This messy-looking bowl is just a real-life, weekday example of the quickest Thai dish I cook all the time: dry noodles, some curry paste, vegetables and a source of protein are all I need to prepare a full 15-minute meal for two!
I have no idea if serving noodles with curry is done frequently in Thailand, but I had ignored this possibility for quite a long time, associating noodles only with Pad Thai. I started swapping rice for noodles only recently, inspired by a lunch in a new Thai restaurant. Since then, whenever I’m in a hurry (which means all the weekdays), too lazy (it happens also on weekends) or simply bored with rice, I start soaking the noodles and whip up a Thai-style meal in no time at all. Sometimes there’s a lot of sauce, sometimes it’s just tossed with concentrated and barely “diluted” curry paste, but it always tastes great.
This particular curry paste is based on the Aromatic Curry (Geng Gari) recipe from the sensational Thai Food by David Thompson, the best Thai cookery book I can imagine (and among the best cookery books ever).
You can serve these noodles with any bought paste of your choice, but if you want to make your own paste and find this one too complicated, try this quicker red curry paste I made first with scallops:
TIPS: If you don’t have coconut milk (or don’t want to use it), you can use chicken stock or even water instead. I usually dilute coconut milk with water to make the dish lighter. Here I’ve added only 50 ml of each coconut milk and water, but you can easily double the liquids if you prefer more sauce.
You can use here any curry paste, but if you have access to fresh Thai ingredients, I strongly encourage you to make your own paste. I did it first about two years ago and never even been tempted to buy one. A homemade curry paste takes ten-fifteen minutes (unless you do it with a pestle and mortar), it makes you discover that “Thai curry paste” means so much more than “red” or “green” (or whatever standardised boring options you can buy) and that you can adapt paste’s ingredients to your tastebuds (I always add, for example, a bit more lemongrass, if it’s included). You also realise that probably all the Thai restaurants you know cook with the same ready-to-use pastes and that your homemade ones taste so much better…
-A freshly made curry paste keeps about a week in the fridge and, in spite of what purists advise, I find it still very good defrosted (especially compared to the store-bought), though I do it only if I don’t have time to use up the paste during the week.
-Dried ingredients used in this particular paste can be bought in Indian shops.
-Most fresh curry pastes ingredients are available in Thai shops (in my city many “general” Asian shops sell them too) and can be frozen if you have leftovers, but some lose their texture and especially their aroma (lemongrass and galangal suffer most), so I advise using more of frozen products.
Preparation: about 15 minutes (excluding the curry paste preparation, which takes about 15 more minutes)
Ingredients (serves two, but you won’t use all the 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
2 tablespoons garlic (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
120-150 g dry thick rice noodles (tape-shaped)
2 small chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces or 1 big breast
150 courgette cut into bite-sized sticks (you can use other vegetables of course, but adjust the cooking time accordingly)
50 ml coconut milk+ 50 ml water or 100 ml coconut milk or 100 ml stock/water (you can add more liquids if you prefer a more soup-like consistency)
If you need to prepare the curry 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.
Prepare a big bowl or pot with boiling-hot water. Put the noodles and soak them, covered, for about 15 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the curry.
Pour 1/2 of the 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 in individual portions).
Heat the paste, stirring, until it starts smelling really strong.
Add the remaining coconut milk, the chicken and the courgette. Let it all simmer at low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken bits are cooked. (Add some water or more coconut milk if you find the curry too thick).
Season with fish sauce and, if it’s a bit bitter, with sugar.
Drain the noodles and divide into two bowls. Put the curry on top of noodles and serve.
(It’s not obligatory, but I like it sprinkled with fresh coriander).