Tag Archives: Coconut

Red Curry with Pork and Green Fresh Peppercorn

pork_currypAs many foreign Thai cuisine fans I am impressed by the number of ingredients used in every curry, not to mention the mystery of their combinations. I keep on wondering how the cooks cited by David Thompson in Thai Food (THE book to buy if you are seriously interested in this cuisine) decided on the composition of a curry. First of all, the items used to create numerous pastes, but also herbs, roots and other condiments. In this curry I had no doubts at least about the presence of fresh peppercorns: not only do they go perfectly with the paste and the remaining ingredients, but, most of all, they are ideally suited for pork.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for this curry I would have probably never discovered fresh peppercorns.  Until very recently, each time I saw them I assumed it was another exotic vegetable I had no idea how to use… I had known pickled green peppercorns for long years (I suppose they are popular in many Western countries), but would never suspect the grape-like clustered grains to be the raw version of what we buy bottled! Now that I think how much I love the very popular French pork pâté with pickled green peppercorns, I shouldn’t be surprised I have appreciated so much the Thai combination of tenderloin with fresh ones.

I’m not a peppercorn specialist and I’m sure you can find detailed information on Wikipedia, but for those who have doubts: black, white and green peppercorns are exactly the same fruit of the same plant. They are simply processed (or not, in case of raw ones) in a different way. It’s a bit like black and green olives or green and black tea…

As usually, I tried to follow the recipe as closely as possible, but, as always, I have seriously cut down on coconut milk and cream because of the taste (I simply preferred a less rich, sharper version ) and for dietary reasons (just like I try to cut down fat in many Western dishes). Another thing I do is thicken most curries; they end up still liquid, but not as soupy as they probably are in Thailand. I have also doubled the amount of meat and adapted the ingredients to a dish for two. I have used pork tenderloin and its use forced me to change a part of the cooking process. You can use any cut you prefer, but if you have a fatter or/and tougher pork cut, check David Thompson’s steps to follow (and of course to see his unaltered recipe).

The missing holy basil is the only not intended change. Unfortunately, the only day I had a chance to take the photograph of this particular curry (not obvious during the rare daylight hours I’m at home during the winter…), I didn’t have holy basil, cited in the ingredients list. If you can find it, definitely buy it! (Holy basil, or graprao, is pungent and has green serrated leaves, while the more popular Thai basil is totally different: it has dark violet hues and smells like liquorice or anise seed).


Fresh peppercorns
I know some of you cannot find fresh peppercorns (though do not despair! if I find them easily in several shops in my Swiss city, I’m sure you will find it in many other much bigger Western countries; sometimes fresh produce is sold also online, especially in the USA). Look out for Vietnamese, Thai and generally Asian shops (here even a big supermarket for restaurants sells fresh peppercorns in the Thai section) and ask about the ingredients (sometimes they have small batches arriving once a week). Using rinsed pickled green peppers is another solution, though the taste changes a lot (I have seen these sold in several different European countries, so I hope it’s a universally acceptable tip) and I’ve also seen on some blogs the use of dried green peppercorns, but I’d go rather for the pickled version if the fresh ones are impossible to find.

Curry paste
If you cannot find the products to prepare a curry paste, it’s better to buy a ready-to-use one (in this case red curry paste is the right solution) rather than skip such crucial ingredients such as galangal, coriander root or lemongrass. Your dish will end up closer to genuine Thai cuisine. This being said… if you have all but makrut lime zest, skip it. Do not substitute it with lime zest which has a completely different aroma and taste. To be frank, I once forgot this ingredient and the difference in the served dish was tiny… (I will probably get angry looks if a Thai visitor reads my post…).

If you find the curry paste preparation tiresome, you can easily make it the day before (or even several days) and store in the fridge for several days (tightly closed; David Thompson advises to cover it very tightly with plastic film and then close the jar/box). Do not freeze it or it will become mushy (some ingredients at least).

Curry paste can be prepared in a mortar (an optimal solution, apparently) or, quicker and easier, in a food processor (I use a small baby food mixer). The author recommends to add some water if you opt for the latter (not coconut milk which would make the leftover paste spoil quicker in the fridge). Water makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste in a food processor.

