the flavors was too delicate. And so curry was relegated to that upper echelon of foods you only eat when someone else has made them for you. Curry joined the ranks of soufflés, Ossobuco, sushi and garlic-mashed potatoes (No? That’s just me? Okay.)
But I was wrong. Gloriously wrong. It turns out that it’s actually quite simple, and inexpensive, to make a good curry at home. All you really need is a couple cans of coconut milk and a little jar of concentrated coconut paste. Both of which you can find in most major grocery stores. If you live in a city with a international district, all the better. You can probably find even better/more authentic curry pastes for a better price at an Asian market.
I recommend using the Thai Kitchen brand of curry paste. It should set you back $2 or $3. It’s probably a good idea to make a double batch of this stuff. It’s really delicious and even better the next day.
Thai Coconut Red Curry
2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 Tbsp cooking oil
½ bag of frozen green beans, cut in chunks, or 1 handful of fresh green beans
1 red bell pepper, diced
1, 4 oz, jar of Thai red curry paste
1, 15 oz, can coconut milk
¼ cup water
1 Tbsp fish sauce (found near the curry and coconut milk at the store)
2 tsp brown sugar
2 thai red chilies, pierced several times with a knife
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste and whisk it into the oil until it is all incorporated. Slowly drizzle in the coconut milk and continue whisking until smooth and well blended.
Add water, fish sauce, brown sugar and chilies and bring to a simmer. Add red bell peppers and green beans and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Add chicken and serve over rice.
You could also make this with firm tofu or beef. I like to roast up a squash and add bite-sized chunks in with the chicken. Adding a can of pumpkin puree with the coconut milk will also give you a nice pumpkin curry. You’re really only limited by your imagination and the contents of your refrigerator or pantry: bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sweet peas, broccoli, and cauliflower all make great additions to curry.
*Any chili will do. I use habaneros because they are the most common spicy chili in Costa Rica. If you also have a devil tongue, be sure to cut the chili open on your plate and mix it into your dish.
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a beehive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.