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Aromatic Thai Curry (Geng gari) with Chicken and Asparagus

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):

Curry paste:

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

Remaining ingredients:

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

fish sauce

(palm sugar)

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:

Korean Mung Bean Pancake with Ground Meat and Kimchi

A very kind friend has recently offered me Our Korean Kitchen, a beautifully illustrated home cookery book written by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, an Irish-Korean couple. It’s not my first Korean cookery book, but in this one everything looks appetising and effortless at the same time, so I couldn’t wait more than one day to put it into practice. A mung bean-based pancake batter sounded  particularly intriguing, quite different from all the Korean dishes I know and I happened to have every single ingredient, so the choice was easy. The pancake was rich and filling, but didn’t feel heavy at all and I loved the idea of a healthier, not wheat flour- but bean-based pancake. It might not look very exciting, but I promise it was absolutely delicious!

As usually, I have slightly modified the recipe (e.g. used a mixture of pork & beef I prefer instead of beef alone or adding baking powder), so check the original recipe in Our Korean Kitchen which is a fantastic source to have a peek into easy and delicious Korean home cooking.

TIPS: Dried mung beans are small, have a green khaki colour and are slightly oval in shape. They can be found now in many “normal” supermarkets, but you can look for them in organic or Asian shops, and of course, online.

The cooking process is really easy, though you have to plan the pancake a day ahead (the beans must be soaked overnight) or at least in the morning, if you want to have the pancake for the dinner. The only tricky part is frying this thick pancake without burning it and without leaving it raw inside (especially if you use pork or chicken). I did it on low heat with a cover on so that the top of the pancake cooked a bit too before the flipping over.

The baking powder is my own idea because I believe it makes such a filling pancake a bit fluffier (it does the same to the Japanese okonomiyaki). You can skip it of course.

The whole batter (apart from the meat) can be made ahead and wait one or two days in the fridge before the addition of meat and frying process.

The recipe calls for chopped kimchi (preferably from an old batch), but if you don’t have it, you can add some Korean medium-hot powdered chilli, an additional crushed garlic clove and an equal amount of a chopped cucumber, courgette or bok choy. It won’t really be a substitution, but it will lighten the pancake and add some spicy kick to it.

Even though this recipe calls for minced meat, I can easily imagine other proteins such as shrimp, mushrooms or cheese… and why not some vegetables ?

Preparation: about 40 minutes+overnight (beans soaking time)

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with several kinds of pickles and/or a green salad):

150g/about 5.3 oz mung beans

100g/3.5 oz Chinese cabbage kimchi (at least several weeks old) + 2 tablespoons kimchi juice

50 g-60g/about 1.7-2.1 oz minced meat (I have used pork and beef, but you can use any meat of your choice) mixed with 1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

several tablespoons of spring onion leaves, chopped + some more to sprinkle on top before serving

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or less if you use normal soy sauce)

1 cm/0.4 in grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour or wheat flour

1 flat teaspoon baking powder

(sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds or Japanese garlic and chilli oil)

Soak the beans overnight.

Drain them and mix in a food processor with the kimchi juice,  adding some water (about 50 – 70 ml) until you obtain a thick batter. (My batter was quite smooth, but it had still some bits of mung beans and I liked it a lot).

Combine with the remaining ingredients (apart from the sesame oil or taberu rayu, if using).

Heat some oil in a pan and spread a 1.5cm – 2 cm layer of batter (you might need to adapt the pan’s size, but don’t make the pancake too thin, 1.5 cm is a minimum; I have used the smallest pan I have).

Cover the pan and fry the pancake at low heat until it becomes golden brown at the bottom. It took me about ten minutes.

Flip the pancake over and increase the heat to medium.

Fry the second side for about 5 minutes (check with a fork if the batter is fully cooked, especially the meat).

Repeat the frying process with the remaining batter.

Serve cut up into pieces (if eating with chopsticks), with some green onion, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds on top. I thought it was fantastic with some Japanese garlic and chilli oil (taberu rayu).

 

Spring Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake) with Wild Garlic

Okonomiyaki is one of the most frequent Japanese dishes in my house. From the beginning I took its name literally (it means roughly “grill what you want”) and never stopped improving, adapting to my changing palate and, of course, seasons. As a big garlic fan, I made crushed garlic the obligatory ingredient of every single batter. Last weekend I decided to add chopped wild garlic leaves instead and this seasonal twist made me discover one of the best versions (actually I wonder if it wasn’t even the best okonomiyaki in my life…). It’s definitely one of the best wild garlic dishes in my collection.

