PROVO, UT, August 08, 2013 — Does it ever appear that the hotter the weather in a destination, the spicier the food seems to be? There has been much speculation on various academic fronts as to why cultures in tropical regions of the planet have spicier food.
Some point to the natural cooling effect of your own sweat dripping down your body as a result of capsaicin consumption. Scientists have also emphasized the antibacterial properties of bioactive compounds found in peppers and other spices. The use of spice for the reduction of food spoilage in hotter climates also can be included as a contributing factor. The world owes the culinary pioneers who first experimented with chiltepins, ginger, and innumerable other spices that grow naturally in hotter climes, a debt of gratitude for the enrichment of our diets.
Thailand is one of those exotic equatorial locations where spice and food have been gathered from places that most westerners would never think to look. Thailand is incredibly humid and hot during the dry season, and incredibly wet during the rainy season. In the south, the beaches are pristine with white sands and aquamarine lagoons that rival those of Hawaii. There are swaying palm trees with massive coconuts, and monkeys that may rifle through the cupboards of your beach house while you are out snorkeling.
To the north there are mountains and jungles teeming with wildlife, including endangered Asian elephants. From the infamous Mekong Delta, you can see Myanmar and Laos and take a boat ride to a temple hidden in a cave that houses a giant golden reclining Buddha. Thailand is brimming with fresh fruits, some strange and exotic, others more common, and all very fresh. Pineapples in Thailand are so sweet, you might swear you had never really tasted pineapple before, and the durian, with its custard-like pulp, is at once repulsively stinky and strangely addicting.
The Thais use many ingredients that will seem unfamiliar, but with the currents of cultural globalization they are becoming easier to find in local grocery stores around the U.S. Cilantro and sriracha are fairly easy to find, while wax gourds, winged beans, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and lemon grass may require some hunting.
The following curry recipe does require a trip to the Asian Market, but it is worth it. Lime peel can be substituted for the Kaffir lime leaves, but you will miss the floral quality of the lime leaves. Whatever you do, do not smell the fish sauce. Just put it in and don’t ask questions. Have all of the ingredients chopped and prepared before you start cooking. Thai curries are easy to make, so be excited and make it happen!
Thai Yellow Coconut Curry
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk
1 cup vegetable stock or broth
2 cups quartered button mushrooms (about 6-8 whole)
2 cups zucchini cut into ½ inch cubes (about 3 small)
2 cups sweet potato cut into ½ inch cubes (about 1 large)
½ cup canned bamboo shoots
4 Kaffir lime leaves, cut into slivers
12 ounces extra firm tofu cut into ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup loosely packed Thai basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt, to taste
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the chili paste and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, stirring often. Stir in coconut milk and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, sweet potato, bamboo shoots, and Kaffir lime leaves. Stir to combine. Simmer with the lid on for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tofu and simmer for 5 more minutes or until veggies are tender but not falling apart.
Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice, basil, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Add salt to taste. Serve over jasmine rice.
Yield: 4 generous servings
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