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Thai Red Curry Vegetables

Thai Red Curry Vegetables

 

This slow cooker Thai Red Curry has become a surprise hit in my household. I love that its full of vegetables and the first time I made it was totally vegetarian, eschewing the fish sauce and tossing tofu in at the end. I worried it might be too spicy so I pulled all the vegetables and tofu out of the broth, arranged them on my children’s plates next to their rice and they ended up asking for seconds. Zoe especially loved “the chicken”.  The second time I made it, I finished it with fish sauce, and then dropped some cleaned shrimp in (still keeping the tofu). Fish sauce is an Asian condiment made from fermented fish, and is one of those things that smells so badly but when used in the right context adds such a depth of flavor and salt that can’t be achieved any other way. In fact, any curry at a Thai restaurant, even the vegetable ones, have fish sauce in them. Still, it’s an ingredient that most people don’t want to buy to use once, and it’s really hard to get past the funky fermented smell that permeates the room once you open the cap. If you don’t want to go that route, you can simply season at the end with both soy sauce and regular salt and it will still be delicious. It’s important to add salt at both the beginning and end of the cooking process because in the beginning it will flavor the vegetables cooking, but those vegetables throw off a lot of natural juices that will dilute the broth and need to be balanced at the end. Thai Red Curries are traditionally less spicy than green so I went with that. I use one 4-oz jar of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste as a base. It’s a fine product that contains only pureed aromatics and nothing else, but to achieve a full flavor I add more ginger and lemongrass. Slow cooking everything and adding butternut squash lends sweetness that allows me to leave out the traditional ingredient of palm sugar. You can use regular coconut milk, or light, they both taste good, the latter producing a less rich and more soupy broth that is still worthy of some rice. To that point, the perfect side dish is some steamed jasmine rice, but any white rice will do too. Cut all of the vegetables the day before and store them in a big bowl so in the morning you plop everything in the slow cooker and are done with it.

all the beautiful veggies

all the beautiful veggies

Slow Cooker Thai Red Curry

Serves 4

two 13.5 oz cans of full or low-fat coconut milk

one 4 oz jar Thai Red Curry Paste

1 stalk lemongrass, smashed with the back of a knife to release its flavor, split lengthwise and cut into two inch lengths and tied together with a string

one 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more at the end

1 tsp salt, plus more at the end

 

1 cup carrots, sliced 1/4″ on the bias

2 cups greenbeans, (I like the Chinese long beans, but American green beans work too) trimmed and cut into approximately 2″ lengths

2 cups butternut squash cut into chunks

1 red bell pepper, sliced 1/2″

one pound shitakes, stems removed and caps sliced, or 8 oz button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

8 oz organic firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes or

one pound of shrimp, peeled and cleaned

 

1. Add coconut milk, curry paste, ginger and lemongrass to slow cooker and whisk to combine.

2. Add vegetables and gently stir to coat all of the vegetables with the sauce. The vegetables will not be completely submerged and that is ok. During the cooking process they will release their water and shrink down.

3. Cook on high for about 3.5 hours or low for about 6 hours. Fish out the bunch of lemongrass and discard. Finish seasoning to taste: It could take an additional 2 tsp of salt and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce at this point, or 2 tsp fish sauce, depending on the water content in the vegetables. Taste it and season it to your taste. I like salty so I will even add a couple squirts of fish sauce right to my bowl.

4. When it’s seasoned, if adding shrimp, turn the cooker up to high, drop in the shrimp and cook until pink and firm to the touch, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. If you aren’t sure, take one out and cut into it. Add your tofu once the shrimp are cooked and gently warm through.

5. Serve in a bowl as a soup or with Jasmine rice.

You can finish the dish with chopped red chilis if you like a bit more heat like I do, fresh cilantro leaves and sliced scallions. Enjoy!!

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Before I go food shopping I like to make a nice hearty “clean out the fridge” soup. I do it to use up the odds and ends of vegetables, cut or whole, that I have laying around. When my daughter was an infant and had just begun to experiment with solids I would always have some kind of chunky vegetable soup on hand. The idea was for all of the components to be cut bite size, about 1/4-1/2″, and cooked soft, so she could easily pick up the pieces with her fingers but there is no danger of choking. Now that she is a toddler, and can be quite finicky at times. Soup is still the easiest way for me to get her to eat her vegetables. I make it with as little liquid as possible, just enough to cook it.

Minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup usually containing beans and sometimes pasta. This version was made with bacon (I like the uncured, nitrate free variety), dry cannelini beans and vegetables. However, you can make it with chicken, beef, or no meat at all. If you are not using meat make sure you have tomato in it, whether it’s tomato paste, jarred tomatoes (not tomato sauce) or diced fresh ones. The tomato adds acidity and richness which sort of makes up for the lack of meat.

