After getting sick of rice for every meal, I tried ordering vegetables without it. Complete with hand motions I said the English equivalent of "No want rice. Vegetables. Big big vegetables." With some trial and error, I received before me a platter of the sauteed tomatoes, baby corn, eggplant, onions, peppers and several kinds of mushrooms--it was a veritable cornucopia--all doused in delicious MSG. She also taught me how to properly pronounce green curry with chicken in Thai, quite a feat considering the intonation. I don't order it much any more--too much disappointment--but I have requested green curry at a restaurant downtown and the waiter was very impressed. The curry was my other standby in Thailand. Lek made it with Japanese eggplant and pumpkin, if they were available. I ordered the smokey curry with a spice level of one and slurped down the stew sweetened with coconut milk with only a little rice.
This dish doesn't have the complications of making a curry paste beforehand out of God knows how many herbs, spices and aromatics, but it still has that depth that makes you wonder, what is in here? I went to the Asian Market, a relatively new store, to find real lemongrass, which made such a difference. I always want to substitute lemons for lemongrass but it's not quite right, not earthy enough or something. I didn't even realize how close I would come to Pee Lek's green curry, but with the inclusion of squash or pumpkin--it's nearly there.
Pumpkin-chickpea Curry: from Tender by Nigel Slater, serves 6
1 15-ounce can chickpeas or 1/2 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece ginger, minced
3 stalks lemongrass
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 small pumpkin (about 8 ounces), cubed
250 mL vegetable or chicken stock
400 mL coconut milk
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 cups rice, cooked
Mince the garlic and the ginger together. Saute the onion until it's translucent. Add the minced garlic and ginger. Stir in the spices. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas and vegetable stock as well as the lemongrass with its tough outer leaves removed. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the pumpkin has softened a bit and the chickpeas have split. Thicken with cream, season to taste. In a separate pan, saute the mustard seeds until they spit, add to the curry. Serve over rice.