Coriander root
Coriander root appears practically in every curry paste ingredients list, so it’s a very important product. Thai and Vietnamese shops sell (at least here) coriander with roots, but if you cannot get it, you might ask for roots at any farmers’ market (vendors will be surprised, but you will probably get them for free next time you come!) or buy potted plants (it’s really worth it!) or grown your own coriander or, at worst use the lower parts of stalks, but they will be much much more pungent.

Freezing fresh ingredients
I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they do lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more makrut lime leaves for example). I have been freezing makrut lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones.

Do not freeze homemade curry paste (certain ingredients become mushy when defrosted).

Special equipment: a mortar and pestle or a small food processor (baby food processor is perfect), coffee/spice grinder (if you don’t use a mortar)

Preparation: about 60 minutes (if you use tenderloin)


about 300 g pork tenderloin in one piece

300 ml coconut milk

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or about 500 ml coconut cream according to the original recipe)

pinch of salt

offcuts from the lemongrass used in the paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons green fresh peppercorns

3 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves, finely sliced (or more, if you use frozen leaves)

a handful of holy basil (graprao) leaves

1 long red chilli, julienned


6 long dried chillies (or more!)

large pinch of salt

6 tablespoons chopped lemongrass ((remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit, use the offcuts in the “stock” at the beginning)

2 tablespoons chopped coriander roots

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

First prepare the paste.

Soak the chillies for about 15 minutes in warm salted water.

Drain and cut into pieces.

Roast the cumin and the coriander seeds (don’t burn them).

If you intend to use a food processor, grind the cumin and the coriander seeds in a spice or coffee grinder. If you use a mortar, start grinding them in a mortar, adding one by one the remaining paste ingredients, starting from the toughest. If you use a food processor, simply put the ground spices and the remaining ingredients and mix everything, adding water if necessary to make a smooth paste.

Combine 200 ml of the coconut milk, the lemongrass offcuts and the salt.
Boil for about 20 minutes.

Add the pork loin and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in this “stock”.

Remove the cold meat from the stock and cut into bite-sized pieces or slices.

Fry the paste in the coconut oil + the remaining coconut milk (about 100 ml) or in coconut cream for several minutes.

Add the palm sugar and the fish sauce.

Add the pork, the makrut lime leaves, the peppercorns and as much of the coconut “stock” as you need to obtain the desired thickness of the curry.

Just before serving add the holy basil leaves and sprinkle with fresh chilli.

According to the author the curry should taste hot and salty at the same time, so adjust the taste accordingly.



Tom Kha Gai (Thai Galangal and Chicken Soup) with Oyster Mushrooms

tomkhagai_Galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, coriander root, chilli, lime juice… In this famous soup Thai flagship ingredients’s flavours are perfectly recognisable, one by one, creating a recurrent mixture of sour, salty and hot flavours, embellished with a typical sharp aroma. This dish perfectly illustrates the elegance and sophistication of Thai cuisine one might not necessarily see throughout years of eating sloppily prepared curries, served in so many restaurants in Europe (and maybe elsewhere too).

“Tom kha gai” means roughly a dish with galangal (tom kha) and chicken (gai) and this soup does contain a particularly high dose of galangal root, which slightly dominates it. I have followed here the recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food (a most extraordinary cookery book I recommend to every Thai food lover) and as the author suggested, apart from the chicken, I added also some delicate-tasting mushrooms (oyster mushrooms proved perfect). (In the meantime I made a test with cultivated button mushrooms (aka “cremini”, when they are brown) and their taste was too strong).

I tried to make this dish as close to the original as possible, but I won’t pretend it is (mainly due to what I did with coconut milk and cream). I have cut down the coconut milk amounts and skipped the coconut cream, replacing both liquids with more chicken stock. The original version was just too fatty and rich for me. (In fact I do this very often in Thaï dishes, just like I cut down on cream and fat in Western cuisine). I have also added more chicken meat and more mushrooms in order to make it a very filling one-course meal, easily served with rice or bread; not to mention the amounts adapted to a dish for two. I encourage you to check the extraordinary David Thompson’s Thai Food for the original recipe.

