A beach vacation in Khao Lak | ..and Thai Green Curry paste

R & I are always looking for reasons to travel. Both of us love traveling but our motivations are different. Yet, one thing unites us : FOOD !

A well-planned but badly executed surprise holiday was in the making. It was R’s birthday last weekend.

At first, a dear friend spilled the beans – Phuket! I dodged that one somehow because we were going to Khao Lak, 1.5 hours drive from the Phuket airport. And then it was me – a terrible case of ‘slip of tongue’ 😦 So, just before the trip started, R knew exactly where we were going. And I cursed myself for it !

We landed very late that night. A prearranged car and driver was waiting for us at the Phuket airport. In my far-from-perfect-Thai, I explained to the driver that we were hungry! He took us to a small eatery nearby selling Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice). Khao Man Gai brought back memories of my university days in Bangkok. It was a standard meal for the times when I needed to have a quick lunch in between classes. Lost in nostalgia, I had an extra plate of chicken and two bowls of soup !

Our resort, Ramada Khao Lak, was a solitude by the beaches far from the madness of Phuket. The room was tastefully furnished with modern fixtures, a fancy jacuzzi indoors and sun-loungers in the balcony – perfect for a romantic vacation.

We were here to unwind and soak in every bit of sea, sand and sun.

The sun-loungers by the beach were highly sought after. We were almost always the last takers. As the boys played in the sun, I sat there listening to the sound of the sea. My mind drifting along with the whoosh-whash of the waves. I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of the many people who were here, just like us, more than 7 years ago when the giant Tsunami hit the Asian subcontinent. Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas. I shuddered as images of those giant killer waves kept flashing in my mind…

After a couple of hours, we headed to the nearby shacks for lunch. What a treat that was! Tom Yam Prawns, Basil Chicken, Papaya salad, Spicy Noodles, and more – all phed phed (extra spicy). And some chilled Singha Beer to cool us down 🙂

As the sun went down, we strolled to the nearby local weekend market. What better way to experience a place than to shop and eat where the locals do ! One street dedicated to fresh spices and herbs, another to street food and yet another to the 199-Baht clothes and souvenir shops. The aroma of fresh basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves are enough to give anyone hunger pangs! As we just about managed to get past that, the most vibrant, innovative street food awaited us – Smoked pork balls, coconut pancakes, fried chicken, Stick noodles (Phad Thai) and much more! Needless to say, we kept sampling all the food as we walked along.

V chose an Angry Bird t-shirt for himself, which by the way he calls ‘bad birds’. Soon our little boy was getting cranky. It was dinner time. We were in the mood for something authentic, and not toned down for ‘foreigners’. A small Thai family restaurant down the road was the unanimous choice. They made a Stir Fried Prawn and Vegetable dish for V – Thai style but without chillies and he loved it! We had our share of everything spicy – fried fish, garlic chicken, stir fried prawns, stir fried vegetables and a yum load of sauces to go with it!

A little bit of pampering in the spa was exactly what we needed to end this long and tiring day.

More on the vacation in my next post for fear of exceeding the word count limit, if any!


To give myself a continued sense of that perfect beach vacation and to celebrate my love for Thai food,  I wanted to share one of my all time favorite curry recipes. I first made the curry paste and then used it to make a curry. I will share the curry recipe in the next post.

How to make Green Curry Paste:

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Shallots: 8
Thai Garlic: 15 cloves
Lemon grass: 3 stalks
Galangal: 1 ½ “ pc
Fresh Green Peppercorns: 10 pc
Kaffir Lime rind: of ½ a lime
Thai Green chillies: 15
Sweet Basil leaves: 1 cup
Coriander seeds: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Shrimp paste: 3 tsp

How I did it:

Dry roast the cumin and coriander in a pan on low heat. This may take about 3-4 mins. Let it cool.

Finely slice the galangal (or Thai ginger) and shallots. Wash the Thai garlic thoroughly. If using Thai garlic, you can keep the skin. If using any other garlic, peel the skin first.

Smash the end of the lemon grass stalk with the back of a knife (white in color). Finely slice the white portion, discarding the green stalk.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely pound the dry roasted coriander and cumin seeds. Take it out and keep aside in a bowl.

Now pound the galangal and kaffir lime rind until smooth. Add the finely sliced lemon grass and green peppercorn and pound.

When done, add the green chillies, pound well until a smooth paste is formed. Next add the garlic and shallots and pound thoroughly. Finally, add the shrimp paste, sweet basil and pound until the mixture forms a fine paste.