Ideally, dry beans should be soaked the day before you are going to use them to rehydrate them before cooking. The main reasons for this are so that the beans cook evenly and don’t break apart and lose their shape, and because the soaking liquid removes some of the flatulence causing compounds from the beans. If you are making a soup it really doesn’t matter if the beans break apart a bit. The way that you “speed soak” dry beans is to put beans in a pot with 4 times the amount of water. Bring them to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes and then shut them off and let sit for an hour. Discard the liquid, and cook them as you would if they were soaked. The beans I used take a really long time to cook. I know this because I have cooked them before. It’s not uncommon for the same type of bean but different batches or different producers to cook at different rates. So many factors influence this from how they were dried to how old they are. Don’t be freaked out if your beans are taking forever one day and last week they cooked up quick. That’s how it goes.

After my speed soak I cooked the beans right in the soup. If you get the beans going first before you start any cooking or cutting, your timing will work out perfectly when adding them to the soup.

If you are wondering if you can use canned beans, the answer is yes, but dry beans are so so so (did I say so?) much better than canned, once you start working with them, you’ll never go back. There will definitely be a future post on cooking amazingly delicious dry beans. My husband says I cook the best beans he’s ever had. I guess that’s a compliment.

  • Sweating the vegetables brings out the flavor and forms the base of your soup. Sweating is gently cooking in a little oil so that the liquid is released from the vegetable, therefore concentrating it and elevating the flavor.
  • As a general rule- carrots, onions, leeks, celery and garlic go in the post first to sweat.
  • Next goes starchy veg like potatoes, butternut squash and turnips.
  • green veg go last, especially leafy vegetables so that they keep their color. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, string beans go later on as well because they are less dense and take less time to cook.

The great thing about making soup is that you have a lot of freedom and you don’t have to follow a strict recipe. I am providing one to give you an example, and a delicious one at that. Just remember that anything with a strong flavor like the cabbage family or turnips are going to make your soup taste off. I’m not a fan of beets in a soup, unless it is borscht.

To clean leeks, you basically cut off the top 2/3 of the leek where it goes from white/pale green to dark green. The tops are very fibrous but still have flavor. They are good to reserve for stocks. The bottom is tender and is what you will dice for soups, etc. Slice them in half lengthwise through the root and then cut off the root. You are left with a rectangular leek with lots of layers. The layers however get smaller as you get to the where the middle of the leek would be so you need to take apart these layers to dice them evenly. Cut 2-3 layers together at a time. Another important fact is that leeks grow partially submerged in the dirt and if you don’t clean them well you will be eating that dirt. The proper technique is to cut your leeks and then agitate them in a bowl of water. Let sit so that the dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. You then lift the leeks out, leaving the soil on the bottom. Never pour through a strainer because you’ll just pour the dirt back on the leeks. Do this about 3 times to ensure no dirt remains. About 7 years ago when I was a line cook it was 5 o’clock and I was checking all my mise en place and I came across melted leeks that were cooked by the day cook and they were sandy. I alerted the chef who then called down to the sous-chef who washed more leeks himself and brought them up to me to cook. It was dangerously close to service starting and I was sweating. I cooked the leeks as fast as I could praying that an order wouldn’t come in that I needed them for. I tasted them for seasoning and realized there was sand in them again. Of course I told the chef, because we couldn’t serve sandy leeks, and his loud deep voice boomed across the kitchen, “HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME, ALEXIS.” And I did. And I don’t want you to.

Clean out the Fridge Minestrone Soup

1 T oil, vegetable or olive

8 oz. bacon, diced

3 leeks, white part only, diced

6 small carrots, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 bulb fennel, diced

1/4 red onion, diced

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs oregano

2T tomato paste

1 cup cannelini beans, soaked or speed soaked

1/2 tomato, diced

1 head spinach, removed from stem and chopped

Salt and Pepper

mmmmmm bacon

  1. Warm oil in the bottom of a large pot and add bacon. It shouldn’t be sizzling. We want to gently cook the bacon to get it going and begin picking up a bit of color.
  2. Add the leek, carrot, onion, celery, garlic, fennel and bay leaf. Cook gently over medium heat until veg become translucent and aromatic.
  3. Add tomato paste. Cook out so that paste caramelizes a bit.
  4. Add enough water to cover vegetables.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add beans, tomato and oregano.
  6. Simmer until beans and vegetables are tender, anywhere from 30-50 minutes. Don’t worry if vegetables are soft but beans aren’t cooked. Keep cooking until beans are tender. About halfway through cooking taste for seasoning and add salt.
  7. When beans are tender add spinach and cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until spinach is cooked. You can leave the spinach just wilted, but I know my kid won’t eat it that way.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Eat with a crusty loaf of whole grain bread to sop up all of the delicious juice.
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