TIPS: This dish is a good way to test if you are able to cook certain genuine Thai dishes… because its ingredients appear in almost every curry (and I assume curries are what most Thai food lovers try to make at home first). In short, if you can find fresh (or at worst frozen) lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal root and coriander roots, then you are almost ready to buy David Thompson’s book without being utterly frustrated (there are some other products, such as fresh peppercorns, Thai basil, holy basil, grachai, makrut lime zest… but these aren’t used as often as former ingredients). From my experience, the smallest damage through freezing is done to makrut lime leaves and coriander roots. Lemongrass and galangal become mushy and the galangal’s taste changes, but it’s still better than using dried versions.

Coriander roots are particularly difficult to get for some people, but I have recently read on a forum a fantastic trick: buying a potted plant in a gardening shop! Of course, if you are able to grow your own herbs on a balcony, windowsill or in a garden, finding roots should no longer be a problem. You can also ask a farmers’ market vendor to bring you next time coriander with roots or only roots (I’m sure many would happily give them for free).

If you use frozen makrut lime leaves (I can find them here only frozen), double the amount because they are less aromatic (in general, if using frozen vegetables in Thai dishes, I increase their amounts).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

400 ml chicken stock

250 ml coconut milk

1 big chicken breast (skinned)

250 g oyster mushrooms, tough stalks removed (or other delicately flavoured mushrooms)

7 thin slices of fresh galangal

pinch of salt

1/2 flat teaspoon palm sugar

1 big thick stalk lemongrass or two thin stalks (whole, only the tough end trimmed)

2 small Asian red shallots (I have used 1 medium European shallot)

1 big coriander root

2 red bird’s-eye-chillies + 2-3 more for the final serving stage

2 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves (if you have frozen lime leaves, see the TIPS)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more)

1 tablespoon lime juice (or more)

coriander leaves

Pour the stock and the coconut cream into a pan.

Bring to the boil.

In the meantime wash the mushrooms and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Slice very finely the chicken breast and sprinkle with salt (do not add too much salt).

Put aside.

Place the shallots, the lemongrass stalk, the coriander root and the bird’s-eye-chillies in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle. You can also do it, placing them on a cutting board and using an ice “pestle” for cocktails (this is what I did) or any other heavy object.

Put aside 2-3 chillies for the final serving stage.

Place the remaining bruised vegetables into the boiling stock, adding salt, palm sugar, galangal and lime leaves.

Let it simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the mushrooms and after 5 minutes, the finely sliced chicken breast.

Continue simmering until the mushrooms and the chicken are done.

Mix the lime juice, the fish sauce, the additional bird’s-eye-chillies and the coriander leaves in an empty serving bowl. Pour the soup over it, stir well, adjust the taste – the author says it should taste rich, salty, sour and hot, though if you have “thinned” the stock, as I did it won’t taste very rich – and serve.

I prefer dividing the sauce, the juice, etc. into individual bowls and then putting the fish sauce and a piece of lime on the table, so that I can still adjust the taste.

Indian Squid Curry

squid_currypI grew up without the slightest idea of what squid tasted like and when I finally had a chance to eat it, I fell in love with its delicate flavours and addictive texture. Simply grilled, served in a Thai salad or Korean stir-fried dish, squid never disappoints me. This curry was no exception: it was simply sensational and made me very keen on learning more Indian seafood dishes.

As I have already mentioned while writing about Chicken Vindail, I have been totally hooked on Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, which is one of the best cookery books I have ever owned (and I include here all the national cuisines). This curry has immediately caught my eye not only because I love squid, but also because it is the last thing I expected to see in an Indian cookery book (and I have never seen squid on the menu of any Indian restaurant in Europe). It turned out so excellent and so perfectly paired with squid, I still find it difficult to imagine how such an extraordinary recipe can come from Karkera Canteen in Fort Mumbai and not from an elegant expensive restaurant.

I have slightly modified certain ingredients’ amounts and used coconut milk instead of grated fresh coconut, so I strongly invite you to check Rick Stein’s wonderful book for the original recipe and also to discover other fabulous Indian recipes.