Notes:

  • For a vegetarian version, skip the shrimp paste.
  • Alternatively, you could grind all the ingredients in a food processor instead of using the mortar and pestle. Though, I believe that the aromas and flavors that come out in pounding cannot be replicated by a food processor.

Spiced Raw Banana or Plantain Kofta | ..and a cup of joy!

Hello World!

Last week, my post on Avocado Chutney got Freshly Pressed! I was overjoyed and anxious, all at the same time. For all of you who visited this space and liked what they read, a BIG Thank You and a warm welcome!:-)

Starbucks: a cup of joy & a hint of guilt

I am not employed by Starbucks nor related to them in any form, living or dead. These are the personal views of someone who has spent a lot of guilt $ here over the past decade.

I know there are lots of people out there who’ll probably stop reading this post right about now as they are about to realize: I  ♥ my latte! What’s the fuss about anyway? Could it be that extra buck I spend here vs. the not-so-glitzy local café? Or is it that bright smile from the lady over the counter at 9 am, when you wish you were in your pajamas snoozing but you’ve just about managed to drag yourself to work? Or that extra attention you get when they know exactly what you want from a mile away?  Perhaps, the warm and earthy ambiance draws me to itself, giving me a dreamy sense of ‘coffee in the woods’. Or their effort to more than make up for something they’ve grossly messed up! I don’t have the answer, but there’s something about that cozy space which gives me a cup of joy!

I am not all that naive. I do a reality check every now and then. The verdict is out. One latte a week. Two, if I’ve done a good deed during the week.

But, how do I avoid the other twenty seven times I see the twin-tailed mermaid looking back at me? Inviting me for my cup of joy? I am determined. But, as days go by, my determination fades. I miss the Siren and the warmth and joy she brings…

I give in.

And history repeats itself… 🙂

Today’s recipe is a traditional recipe made in many homes across India – mainly in the states of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. I have made a couple of versions of this curry at home but this is my favorite! Raw Bananas / Plantains are boiled, mixed with spices, and made into table-tennis ball like shapes which are then deep-fried (known as kofta). Alternatively, they can be made into patties for a less-oil version. The curry is made with a combination of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic and dry spices together with almond paste for a subtle sweetness. The koftas are then soaked in the curry and with a little garnish, this dish is all yours to enjoy.

Raw Bananas and Plantains are used interchangeably by many. Both belong to the Banana family, though plantains are generally tougher and therefore take a little longer (up to 10 mins extra) to boil. I have used both and both work just fine.

Spiced Raw Banana Kofta (Kache Kele ka Kofta / Kachkolar Kofta):

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click  here.

There are 3 steps to this recipe –:

I – Raw Banana / Plantain balls (koftas) OR raw banana patties/tikkis – The choice is YOURS!
II – Preparing the Curry
III – Serving this dish

Serves: 4
(Makes about 10-12 koftas/tikkis/patties)

Step I – Raw Banana / Plantain Koftas / Patties:

Ingredients:

(Makes 10-12 pcs)

Raw banana or Plantain – 2 pcs
Potato – 1 small-medium sized
Onion: 3/4 cup, finely chopped
Ginger: Grated 1 tbsp
Green chillies: 2 – chopped fine (adjust to your own spice tolerance level)
Chilli powder: 1/4 tsp
Turmeric powder : 1/2 tsp
Aamchoor powder: 1 tsp (available in Indian stores)
Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Salt: to taste
Regular cooking oil: for deep frying koftas (a lot!) OR pan-frying patties/tikkis (2-3 tblsp in a non-stick pan)

How I did it:

  • Cut each raw banana or plantain into 3 pcs – roughly 1.5″ – 2″ per pc, with the skin intact. Throw away the edges.
  • Boil the raw bananas in a pot of water, almost covered with water. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric while boiling. Cover and let it boil on low-medium heat until done. Boil for approximately 25 mins and check. Pierce with a fork to check if it has softened. When it’s done, the fork should go through easily.

Plantain usually takes about 35-40 mins to boil as they are tougher whereas medium sized raw bananas should be done in 30 mins. They should be cooked soft but not mushy / overcooked.

  • When done, run it through tap water so that it cools down. Remove skin. It should come off very easily.
  • Meanwhile, boil 1 potato. Peel and keep it aside.
  • In a deep bowl, mash the raw bananas using your fingers or a spoon. Add the boiled potato and mash it too. Ensure it is mashed well.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and combine together.

