I sometimes just wander in the Asian section of the store for awhile to see what they have. There is a surprisingly good amount of Thai ingredients here for Bermuda standards. I was specifically looking for dried lime leaves that day. I wanted to put them in a coconut soup (coming soon.) From behind, I hear "Can I help you?" It was a little Thai girl that I had never seen working at this store in the past. This surprised me because I know the butchers very well, have talked with the cheese guy for a half hour before, and have even gone drinking with Mark, the produce guy. "You usually have dried lime leaves here" I said. This led into a conversation of what Thai dishes I had made in the past and what she cooks for her roommates. "Come back Wednesday, and I will bring you some fresh lime leaves from my backyard!"
I wanted to be sure to highlight the lime leaves in whatever I was making. The three dishes that came to mind were the coconut soup, Green Curry, and Panang. We choose Panang because we have made green curry so many times before, and also because soup is for Mondays. I wish I could go to another website when it comes to Thai food, just to get some variety, but Pim delivers time and thai-m again (I'm funny, no?) Last time when we made massaman, we followed her recipe exactly, but today we had to alter a few things so I will write it out at the bottom.
Panang recipes often call for dried chiles but we could not get any today. We used about 25 fresh ones.
We wanted it spicy, so we saved the seeds from about half the chiles and put them in with the other spices. Use gloves, Mandi likes the burn on her fingers, but you probably won't. Also you have to be really careful not to touch your eyes.
Mandi and I were kind of gagging at this point because those chile seeds really give off a crazy aroma that fills the kitchen. Be careful!!!!!! Also, do you like my new spice grinder? I do!
We used brisket for this meal, but it was a mistake. It was still really delicious, but wasn't as tender as we hoped. I should have known this because I know how long it takes for brisket to really break down, but the butcher assured me that it would be great in only a few hours so I (dumbly) listened. The only reason I was asking him, was that I have trouble seeing a brisket "in the wild" and not buying it. The point of this anecdote is to tell you to use sirloin.
Cilantro stems because we cannot find the roots, and I don't think you can either!
Here they are! The lime leaves! The aroma... the very thing that has been missing in all of my Thai meals. Now I am going to have to stalk out the grocery store and ask this girl for lime leaves every time I make Thai.
We used 1/3 of these in the paste, most of the rest we put in at the very end as we shut off the heat, and the remaining few were sprinkled on top of the plates.
Remember how to use lemongrass?
Here comes a bunch of paste making pictures. Start with chiles and salt.
Peanuts, garlic, spices, and shallots.
In the past we have had bad experiences with shrimp paste. Today we made sure to just use a little and it actually blended perfectly and made the dish great.
It seems weird to fry the paste in coconut milk, but that's what you do!
We sort of slowly built this, adding a little bit of coconut milk at a time.
Add some brown sugar if you don't have palm sugar. The parts of the lemongrass that aren't as nice to eat go in now to give off some more flavor. Also the dried galangal.
This is about a half hour through cooking. The sauce has thickened and darkened, but there is still a lot of time left.
Removing the lemongrass and galangal.
Lime leaves go in at the last minute.
Most Thai curries are very soupy, but panang is a dry curry with only enough sauce to cover the meat.
This was really great, but could have been better with 2 tweaks: A less cooking intensive meat like sirloin, and because of that, less cooking time. We cooked it for 2 and a half hours and the sauce became slightly too concentrated. Only slightly though! If we cooked it for only an hour and a half and the meat was more tender, it would have been amazing.
Paste - Adapted from Pim
25 fresh Thai chiles
5 medium shallots diced
5 cloves of garlic diced
1 tbsp peanuts toasted
1 tbsp lemongrass diced (the good parts)
1/2 tbsp lime zest
2 tablespoons coriander stems
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Thai shrimp paste
---toast and grind:
1 tbsp whole cumin
1 tbsp whole coriander
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp chile seeds
We just keep dicing and mashing together to make the paste. If you have any sort of mortar and pestle, you can use that. A blender or food processor is the fastest way but Mandi doesn't let me use those newfangled contraptions.
Next, take a little bit of coconut milk and get it hot in the bottom of the pan. Add your paste. All of it. Fry it up for a bit then add the beef. Add some more coconut milk slowly and keep stirring. After about 15 minutes, we had added about a can and a half of the coconut milk. Add a few teaspoons of brown sugar and the dried galangal and tough parts of the lemongrass. Simmer gently uncovered for about an hour and a half until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick. Skim some fat if necessary. Add the lime leaves and remove from heat. Serve with plain jasmine rice and some more lime leaves on top.