TIPS: Do not increase the amounts of any spices (except for chilli), at least for the first time, otherwise you might end up with a slightly bitter sauce.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Masala paste:

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

5 cloves garlic (peeled)

3 fresh red chillies

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

100 ml/about 1.4 fl oz coconut milk or cream (or, if you can use fresh or frozen grated coconut, combine 50 g of it with 50 ml water)

400 g/about 14 oz cleaned (thawed if using frozen) squid

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 small onion, sliced

5 garlic cloves, sliced

3 cm ginger, grated into a pulp

2 fresh green chillies, sliced

1/2 Kashmiri chilli powder (or any chilli powder you have)

1 small tomato, chopped (skinned or not)

1 teaspoon salt

3 cm tamarind block piece

1 teaspoon  jaggery or 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (not the coloured one!)

fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Pour 50 ml hot water it onto the tamarind piece. Leave for fifteen minutes. (In the meantime start preparing the masala paste and the curry). After this time, mix it well and strain leaving the seeds.

Prepare the squid.

Either cut it into rings (the author’s suggestion) or (the way I prefer squid): make a big vertical cut through the body, spreading it flat and score it diagonally in two directions, on the interior side. Cut the squid into long 2 cm thick strips. Then cut the strips and tentacles into bite-sized pieces.

Put aside.

Prepare the masala paste. Grind all the seeds into a powder in a spice or coffee grinder (you can of course use a pestle and mortar). Add the remaining ingredients and mix well in a food processor (baby food processor is very useful for such pastes).

Heat the oil and fry mustard seeds at medium heat until they start popping. Add the onion and stir-fry it for five minutes. Add the garlic, the ginger, the green chilli and fry for one minute. Finally, add the masala paste, the squid, the chilli powder, the tomato, salt and simmer for 3 minutes until the squid is cooked (i.e. no longer translucent). Add the tamarind water and sugar. Heat for 30 seconds.

Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves.



Thai Red Curry of Scallops

scallopcurryForget all you have ever heard about scallops having a fragile taste or being easily spoilt by strong and hot seasoning. This fiery dish, bursting with bold flavours – like every Thai curry – proves exactly the opposite. After years of eating my beloved mollusc prepared in various ways, I can say without hesitation this is by far my favourite scallop dish.

I have found this jewel of a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food, a beautifully edited, high-quality cookery book I have been reading and testing for the last few months. Until now, I have only posted Squid Salad (a dream treat for squid lovers), but all the other dishes I tried proved also fantastic and highly superior to what I have ever had in any Thai restaurant. These results are not accidental: they are obtained thanks to the use of genuine fresh ingredients and, in the case of curries, a homemade paste is the crucial reason of the stunning difference. This scallop curry is the perfect example of the elegance and sophistication only a homemade paste can yield.

Even though David Thompson has completely changed my way to see the Thai cuisine (for example I will never even consider using a commercial curry paste), I must confess I do not follow all his recommendations… I do not prepare fresh coconut milk, as the author urges everyone to do, and I allow myself to reduce significantly the fat content in coconut milk/cream – based curries. Served in my house as the main course with rice and some vegetables, they are much too rich and, anyway, it’s an old habit of mine to lighten dishes as long as they remain delicious. In this recipe, I have also used more scallops (and in general indicated this recipe, normally for four, as serving two, since I have it only with rice and vegetable side dish, which is less than a typical Thai meal). Even though I’m a coriander fan, I didn’t like it here; sliced makrut lime leaves and chilli seemed a sufficient “fresh touch” at the end. For the original recipe, check David Thompson’s wonderful book.

TIPS: Since every curry paste I prepared was different from the previous one, every ingredient is of a high importance and cannot be skipped, so if you embark on a curry paste making adventure (though, since it takes me about 5 minutes, I don’t know if “adventure” is the right word), make sure you have ALL the required products. You will be thrilled to recognise them, afterwards, one by one in the finished dish.

I am able to buy all the fresh ingredients necessary for Thai pastes in Asian grocery shops and I know these are available in many European countries, so I hope you can get those in your city too. (Some can be sold frozen, for example makrut lime leaves).

Curry paste can be prepared in a mortar (an optimal solution, apparently) or quicker and easier in a food processor (I use a small baby food mixer). The author recommends to add some water (not coconut milk; see below), which makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste.