I love this dish and can’t wait for an occasion to have it! At the same time, the koftas are traditionally deep fried and that doesn’t suit my every day cooking. So, I make patties when I have it for regular meals. On special occasions, I make the deep fried koftas.

For Koftas:

  • To make the koftas, take table tennis ball sized portions of the above mixture in your palm. Give it an even round shape. Depending on the size of the bananas / plantains used, you can easily come up with 10-12 pcs.
  • Next, heat sufficient oil in a deep dish or kadhai to deep-fry the koftas.

Make sure the oil is hot before you start frying. You may need to heat the oil on medium heat for up to 2 mins. Put only 1 pc at first to make sure the koftas don’t break while frying. If you feel that the banana mixture is too mushy, you can add 1-2 tbsp of besan (chickpea flour) in the mixture to bind it. To avoid the koftas from sticking to one another, space out putting the koftas by 30 seconds so that they are a little fried before the next one comes in. Do not overcrowd the kadhai / frying pan.

For Patties (Tikkis):

  • To make raw banana patties, take the same portion of the banana mixture as for the kofta (a table tennis ball size). Make a nice round at first and flatten it. Use your palm and fingers to give it an even patty-like shape.
  • In a non-stick pan, heat 2-3 tblsp of oil. Add the patties and let it cook on low heat until cooked. Turn over to make sure it is cooked / browned on both sides

This can also be served as an appetizer along with some coriander & mint chutney. I’ll leave the chutney recipe for another day.

Step II – Preparing the Curry:

Ingredients:

Cinnamon : 1 thin stick
Bay leaves: 2 small
Cardamom: 2-3 (pods only)
Whole black pepper: 6
Any cooking oil: 2 tblsp
Almonds: 7-8 pcs soaked for at least 10 mins in hot water. Remove skin. Add a little bit of water to grind to a thick but smooth paste.
Onion: 1 cup – Finely  chopped (1 medium sized)
Ginger paste: 1 tblsp
Garlic paste: 1 tblsp
Tomatoes: 1 medium sized – Ground to a paste.
Green chillies – 2 whole (optional)
Salt: to taste

In a bowl, make a thick paste of the following dry spices by adding very little water:
Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Cumin powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
Chilli powder (optional): 1/4 tsp

How I did it :

  • Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan/kadhai. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamom pods and whole black pepper. Fry for about 30-40 secs on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Add chopped onions. Fry on low-medium heat until brownish.
  • Add ginger and garlic paste. Fry for another 1-2 mins, until combined well. If it starts to stick on the bottom, sprinkle a little bit of water and scrape it off, blending it into the masala.
  • Add the thick spice paste prepared with coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric & chilli. Continue frying for another 2 mins.
  • Add the tomato paste and salt. Fry until the tomatoes are fully cooked and the masala becomes a lumpy mass, darker in color than how it started. It should also look glossy as the oil starts to surface on the masala. (approx 12 mins on low heat).
  • Add the almond paste and continue for another 5 mins. The almond paste should have combined well with the rest of the masalas and the favors integrated well to make our curry.
  • Once you have achieved that, add about 400 ml of water (preferably, boiling water as it speeds up the cooking process). Once the curry starts boiling, cover and let it boil on low-medium heat for another 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Check for salt and spices. At this point, you can add the whole green chillies, if you wish. The curry should be thicker in consistency at the end of this process.
  • Turn off the heat.

Step III – Serving this dish:

Ingredients for Garnishing:

Red chillies: 1. Remove seeds and cut in thin strips
Fresh cream: 2-3 tsp
OR
Coriander leaves chopped: a handful

How I did it:

    • Start preparing to serve this dish about 10-15 mins prior to actual serving. Use a serving dish that is flat so that the koftas can be placed without overcrowding.
    • In the serving dish, place the koftas/tikkis/patties.
    • Heat the curry prepared above to make sure it is piping hot! Turn off the heat.
    • Pour the hot curry over the kofta. Be careful not to spill over as the curry should be very hot at this point. Make sure that the koftas are almost submerged in the curry. Let the koftas soak for at least 10-15 mins, covered.
    • If you find the dish is not warm enough when you are ready to eat, microwave it for 1-2 mins immediately after soaking.
    • Once the soaking is complete, garnish with fresh cream and thin strips of de-seeded red chillies. Alternatively, you could garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
    • Enjoy the koftas with steamed rice.

Too little soaking and the curry doesn’t go inside the koftas. Too much soaking and you’ll have very crumbly koftas. Therefore, the process of serving this dish is very important to make sure you serve the the koftas that you’ve worked so hard to make!

