Recently, my friend Suzanne suggested I try making Massaman Curry, a Thai dish made with a curry paste and coconut milk. I had never had Massaman Curry, but I love Thai food and am game for a challenge. I searched the internet for recipes. Many of them just used a prepared Massaman Curry paste that you can buy at most Asian markets. I wasn't going to be near any Asian markets for awhile so I decided to try to make my own Massaman Curry paste. I finally found a recipe online, but of course I was missing an ingredient, shrimp paste (also something available at Asian markets). I'm sure it adds a lot to the dish, but I decided to forge ahead without it.
This wasn't a hard dish to make, but it was time consuming due to the long list of ingredients for the paste. To be completely honest, between the paste and my adventures in tofu frying (see below), I was cooking all afternoon. The results were very tasty though. If I made it again I'd do a double or triple batch of paste and freeze the extra paste for future use when time is limited.
My recipe is adapted from here http://thaifood.about.com/od/thaicurrydishes/r/Thai-Massaman-Curry.htm
Massaman Curry Paste
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, unsalted
2 shallots, sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp dried crushed chili (red pepper flakes)
1 thumb size piece of ginger, thinly sliced
1-3 tbsp bottled lemongrass (I used 3 tbsp; available at Whole Foods or Asian markets)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (I ground 3 whole cloves and the seeds from several cardamom pods in my spice grinder)
2 tbsp fish sauce (I have found this at any supermarket)
1 tsp shrimp paste (I did not have this so I omitted it; available at Asian markets)
1 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar (I used brown sugar; palm sugar is also called jaggery and is available at Whole Foods or Asian markets)
1/4 tsp tamarind paste (optional, this is my addition to the recipe; available at Whole Foods or Asian markets)
1-3 tbsp coconut milk from a 14 oz. can (omit if freezing paste for later use, you'll need the can for the rest of the dish)
I processed all of the ingredients in my mini-chop food processor.
You can put just about anything you want in Massaman Curry. Chicken, beef, tofu, vegetables. We wanted a vegetarian dish that day, so I decided to get adventurous and (gasp!) fry some tofu. I used grapeseed oil for frying. I used extra firm tofu that I sliced approximately 1/4-1/2 inch thickness and used lots of paper towels to press on the slices and get as much moisture out of the tofu as possible. If you've never experienced it yourself, be advised that hot oil and moisture create for a dangerous (and messy) situation because the moisture causes the oil to spatter. Get zinged on your arms a few times and you'll never again forget to remove the moisture before frying! Even after pressing my tofu, frying was still a semi-spattery, messy endeavor. It turned out great, but I don't know that I'd go through the trouble again.
To make the dish I fried the curry paste in a small amount of grapeseed oil over medium high heat until fragrant and then added the remainder of my can of coconut milk and stirred to mix the paste into the coconut milk. I reduced the heat to medium and added two dried bay leaves. Then I added an array of sliced/diced/broken into florets veggies: carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow squash and zucchini. I think peas, winter squashes, and green beans would also be great additions. I cooked the mixture until the veggies started to get tender and then sliced my fried tofu into strips and added those in.
Once the veggies reach desired tenderness, remove the bay leaves and spoon the curry over jasmine or basmati rice.
Since making this dish a few weeks ago I bought some prepared Massaman Curry Paste at an Asian market. I am actually planning on making it for dinner tonight so I will report back on the difference soon!