If you have never heard of okonomiyaki, it’s a kind of savoury pancake (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”), but the batter contains only a small amount of flour and lots of white cabbage. The magical side of every okonomiyaki is a generous choice of toppings added once it’s fried, and these usually include a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (dried and shaved bonito), green onions, pickled ginger, ao nori (seaweed “flakes”)… The basic cabbage batter can also be played with and enriched with sliced pork, beef, raw calamar or dried shrimp and it is often topped with thinly sliced pork belly, fried when the pancake is flipped. There are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Kansai/Osaka-style (the one I “practice” and describe above), and a very filling Hiroshima style, which contains also cooked noodles and which I find too heavy. 

As I have mentioned, I have experimented a lot with both the batter and the toppings. Most modifications are surprisingly successful and I can only hope the pancakes I make can still be called okonomiyaki….

If you don’t have wild garlic/ramsons (click here to learn more about it), you might like one of these versions:

Okonomiyaki with Chorizo

with Chorizo

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

...with Red Cabbage and Garlic

with Red Cabbage and Garlic

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

TIPS:

Okonomiyaki batter mixture: it can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. Personally I am happy to prepare it from scratch since it takes two minutes and I’m sure it tastes better. I have seen different batter recipes; mine is composed of an egg, some flour, some dashi (Japanese stock), salt, pepper, baking powder and, last but not least, grated mountain yam (or yamaimo in Japanese), a slimy cousin of the potato (I find it in organic shops and I know Asian and Chinese grocery shops sell it).  It is not necessary, but in my opinion it largely improves the texture, making it lighter and fluffier. Yamaimo freezes very well (I freeze it peeled in individual portions and then grate when half thawed). When I don’t have yam, I skip it and when I don’t have dashi, I simply replace it, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture. The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.

Okonomiyaki is always served with okonomiyaki sauce. I once bought it and it was much too sweet, so I was more than happy to learn from Hiroyuki how to make my own sauce, mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in desired proportions. (Nowadays I go even further, replacing sometimes this sauce with my homemade Indian style tomato chutney)

Okonomioyaki mixture can be prepared in advance and fried/grilled the following day. As an addict, I often make a double batch and have it two days in a row.

Okonomiyaki toppings: these usually include okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (flakes of dried bonito). Ao nori (powdered seaweed) is also very frequent, but I have noticed many Westerners dislike its “fishy” aroma. Personally I prefer to skip it and sprinkle with green onion or chives. Among my obligatory toppings are also taberu rayu (chilli oil with sediments) and very often tobanjan (Chinese chilli paste, which I buy in… Japanese shops and in Japan!). You can add of course whatever topping you like!

Preparation: 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

Batter:

5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or a mixture of milk+dashi or good quality chicken stock or simply water (though the latter yields the least flavourful pancake)

1 egg

3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo) (can be omitted, but then less flour should be added)

salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

10  bok choy leaves and stalks (or more if the bok choy is small), chopped ; if your bok choy has more leaves than stalks, use only half of the leaves, otherwise the pancake will be too soft (at least for me)

1 big handful of chopped wild garlic leaves

1 chicken breast

1 tablespoon oil

Toppings:

dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) ; I have used here my Indian-style tomato chutney

mayonnaise

chopped chives or spring onions

2 tablespoons oil

(ao nori, or powdered seaweed)

(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)

(pickled ginger)

(6 thin slices of smoked bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces)

Cut up the chicken breast into small cubes (1 cm x 1 cm). Season with salt and pepper, stir-fry until golden brown and put aside.

In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Adjust the consistency adding more liquids or more flour (the mixture should be very thick, not liquid and the batter should only bind the ingredients together and not dominate them).

Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan or on a smooth grill (called teppanyaki grill or la plancha).

Put half of the okonomiyaki mixture in a more or less round-shaped heap (you can adjust it on the pan).

Flatten delicately the pancake, but not too much. Otherwise it might fall into pieces when you turn it over. (My okonomiyaki is max. 1,5 cm/about 1/2 inch high).

If you use smoked bacon, place the pieces on top, cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until you see the upper part of batter set. If you use an old-fashioned pan (steel or iron), you might have to turn down the heat to the lowest because it might burn.

Flip the pancake over, cover once more and fry for another 5 minutes until the bacon is slightly browned.

Flip over onto a plate and add your favourite toppings.

Repeat the same with the remaining batter mixture.

Fresh Goat Cheese and Wild Garlic Spread/Dip

Wild garlic season is short, so I make sure I buy it every week while it lasts. Last Saturday, the nice lady who keeps my favourite goat cheese stall (at my French farmers’ market there are now three stalls selling exclusively goat cheese!) suggested I combine fresh goat cheese and wild garlic. As soon as I came home I made this simple spread and it was so perfectly delicious I still wonder why I haven’t thought about it earlier… If you’ve never tasted wild garlic, chopping it into a bowl of fresh cheese and spreading it on a slice of bread is a great starting point.

