If green asparagus can perfectly face the flavours and heat of an Indian curry, why not test it with Thai one? Leafing through David Thompson’s Thai Food I chose a curry called “aromatic”, combining both Indian and Thai seasoning ingredients. When I say “I chose a curry”, I mean the paste because this extraordinary book has a different paste recipe for every single curry. Though the original recipe calls for duck, I replaced it with chicken (the author suggests different protein sources anyway). This modification, the presence of asparagus and of button mushrooms didn’t stop this curry from being one of the best I’ve ever had.
I couldn’t post this recipe without writing once more about Thai Food by David Thompson, one of the best cooking books I have ever seen (and I talk about all the cuisines from around the world). If you like and cook – or would like to cook – Thai food, this is the most genuine, complete and simply the best written source of recipes I can imagine. It can be a bit intimidating at first, but as soon as you start putting it into practice, every single dish will make you say “wow”, especially if, like me, all you know is food served in Westernised restaurants. As always, I’ve made some alterations to the original recipe, “slimmed” it down skipping coconut cream and replacing a part of coconut milk with water (to be frank the only part I didn’t change was the curry paste) so make sure you check the original source.
TIPS: Beware, the crucial point here is preparing your own paste, which makes this curry unique and so different from those made with store-bought product. Dried spices can of course be bought in Indian shops (or even normal supermarkets) and the fresh ingredients in Thai shops. I have been recently buying fresh turmeric in my organic shop, so you might check these too. I cannot say if any store-bought Thai curry paste will be equally good with asparagus, but you can give it a go.
This paste will keep in the fridge for about a week. You can also freeze it (though David Thompson is totally against it, I find it still more than acceptable when defrosted).
Instead of green asparagus you can also use the violet (purple) one, but I don’t advise the white one. I haven’t tested it in any fiery dish and since it’s very different, the result might be disappointing.
I’ve added some mushrooms to this dish simply because I had some fresh leftover mushrooms from another dish, but they aren’t necessary (add more asparagus instead).
Preparation: about 1 hour
Ingredients (serves two):
7 medium hot red dried chillies, soaked in warm water until they soften (usually 20-30 minutes)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh turmeric, chopped
4 small Asian shallots or 2 medium European shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped galangal
1 tablespoon lemongrass stalks (the lower half part only, outer tough “leaves” removed), very finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander root, chopped
15 white peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 sheaths mace or 1 teaspoon ground mace
2 small chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
100 g button mushrooms, sliced
250g green or violet asparagus (the tougher low part removed), cut into bite-sized pieces
200 ml coconut milk
Prepare the paste: on a clean frying pan roast the whole seeds and then grind them in a spice grinder, mortar or a coffee grinder. Mix the chopped fresh ingredients in a food processor (a small baby food processor is best here), adding some water if needed. (You can also grind them in a mortar, then no water is needed). Combine the fresh and the dried paste ingredients and mix them well again.
Pour some coconut milk into a pan add about 1/3 of the curry paste (keep the remaining paste in a well closed jar in the fridge for about a week or freeze it).
Heat the paste, stirring, until it starts smelling really strong.
Add the remaining coconut milk, the chicken and the mushrooms and simmer at low heat for about 5 minutes. (Add some water or more coconut milk if you find the curry too thick).
Add the thicker asparagus parts and simmer about 5 more minutes.
Finally add the thinnest asparagus parts and simmer for about 3 more minutes.
Season with fish sauce and, if it’s a bit bitter, with sugar.
Serve. (The author advises deep-fried shallots but I thought they wouldn’t suit this light spring version).
Aromatic curry paste: