Michael was in Washington DC for a few days this past week.. He had to fly to Chicago for a connector flight to Washington. I don't fly. I don't even like it when people I know fly. So, to keep my mind off his flying escapades, Banjo and I had dinner together while he was in transit. We talked about where we should go for dinner. Indian? Thai? We both wanted a little food adventure. We chose Thai and ended up at a sweet little Thai restaurant that had lavender walls and white tablecloths. The lighting was very subdued. We started out with Fried Tofu and Mini Shrimp Straws, both served with a sweet Thai chile sauce. The Mini Shrimp Straws, served in a martini glass with finly julienned carrots and cucumbers, were great. Crunchy, shrimpy, and light. Very light. Almost like eating air. Banjo ordered the Green Curry Chicken becasue that's the bar she sets to measure Thai restaurants. Couldn't argue with that plan. I could critique and compare every hot & sour soup in this town. I go where the better soup is. In fact, that night, I would have normally ordered Tom Yum, Thai hot & sour soup, but we were on a food adventure. I ordered Talay Treasure; shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a spicy red chile sauce. Our dinners were delicious, but were missing that final fresh basil and sliced pepper finish. They needed that finish for the eye and for the tongue. We not only wanted and needed it, quite frankly, we expected it. Didn't happen.
The following night of Michael's three city flying tour, I wanted Thai again with all the missing elements from the night before. I thought, I could order carryout and embellish it myself. The more I thought about it, the more I obsessed about making it. Off to the asian market I went with a scribbled list of ingredients written in Chinese and Thai to correctly identify things. I. Was. In. Heaven. A kid in a candy store? I was giddy. Crazed. I was there for two hours looking and loading my basket. People were staring at me with my reading glasses and list.
I came home with fresh galangal, ginger, lemongrass, Thai sweet basil, Thai eggplant, shallots, green onions, bird chilies, cilantro root, shrimp paste, and palm sugar. I also picked up a bag of asian fruit gummie stars.
I was going to make Jungle Curry, a very hot curry common to the northern countryside of Thailand.
I started with the red curry paste. I tossed 10 small red chilies, 3 dried chilies, a stalk of lemongrass(white part only), a one inch piece of galangal, lime zest, 5 garlic cloves, 4 shallots, 4 cilantro roots, 2 teaspoons of shrimp paste , and toasted ground coriander into a blender and whizzed it up.
I sauted coconut cream (not traditional for Jungle Curry) until it thickened and started to brown around the edges before adding the red curry paste and letting it simmer for ten minutes to cook out the raw tones and deepen in color. I poured in a cup of coconut milk and added quartered eggplant, mushrooms, halved roma tomatoes, Chinese purple eggplant,, and green peppercorns. When it thickened and came together, I added pan-seared beef filet tips to absorb and curry coat.
I plated it over leftover rice noodles and topped it with sliced orange and red bird chilies, thinly sliced green onions, and fresh Thai sweet basil leaves.
Jungle fever!! It was not a tame dish. It was fiery hot. The eggplants bitterness cut through the sweet foil of the coconut cream. The steak was perfectly cooked and provided brief respites from the fiery bites. The burning crunch of the fresh chiles exploded in my mouth sending popping pepper seeds everywhere. Wow! A very complex spice assault.
It was fantastic.
Michael would not have eaten it, but he was flying after all and eating Nuts On Clark Popcorn in flight.
Banjo might have liked it. It was properly garnished, but it wasn't green curry.
In one bowl of Jungle Curry, I found the elusive line between pleasure and pain.