Trips to the chinese supermarket and the discovery of Thai pastes - a Panang curry recipe to liven up the tastebuds
I have many times mentioned my somewhat unusual fascination with China, most specifically with Macao, where my family has resided, on and off. I was never lucky enough to visit, but have held inside me some sort of nostalgia for the days of yore my grandfather spent there. I have also held a love for the ancient chinese culture, an interest for the art, the clothings, the music, the food. Even the films, I am such a fan of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, I never tire of re watching those.
My sister, on the other hand, always had that same kind of fascination but for India - and she married an indian - and because when we were younger she did a lot more cooking than I did, I always ate a lot of very good indian curries. And for many years, curry to me was Indian, I knew no other and refused to consider any other, despite reading about the Sri Lankan, Malayan or Thai curries. I had not much interest in them, as I had not much interest in cooking nor in eating, for that matter.
But then things changed, as things are bound to, and as I grew older my interest in food grew vaster, and my interest in cooking and discovering different gastronomies has also grown. Masterchef Australia alone has opened my mind and eyes and thoughts to such a vastness of ideas and flavours I had never come across before. It was Masterchef Australia that got me curious for what is now my favourite curry in the world, the Massaman curry that took me a while to try.
Because of that, and our love for chinese food - my son alone adores chinese gastronomy, I always tell him it must be in his genes! - we have made it a habit of ours every once in a while to go on a shopping spree around the chinese supermarkets that can be found at downtown Lisbon, in search for specific ingredients, new ones, things we know and things we don't. We end up spending quite a lot of money, but we only just go once or twice a year, so we do try to stock up on items like fish, soy and oyster sauce, soba noodles, sesame oil and dried mushrooms.
It was during one of those visits, a few years ago, that we first came across these rounded boxes of Thai curry pastes that immediately caught my eye, with their bright colours. We started off by bringing with us the red and the green Thai curries, both quite hot as a matter of fact, but both very much to my liking. The moment I made my first Thai curry, I was sold, actually. I still love my Indian curries, especially with the spice blends my sister sends me, which are all quite traditional, but I do prefer Thay curry paste. I fell quite hard for the green one, and there was a time I could eat it for lunch almost everyday, as it goes quite well with fish or veggies.
And then one day, as we were still trying out the variety of Thai curry pastes - the yellow and the purple were the next on our list - we came across the orange box, which to my surprise held the elusive Massaman curry I had been craving for. We bought that one, that time, and now it stands as my favourite curry in the whole wide world! Still, I was curious about the purple one, the Panang curry, and though we decided to give it a rest on Thai curries for a little while - because I had so many indian spice blends to try from! - it lay at the back of my mind.
Last Christmas season, when my husband was on hols from his school, we took a trip to the chinese supermarkets as we had run out of many of our favourite ingredients, and in one of those supermarkets, the purple round box of Panang curry lay giving me the eye the whole time, and I really wanted to try it. Seeing that there were smaller packs for sale, I settled for one of those, and decided we could stock up on a box later if we liked that curry. So I brought the small pack and recently put half of it to use. And I wasn't sorry!!
I decided to cook a Panang curry with chicken and veggies, and serve it with soba noodles, because I'm a bit of rebel at heart and like to live culturally dangerously. I used:
- half a chicken cut into large-ish chuncks
- half an onion
- half a leek
- 1 knob of fresh ginger, roughly the size of a thumb
- 1 small can of coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- water, as needed
- sesame oil, fish sauce for seasoning
- 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- one or two large cups of frozen mixed vegetables
Start by frying the garlic, the onion and the leeks on a pan, with sesame oil. On another pan bring water to the boil, liberally seasoned with salt, as soon as it's boiling cook your soba noodles acording to packet instructions. Once the starter veggies are looking translucent, add the Panang paste and stir. Drop in the chicken, mixing it around in the paste so it gets covered with it. Add the coconut milk and the tomato paste and stir, making sure it all mixes in together. Add some water, just enough to lightly cover the chicken, and bring to a boil. When it's boiling, throw in your frozen vegetables and lower the heat, allowing to cook until the chicken is tender. Bring it off the heat and add the soba noodles to it, stirring well until the noodles too are covered by the sauce. Serve hot, with some natural yogurt seasoned with lemon juice and fresh mint on the side, to cool off the heat from the curry.