A Birthday Party, Part 1: Yellow Curry
You never need an excuse to throw a dinner party, but some sort of special occasion makes for a festive premise.
In this case, it was my friend Carlen’s birthday, and since she hadn’t been able to make any of my past dinners, I more than willingly offered to cook for her and invite whoever she wanted.
On the menu: Yellow Tofu Curry with Kabocha squash, brussel sprouts, red peppers, and zucchini, jasmine rice, and for dessert, Chai Latte pudding with almonds. When we went out for dinner (a rare occasion– Middletown is hardly a dining mecca), we both ordered curry: for me, green tofu curry “as spicy as possible”, for her, Massaman beef curry.
Traditionally, Massaman curry contains peanuts and meat, but my curry was similar in that I used a relatively mild, yellow Indian curry powder, lending the sauce a subtle, cardamom flavor. If everything were all sunshine and rainbows I would have toasted and ground my own spices with a mortar and pestle, but well… this was dorm room cooking.
Stingy as I’ve been so far, as winter approaches I’ve been forced to spend slightly more. The farm is barren and there’s only so much food you can steal out of the dining hall when you’re cooking for seven. Still, what I spent was negligible.
From the salad bar: red peppers and zucchini
From the farm: fresh herbs turned dry (an assortment of sage, mint and thyme)
From the farmer’s market: baby brussels sprouts (the smallest were grape-sized!)
From various other sources: ginger, kabocha squash, coconut milk, tofu, condiments
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but this curry was far superior to the blander, greasier curry at the Thai restaurant. Searing the tofu makes it slightly crunchy but still soft on the inside. the sweet squash pairs well with coconut, and the miniature brussels sprouts, like bite-sized leafy lightbulbs, add an American twist to the dish. As always, you can use whatever vegetables you like, and you can always swap the tofu for shrimp or chicken. Enjoy!
Yellow Curry for Carlen:
Ingredients (to serve 7):
- 2 TBS peanut oil, plus additional oil for searing the tofu
- 2 packages of extra-firm tofu, cubed
- 1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 lb brussels sprouts, outer leaves and stems discarded
- 1 smallish Kabocha squash, cubed and steamed, optional (I steamed the pieces in my rice cooker in the morning to cut the cooking time short). You can eat the peel.
- 1 cup of sliced red bell pepper
- 1 cup of diced zucchini
- 2 cans of coconut milk (not lite, please)
- Curry powder or paste
- Oyster sauce or fish sauce (I used Chinese oyster sauce, but Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce is probably more appropriate)
- A handful of herbs, such as basil or mint (I used sage, mint and thyme. Who said this was traditional?)
- Salt and pepper
- Chili paste
- The juice of one lime
- Optional but recommended: Sear the tofu. Heat peanut oil in a wide skillet until smoking, then add the tofu in an even layer and cook on high, flipping with chopsticks so that the tofu is golden on all sides.
- Take the tofu out of the pan and put it on a plate. Blot it with a paper towel if it seems too oily (it shouldn’t)
- Adding a little bit more oil to the pan, heat again and add the onion and ginger, plus salt and pepper
- Turn down the heat and saute until translucent, then add the brussel sprouts and red peppers (and squash if you haven’t steamed it)
- Add the coconut milk, spices and herbs, then bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat down and cook down the sauce. Add oyster sauce and some chili paste if you like it hot
- Adjust seasonings to taste, then add tofu and zucchini and simmer until everything is cooked through.
- Serve with rice (I used jasmine instead of my usual brown), lime and extra chili paste on the side.
In the next post, I’ll reveal the extremely innovative (aka desperate) method I used in the dessert component of this dinner party: an experimental chai latte pudding. Stay tuned.