October 14 was DP’s birthday, and I would be remiss in my duties as a partner if I did not make him a lovely dinner. Feminists may scowl, but I happen to find cooking very relaxing and believe food is the most honest gift. You know what they say: play to your strengths (especially when acknowledging birthdays on a budget). If I were good at carpentry, I would have built him a rocking chair or a custom tool chest.
Soup: Tom yum goong
Salad: Tham maak tuua (long beans) with maak kua (Thai eggplant)
Side: Thai basil couscous
Main: Green curry chicken
slave work all day, I had to take a few shortcuts. After much consideration, I honestly don’t feel guilty anymore because, I mean, who has time to make curries and tom yum paste? Also, some of the ingredients are not things you have just laying around the kitchen and, depending where you live, can’t just run to the store “real quick” to get.
We had a ton of shrimp left over from Saturday’s low country boil, but they were already boiled and I worried they wouldn’t hold up in a soup. I tossed them in at the end, after I cut off the stove, and they turned out just fine. I think shrimp in tom yum tastes better with heads and shells on, but DP gets rather impatient with his food – the extra few seconds it takes to remove the shells prevents him from inhaling everything in the minimum number of bites. It’s a good thing I used a shortcut because it took forever to pre-shell and de-vein all those shrimp.
Oddly enough, when using tom yum paste in a jar, I still add a few “fresh” base ingredients: kaffir leaves, lemongrass, garlic, and Thai chili peppers – all of which already exist in the pre-made paste. I actually have these (minus garlic) stashed in my freezer all the time, courtesy of Mom. I tell myself it enhances the flavor but in reality it probably just creates the illusion of authenticity. The only ingredient I was missing (and didn’t feel like running to the store real quick to get) were mushrooms. They are not imperative for the soup, but I like them.
Even though DP really likes tom yum goong, he says it gives him kwashiorkor. It’s a bit of an inside joke, but we do not condone joking about malnourished babies (what kind of people do you think we are?). DP is referring to a discomfort that feels like his stomach organ is swollen after eating tom yum. I’m not sure which ingredient or combination of ingredients causes it, but we can trace it back to an incident in Chiang Mai, when he ate too much tom yum broth from a place that made it volcanically spicy. I think he burned out the lining of his stomach and has suffered since with each exposure. It was a lot more dramatic than I want to discuss here; I actually thought he would have to go to the ER. You could literally see and feel the swelling of his stomach. And yet this dish is too delicious to give up.
Quick Tom Yum
– 4 or 5 cups of water
– 2 heaping tablespoons Tom Yum paste
– 3 kaffir leaves (more if they’re small)
– 1 sprig lemongrass
– 1 large clove garlic
– As many chilies as you can handle
– 1 lb shrimp
– Fish sauce to season
– Pinch of sugar to balance
– Cilantro and green onions to garnish
1. Add kafir, lemongrass, garlic, and chilies to water. Bring to boil.
2. Add tom yum paste.
3. Season with fish sauce and sugar.
4. Add shrimp. If using raw shrimp, cook until just pink.
5. Garnish with cilantro and green onions.
Thai Basil Couscous
This dish is something I came up with last minute. It’s a fun alternative to rice, of which we eat an excessive amount. (Not coincidentally, a friend happened to give me a free package of couscous the day before.) All you will need is
– 1 cup of couscous
– 1 teaspoon olive oil
– 1 cup cooked kale, finely chopped
– 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 teaspoon grated ginger
– 2 tablespoons Thai basil leaves (fresh), chiffonade
– Salt & pepper to taste
– 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
1. Lightly saute kale, ginger and garlic in the olive oil.
2. In the same pan, prepare couscous according to package instructions.
3. In a bowl, add basil and tomatoes.
4. Add couscous to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.
5. Toss well.
Green Curry Chicken
I cooked this dish in one of those multi-purpose rice cookers. I suppose you could use a slow cooker (if you had more time) or just a pot with a tight lid.
– 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
– 1 cup halved Thai eggplant
– 1 tablespoon green curry
– Fish sauce to taste
– Pinch of sugar
1. Place chicken on the bottom of the pot. Fill with enough water to cover.
2. Add eggplant, curry, fish sauce, sugar. Give it a good stir.
3. Cook until the chicken falls apart.
I then save the remaining broth for a future dish…perhaps some infused rice or something else that requires chicken stock. While it looks pale, it is packed with flavor. I’ll have to work on some pre-browning next time.
Although I place a lot of value on “made-from-scratch” home cooked meals, I am also very busy (as are many of us). Therefore, I have given in to the idea that, as long as you make it with love, cutting corners in the kitchen is just fine.