This recipe will yield more paste than necessary; the remains can be stored in the fridge for several days and then used once more (I experiment with other ingredients). Do not add coconut milk to the paste before refrigerating because it will spoil quicker.

Do not freeze the remaining curry paste! You will completely spoil its aroma and texture.

I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more makrut lime leaves for example). I have been freezing makrut lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. Do not freeze homemade curry paste, Thai basil or coriander leaves. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones (do not even try to dry makrut lime leaves).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Curry paste:

5-8 dried long hot red chillies (deseeded, soaked until soft in warm water and drained)

a big pinch of salt

5 thickish slices of galangal

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit)

3 tablespoons chopped red shallot

1 tablespoon chopped coriander root

10 white peppercorns

1 heaped teaspoon roasted shrimp paste

14-16 scallops (depending on the size and your appetite, of course)

500 ml (about 2 cups) coconut cream (I have used only 250 ml coconut milk instead)

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

250 ml stock (or coconut milk; I have used homemade chicken stock because I prefer a cleaner taste)

4 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves, thinly sliced (I always remove the central vein)

1 tablespoon thick coconut cream

1 fresh red chilli, sliced

(coriander leaves, torn; I don’t like their presence here, so I have skipped them the second time I prepared this curry)

Prepare the paste, grinding all the ingredients in a mortar or mixing in a food processor, adding some water in order to obtain a more or less smooth paste (see the tips above).

Heat the coconut cream (or milk, if you opt for a lighter version), add 3 tablespoons of the paste (mine were well heaped) and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, the fish sauce, the stock (or coconut milk) and let it simmer until it thickens.

Add the scallops and 2 sliced makrut lime leaves.

Let the scallops simmer until they become opaque (if they are not completely covered in liquid, you might have to flip them once).

Taste the seasoning and adjust so that the flavours are at the same time salty, hot and fragrant thanks to the makrut leaves.

Serve the individual portions or on a serving plate, sprinkle with the fresh chilli, the remaining sliced makrut leaves and coriander, if using.

(Refrigerate the remaining paste for several days and use it with other ingredients.)


Thai Bean Sprout Salad with Coconut (Yam Tua Nork)

thai_sproutspAs a regular coconut milk consumer I would never dream of using it in a salad. Creamy cold desserts, custard cakes, curries are the only ways I would use coconut milk until I saw this recipe in David Thompson’s “Thai Food”. Since I often don’t use the whole can and the contents don’t keep forever after opening, I was thrilled to discover this original and quick salad.

I must say that as much as I love all the ingredients, I was a bit sceptical about the final result, but I needn’t have worried: this quick side-dish proved as fabulous as all the previous recipes I found in David Thompson’s huge collection of Thai recipes. It is crunchy, creamy, slightly smokey and nutty.  Since mung bean sprouts are irritatingly perishable, I was also glad to discover a completely new way to eat them. I would probably get scolded by the very demanding author for using here coconut milk instead of the cream (I have used more of the milk). I have allowed myself also to change slightly the ingredients’ ratios, to adapt the salad to one serving and I have changed the vinegar (see below). To see the original salad, check David Thompson’s book.

Check here some other recipes including coconut milk.

TIPS: The dressing can be prepared in advance, but combine it with the sprouts just before serving to make sure they don’t wilt and don’t get soggy.

You can cut the sprouts in two to make the eating process easier.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves one as a side dish):

1 cup (about 250 ml) bean sprouts

3 tablespoons coconut cream (I have used coconut milk)

1 tablespoon vinegar (coconut vinegar is apparently used most often in Thai cuisine and it’s easily available for example in my Thai grocery shop; the author advises white vinegar diluted with water and personally I have used rice vinegar here)


2 tablespoons grated coconut

2 tablespoons peanuts (unsalted, shelled)

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1 small Asian shallot or a very small Western one, finely sliced

1 tablespoon chopped or torn coriander leaves

First prepare the paste.

Roast the coconut and the peanuts in a dry pan.

Pound them with salt in a mortar (I have mixed in a baby food mixer).

Combine the paste, the vinegar and the coconut cream with bean sprouts, adjust the flavours (the author says it should taste smoky, rich, sour and salty) and sprinkle with shallots and coriander leaves.