Well hello there, lovelies! Are you sick of winter yet? If you’re reading this and you live someplace warm, like LA, where I am told today is supposed to be a balmy 79 degrees, we, the East Coasters, are very jealous and wish you all the best, but please don’t rub it in. We just might start crying. We’d kill for some sun dresses and flip flops right about now. Am I right? I’m ready to take my Uggs and my sweaters and my puffer jacket and pack them away for at least 10 months. I look like a black marshmallow making my way down the streets of New York. No matter how you slice it, winter wear is just not that flattering – it can be pretty frumpy. Also, I’d like to stop using cups of tea as ways of warming up my hands at the office. A girl can only take so much.
But, though I’ve prepared quite a soliloquy about my winter discontent, I realize that what I’m about to tell you cannot possibly be appreciated unless you’re bundling up this month. Do you really want to eat Thai coconut curry in balmy weather? I didn’t think so. And even if you did, doesn’t it taste so much better when there’s snow falling outside your window and you’re enveloped in warmth and stillness of your home? Perhaps, these cold winter months are an opportunity for us to appreciate these comforting stews. There is some joy to hibernation, to puttering around your home, inviting a friend or two over and lazing around on the couch wrapped up in blankets.
Winter is also a time when few vegetables are in season – and mostly, these are root vegetables. Much like my winter get-up, they, too, are rather frumpy looking. Have you ever looked at a parsnip or a turnip and thought to yourself, “My, what a looker?” I didn’t think so. And frankly, neither have I. But, given a chance, these little guys can truly transform themselves. They clean up rather nicely. Typically, they are roasted with salt and pepper, and maybe a glaze of sorts, to bring out their sweetness. Sometimes, they’re added to soups. All these things are great and wonderful, but there’s an opportunity to let them shine in an unlikely place – a Thai-inspired red curry made with coconut milk!
This curry brings me such joy that I think, for all my complaining, I can tolerate winter a bit better, snow, sleet, wind and all. Armed with this dish, some sweaters and strong coffee – I can take winter with all its elements. The curry is so delicious, that I can’t get enough of it, and in fact, I’ll be making it for the book club ladies this Thursday; not to mention, this was a permanent weeknight dinner fixture throughout most of November. And so I must say this to you – drop whatever it is you’re doing, and make this without delay! Unless you have a really good excuse tonight, this should be on your dinner menu. Really, I insist. You’ll thank me later, I’m pretty sure. I’m so smitten with this curry, that each night you might delay making it – I’ll feel personally responsible.
This curry has everything going for it that you’d want in a weeknight winter meal: ease, taste, leftover potential, scalability, function. It’s as unfussy as they come and once all the ingredients are in the pot, you put the lid on top, reduce the heat to low and go about your business doing whatever it is you want to do at night – be it catching up on emails or tidying up your living room, or kicking back with a beer. Here’s the best part – this curry comes together in about the same time it’ll take you to dial and wait for take-out. Any leftovers you have will freeze beautifully, saving you time in the nights ahead. Winter’s bite might not even seem that bad. Who knows – your LA friends might even get insanely jealous of your cold-weather meals and wish for sweaters and mittens themselves. Probably unlikely, but please don’t burst my bubble.
Thai Red Curry
I should say here that this is Thai-inspired. I’m not Thai, so I can’t really claim authenticity with this recipe. It tastes amazing, but I’m very new cooking Thai food, and so if anything here seems not authentic, like the vegetables themselves, for instance, forgive my ignorance.
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp cumin
2 cloves garlic
1 large onion, sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced diagonally
2 tbsp fresh chopped ginger
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
2-3 medium potatoes (I like Yukon Gold here)
1/2 lb cut butternut squash (didn’t have in this iteration, but makes for a nice addition)
2 tsp sambal oelek (if you like your curry to pack some heat, I do!)
cilantro leaves (optional) for garnish
Also a good addition here would be kaffir lime leaves (which I didn’t have on hand), and maybe some green beans to throw at the end of the cooking process.
In a Dutch oven, heat up some canola oil with the curry paste and fry the paste a bit letting the flavors develop and mix with the sauce. Add cumin, stir well and give another minute to allow the flavors to blossom. Add the chopped onions and the garlic, stir to mix well, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until onions start getting softer. Add the lemongrass and the ginger, stir well to combine and stir in fish sauce. Let that cook for a minute or two and then pour in the coconut milk and the water, stir well.
Cut up in chunks or slices the turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and, if using, the butternut squash. Gently, as not to splash the hot coconut curry on yourself, add the vegetables, stir well to combine and cover with a lid. Cook on medium-low to low heat until the potatoes are soft when pieced and turnips are easily pierced with a knife (as they tend to be quite firm) – about 30 minutes. Stir in sambal olek and taste to see if you want more heat in your curry.
Remove from heat and serve over rice, garnished with chopped cilantro.