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Thai Curry for the Weather

I’m a little behind in mentioning this, but we were still in Myanmar when this posted. Remember the Prem Organic Cooking Academy and Farm? I’m impressed with the efforts of this place near Chiang Mai, where kids from all over Asia get down-and-dirty hands-on lessons in traditional Thai kitchen techniques.

The academy operates under the direction and philosophy of Su-Mei Yu (Any of you Thai food fans in San Diego? Check out her restaurants there….), who wants kids to appreciate age-old Asian food traditions before they disappear.

It’s already too late for many adults, accustomed to buying supermarket meat and Styrofoam plates of food sealed in plastic. But kids can still have fun on the farm, picking their own ingredients, carving their own kitchen utensils and cooking the old-fashioned way, with fire and charcoal, banana leaf and bamboo.

Prem also offers adult cooking classes, with recipes using seasonal ingredients grown on the farm. Food is medicine. Although humans have little control over the weather, we can control the body’s response to seasonal changes. Thais traditionally eat specific dishes in cold times, hot times, and times on the brink of change.

I was lucky. The day I visited, chef teacher Nid fed me her mother’s gaeng khae, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of northern Thai curry–thick, spicy, healthy. I’ve acquired the recipe, and I’m posting it here for you. Better yet: sign up for your own Prem cooking class and learn these secrets straight from the pros. “This is what real people do in their own kitchen,” Nid says. “We do not teach you commercial Thai cooking.”

Gaeng Khae
Courtesy of Nittaya Papasak (Nid)

Gaeng Khae is a Northern Thai dish made with mixtures of vegetables picked from the garden-kitchen or foraged along the fence of one’s home. The soup tastes slightly different depending on seasonal greens. It is a medicinal soup believed to be beneficial and protective of our health during an abrupt change in the weather. It is during this period when our body is vulnerable to illness.

Chile paste

¼ cup (65 ml) minced lemongrass
¼ cup (65 ml) minced galangal
4 to 5 kaffir lime leaves, minced to make 1 ½ tablespoons
1/3 cup (85 ml) minced garlic
1/3 cup (85 ml) minced shallot
13 dried chilies, minced to make 2/3 cups
1 tablespoon (15 ml) fermented shrimp paste
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fermented fish paste (substitute with anchovy paste)

Put the lemongrass into a mortar and pound until disintegrated. Add the galangal and pound until it is incorporated into a paste. Add the remaining ingredients, one at the time, only after each has been pureed and incorporated into the paste. Transfer into a bowl and set aside. Add a couple of tablespoons of water into the mortar to clean both it and the pestle. Save the liquid for cooking. (If making the paste ahead, refrigerate in a covered container. It will keep for several weeks.)

5 tablespoons (75 ml) cooking oil
1 clove garlic, slivered
Chile paste
2 ½ pounds chicken, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn
7 cups (1750 ml) water plus tablespoons chile paste water
2-3 cups (500-750 ml) mixture of bite-sized greens and vegetables: long green beans, cluster eggplants, Thai eggplants, Cha plu (betel leaf), tender young acacia leaves, heart of palm, angled gourds, mushrooms, spinach, rocket, elephant ear, and tender ivy gourd vines
2 to 3 tablespoons (15-30 ml) fish sauce
¾ cup (190 ml) finely ground roasted rice grains

Put the cooking oil in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until golden. Add the chile paste, chicken, kaffir lime leaves and stir to mix. Add the water. Stir to mix and dissolve the chile paste. Cover and boil until the chicken is cooked, about 4 minutes. Add the vegetables and stir to mix well. Season with fish sauce. Stir to mix, cover and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the vegetables turn limp. Add the rice powder and mix well. When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Serve hot with cooked jasmine or sticky rice.

2 replies on “Thai Curry for the Weather”

“Cover and boil until the chicken is cooked, about 4 minutes”. You did not mention if the chicken had bones. If it did, I am not sure if you can cook bone-in chicken in 4 minutes – may be 40 minutes.

Good point, Jamal–thanks. Yes, most such recipes for Thai curry use boneless, bite-sized meat pieces. Unless, of course, you get the village version of what I call “grenade chicken,” which is essentially the entire bird hacked by cleaver and tossed into the pot. That way, you get little segments of bone shrapnel, too.

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