Ramsons, wild garlic, buckrams, bear’s garlic, bear paw garlic… (Allium Ursinum) is a wild, wide-leaved plant with a very distinct garlic scent and apparently a favourite of bears, who would dig out its bulbs (hence the name). Its edible long leaves are very similar to those of the lily of the valley and mixing them up is very dangerous, since the latter are toxic. The strong smell created when the leaves are rubbed is the only way to distinguish them if one is not an experienced forager. Planting its bulbs in one’s garden (the seeds are sold in Swiss gardening shops) or buying from a trustworthy market stall is even safer! … 

Wild garlic grows all around Europe but while its use in the kitchen is popular in certain countries, it is almost non-existent in the others and often limited to rural areas. In Switzerland it appears in April and disappears in May and is so popular, it can be found on many market stalls and even in supermarkets. It is extremely versatile and can be treated as a spinach or other leaf substitute but also as a condiment, a milder cousin of garlic. If you find yourself with a big bunch of wild garlic, here are some other ideas:

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

TIPS: I’ve used here fresh goat cheese but if you don’t have access to it (or don’t like it), you can use cow or ewe cheese instead (or thick yogurt, such as Greek yogurt). It just must be fresh and slightly tangy.

Preparation: about ten minutes

Ingredients (serves as a snack for two-three):

250 g fresh goat cheese (or cow/ewe fresh cheese)

125 ml yogurt or sour cream

10 big wild garlic leaves choppes

salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients, add more yogurt if the consistency is too thick (and maybe more wild garlic leaves).

You can serve it immediately, but the taste improves (becomes more garlicky) after several hours in the fridge.

This spread/dip will keep several days in the fridge.

Thick Andhra Chicken Curry with Green Asparagus

Some people say asparagus is extremely delicate, should be barely seasoned and treated with caution when it comes to spices. Don’t believe them! In this fiery, bold-flavoured curry the asparagus reigns over the remaining ingredients and neither the chilli, nor the other Indian spices have lessened its distinct flavours I’m so fond of. Everything worked so perfectly together, I’m sure it will not be my last Indian experiment with this delicious vegetable.

This dish is a thickened variation of the Chicken with Curry Leaves from Andhra Pradesh (Kodi Gasi), based on a recipe from The Essential Andhra Cookbook: with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities by Bilkees I. Latif. As usually I have modified the recipe and the ingredients’ amounts (e.g. making the “sauce” thicker and slimming it down), so make sure you check the original recipe and this fascinating collection of regional dishes.

If you look for other asparagus dishes, you might like some of these:

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Asparagus Tempura

Asparagus Tempura

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

asp_springrollsp

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

Asparagus and Bacon Rolls

TIPS:

If you realise you like this curry a lot, I advise preparing a big batch of masala and either keeping it in the fridge (it will keep for five days) or even freezing it in small portions. Then you stir fry onions and curry leaves (if you have them), take a protein source (meat, seafood or paneer, and why not tofu?) or/and a vegetable to the masala, add some water and the quick delicious meal is ready in no time at all!

I always slim down coconut milk-based curries and I did this one too, so if you want to make it creamier, add coconut milk instead of the 100 ml water in the cooking process.

You can obviously adjust the heat level to your preferences and use half mild peppers and half hot peppers, or even use only mild peppers.

You can skip the curry leaves, but do try them if you can get them (I wrote a bit about them here). They will make this dish unforgettable. If you worry about buying a big bag of curry leaves (they are usually sold in big packages), divide them into small portions, wrap tightly in plastic film (or, if you have the vacuum packing machine, vacuum pack them) and freeze. Do not dry them. Dried curry leaves have lost almost all of their aroma, so it’s better to skip them than use dried. Fresh curry leaves can be bought by internet (look for them on Amazon or Ebay).

You can serve this dish topped with fried onion/shallot and curry leaves (the original chicken dish calls for those).

Obviously, you can make this dish vegetarian, skipping the chicken breast.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves four):

2 medium chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

approx. 300g of green asparagus spurs, lower tough parts removed

2 tablespoons coconut fat (or any oil of your choice)

3 big European shallots, finely sliced

15 curry leaves (fresh or frozen)

salt, water

Masala:

150 ml coconut milk

4 long fresh red chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)

4 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

First prepare the masala. Roast the whole spices in a pan (make sure they don’t burn and take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to yield a strong but pleasant smell).

Grind the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or in a mortar.

Mix well with the remaining ingredients in a food processor until you obtain a thick sauce.

Cut up the asparagus spears into bite-sized pieces. Divide into two groups: thick pieces and thin pieces. You will add the latter at the end of the cooking process.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and stir-fry approx. 2/3 of the shallots with half of the curry leaves.

When the shallots start becoming soft, add the chicken pieces, salt them and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Add the masala, the thicker pieces of asparagus spears, about 100 ml water and let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked.

Five minutes before the end add the thinner parts of asparagus. Thus, the asparagus will remind crunchy.

(You can serve this curry with fried shallots and curry leaves on top.)