Did you know that chilies start out green before they go red? Like tomatoes? What's that, you did know? Because you're not an idiot? Oh. I didn't. In fact I so didn't know that, that I asked the lady at the garden shop for some red chilies because I felt I had enough green chilies. She laughed, kindly explained to me how chilies work, then patted me on the head and gave me something shiny to play with. It was all shiny and stuff, I enjoyed it immensely!
Despite overcoming that knowledge gap, I still don't have any red chilies. I go through so many green ones cooking Indian food that it's only the rare chili hidden away amongst foliage that gets a chance to turn red. Apparently green chilies, being the unripe fruit, have a less developed flavour and sweetness but more intense heat compared with the reds (is this true? Please correct me if I'm wrong). They aren't pure heat though, and do contribute their distinct flavour to a dish. In none other is this more obvious than green chicken curry, using a freshly-made Thai green curry paste.
So what are you doing? Make some!
This curry paste has been modified to use the chilies growing in my garden (I have much more serranos than thai chilies), but it's more or less based on this recipe from Adventures in Thai Cooking & Travel. You can be traditional and use a mortar and pestle, or a good blender that can crush spices.
In a mortar and pestle I generally start by bashing the spices with some rock salt, then add the tougher herbs (galangal, lemongrass), and finally the wimpier vegetables (onion, chilies, etc). This order makes the job easier — it's difficult trying to crush spices when they're mixed up in a paste of onion and garlic. If you're using a spice grinder/blender the same applies, only the rock salt is unnecessary.
Thai green curry paste
Ingredients (makes enough for one curry serving 5, recipe below):
- 2 thai green chilies, roughly chopped.
- 9 green serrano chilies, roughly chopped.
- 1/2 tsp coarse rock salt (if using a mortar and pestle)
- 5 white peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 inch piece of galangal, peeled and chopped roughly
- 3 dried kaffir lime leaves1, rehydrated in hot water (discard the water), sliced thinly
- 1 tbsp lemongrass, chopped roughly
- 2 tsp chopped coriander (cilantro) stems
- 1 large shallot, skin removed
- 3 cloves of garlic, skin removed
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
1. Toast the peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds in a dry pan over a high heat until they colour without burning.
2. Crush the spices (with rock salt if using a mortar and pestle), then add the galangal, lime leaves, and lemongrass and crush to a paste. Add the remaining ingredients gradually and crush to a paste.
(1) I used these because I didn't have fresh kaffir lime leaves. You can use fresh, or buy dried in asian grocery stores.
This paste will keep in the fridge for a few days, but loses its spark if frozen. Why not make a curry with it? I like to simmer the chicken in coconut cream while I make the paste. It's unconventional but gives you a head start on tender, flavourful chicken, it's efficient, and honestly I can't taste a difference compared with the usual way. You could use bought green curry paste, but I recommend doing it the longer way at least once to experience how a good a curry can taste.
Green chicken curry
Ingredients (serves 5):
- 300 g chicken meat (breast or thigh meat), cut into strips
- 400 ml (one can) of coconut cream
- 2 star anise, whole
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 medium-sized shallots, halved and sliced finely
- One batch of green curry paste (recipe above)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tbsp palm sugar
- 3/4 tsp tamarind concentrate1
- 1 zucchini, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 3/4 cup loosely-packed Thai basil leaves2
1. Combine the chicken meat, star anise, coconut cream, and 1 tbsp of fish sauce in a saucepan. Simmer gently while you make the curry paste.
2. Sauté the shallots in 1 tbsp of oil until they begin to go translucent, then stir in the curry paste and cook for 1-2 minutes.
3. Add the contents of the saucepan from step 1, then heat until oil start to separate on the surface of the mixture. Add the palm sugar, tamarind concentrate, 1 tbsp of fish sauce, zucchini, and water and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance of palm sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind to your liking.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the Thai basil. Serve with jasmine rice.
(1) Tamarind comes in many different forms. Tamarind concentrate is thick and syrupy like molasses, with a very intense sourness. If you're substituting different tamarind preparations take this into account.
(2) I've used regular basil before with decent results, but try to get Thai basil for its distinctive aniseed flavour.