If the bananas were boiled nice and soft, soak them for 10 mins before serving. If bananas feel hard after you’ve mashed and made your koftas, soak for up to 20 mins before serving.

Prawns with coconut milk and spices (Prawn Malai Curry)

October 2003

A close friend ‘D’ had a sudden craving for Prawns. Not just any prawns. It had to be Prawn Malai Curry. I didn’t really know how to make it. But the sheer opportunity of making something new excited me. I was more than happy to cook, if only I knew how.

In less than 24 hours (from what I recall), I got the recipe from his mother straight into my inbox. This is D’s grand mother’s recipe. This is an authentic Bengali recipe and one that I have made many times now! Thank you aunty!

The part I enjoy most is the involvement & enthusiasm everyone has in making this curry. Talk about team effort! Over the years, this has become a ritual and I look forward to it..:)

D get’s the prawns. The biggest and freshest available (though to this day my husband ‘R’ argues that the prawns he gets sometimes are the same size..:P) D and R don’t sleep the night before. They drive down to a particular seafood wholesale market at 3am where one can find the freshest catch of the day. It is a wholesale market where the fresh catch comes in before it is sent to other shops / restaurants in the city. Some of the biggest King prawns I have ever seen! One needs to buy in wholesale.. So, most of the time this dish is cooked – it is a BIG feast ! The only exception to this festivity is when it’s a last minute plan or a feast is somehow not possible (a rare possibility!)

Step 2 is the cleaning up.. And that is R’s forte. After the prawns come home, R spends a good amount of time cleaning it up thoroughly! You do realize that when I wake up… lazy… all of this has already happened ! D & R really go all the way to make it happen. I see the fresh and clean prawns… waiting so eagerly to be soaked in the most amazing coconut cream curry ever!

This is one of my most treasured recipes simply because it is one recipe that has no age or spice boundaries… It has been loved by my 2-year old son as much as it has been appreciated by Indians and by non-Indian friends alike.

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

King Prawns: 500 gms – the bigger the better! (smaller prawns are also fine) – The prawns in this picture are from the local grocer.. which reminds me haven’t had a feast in a while!
Onion paste: 1 medium sized onion ground to a fine paste
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Garlic paste: 1/2 tsp (this is my personal preference and not part of the original recipe. you can ignore it if you like)
Coconut milk: 1/2 cup. I vary this depending on my guests’ spice tolerance level. If I want a more authentic and spicy taste, I stick to 1/2 cup. However, sometimes I add more coconut milk when I need to tone down the spice.
Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
Chilli Powder: 1/4 tsp or more depending on your spice tolerance level
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Cinamon stick: 1/2 inch
Dried Bay leaf: 2
Sugar: 1/4 tsp
Oil: Use a neutral oil (I use a blend of Canola and Sunflower oil)

How I did it:

  • Wash, de-vein, clean prawns. I like to remove the head and the vein but leave the tail behind. Put 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder and sprinkle a little bit of salt on the prawns. Mix this gently and keep it in the refrigerator until the Masala is ready.

  • Use a heavy bottomed pan to cook this curry. Add oil. Once hot, add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, sugar and cumin seeds. Let the cumin seeds crackle for about 10-20 seconds. Add the onion paste. Fry this until it turns brownish and sticks together as lumps. Do this on low heat to avoid burning. This may take 10 to 15 mins.

  • To this fried onion paste, add the ginger paste, garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Fry this for 1-2 minutes until it is cooked and blends in with the masala.
  • Take out the pre-marinated Prawns and add it to the masala now. Stir this to ensure that the prawns are coated well with the spices and the prawns turn a nice pink/brownish color. (2 to 3 mins).

  • When the prawns turn pinkish, add the coconut milk. If you are using thick coconut milk like I did, you should add 1 cup of warm water along after adding the coconut milk. This curry is about your preference of coconut and spices. Remember that we have added sugar earlier, prawns are naturally sweet and coconut milk is also sweet. I strongly suggest you go slow on the coconut milk and taste it before adding more coconut milk. If the gravy is thick, add hot water into this to bring it to the right consistency. I alter the quantity of coconut milk and water to suit the palate of my guest.

  • Add some garam masala powder (a spice mix readily available in an indian grocery store) to this curry now. Let it cook on medium heat for another 7-8 mins until the coconut milk is cooked and comes together with the curry. Prawns cook really fast, so make sure you don’t overcook them.

Goes best with steamed white rice 🙂