Thai-style Green Pesto
The demonic cold that has left me muted lingers… In my thirty-some years of exceedingly LOUD life I was never able to prove that “silence isn’t louder than words” until yesterday when I tried to instruct the mailman on the phone to simply leave the package by the front door. “…eeev….eeeh… by… eh… oore…”. “Excuse me, miss?”. “(regrouping my voice)… Leeeee… ehh by… UUH.. OOOORE…UH!”. That went on for a few moments but I got the job done… Even though my head feels like a loaf of stale bread brined in flaccid cola then baked in a 375ºF oven which will eventually turn into an inedible pudding…, a warm message from a D.ear reader gave me a shot of medical positivism and reminded me that, no matter how small and insignificant, I have a recipe to share.
I can’t talk about this dish without gushing about our gorgeous trip to Phuket, Thailand. Ooh Phuket Phuket yeah, there were beaches… warm breezes.. palm trees… pools… LOUNGE CHAIRS… And then dark..heavy clouds… gusty winds… tropical thunderstorms… a rented scooter and… a couple of trash bag-style rain coats… and we were in them… the whole time. Yeah, it was like that. We learnt that rain drops while traveling at high velocity can REALLY hurt you and came home as pale as if we just went to Norway but don’t feel too bad for us…at least the the trash bags were baby-blue and pink, and the food? The food was GREAT! So let’s talk about that. But you see, Thai-cooking is intimidating. I get it. The fear is real… it’s so foreign… so exotic… can’t I just bake a cookie? I know. But trust me, once you breakthrough that fear-threshold? Your favorite 20-min meal will see you on the other side.
The inspiration for this first came to me on an Asian TV show and instantly I thought it was ingenious. Everyone adores an express-pasta meal that doesn’t compromise on flavors and this was put together in under 20 minutes, plus it immediately made me think about bottling it for the rainy days to come (see, I didn’t and now my trembling body really wants some). If you love all the flavors that come to be defined as “Thai”, you are going to adore this pasta. At the glimpse it looks like an ordinary green pesto linguine… pfff big deal… but the first bite will send you worlds away to a land called I-now-make-Thai-food-sukaaah! Every ingredient is a major player on its own, the lemongrass, lime leaf, lime zest, mint, garlic! But together they become a harmonious and transformative symphony. All you have to do is give it a sing.
I don’t know how practical it is to buy fresh herbs online but here and here are a couple sources on Google. Nowadays it shouldn’t be impossible to find these ingredients from major supermarkets, perhaps Whole Foods?
Ingredients: inspired by dish I heard on a show I watched…
- Green curry paste:
- 1 ~ 2 stalks (approx 30 g) of lemongrass
- 1 tbsp (20 g) of grated ginger
- 1 tbsp of toasted pine nuts
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 2 small shallots
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 5 green chilis (you could use jalepeno)
- 2 tbsp of chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
- zest of 1 lime
- To cook:
- 1/4 + 1/8 cup of vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup of coconut milk
- 3 tbsp of fish sauce, plus 1/2 tbsp for adjusting
- 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp of sugar
- 250 g (normally 1/2 package) linguine pasta
- little red chilis for garnish
Very thinly slice the tender part of the lemongrass and discard the tough stems as you work towards the end of it. The fiber of the lemongrass is tough and is hard to break down in a food processor, so the more thinly sliced the smoother texture the final pesto would be. Trim the center rib of the lime leaves off and just use the tender leafy part. Cut the green chilis open and remove the seeds and ribs inside, and roughly chop the flesh.
If you have a powerful food processor, or a large colossal stone mortar – you can use them. I don’t so when it comes to grinding these ingredients, I use a spice grinder which is able to chop much finer than my lousy food processor. So use whatever equipment, grind the lemongrass, ginger, pine nuts, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, green chilis, fresh mint and lime zest until they come to a paste-like consistency. I had to do this in a couple batches.
In a sauce pot, add the ground aromatics and 1/4 + 1/8 cup of vegetable oil, fish sauce, sugar and white pepper. Set over medium heat and cook until fragrant, approx 3 min. Add the coconut milk and let it simmer for 1 min. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Bring another large pot of water with a big pinch of salt to boil. Cook the linguine according to package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked but retains a bit of a bite, drain them VERY VERY well through a colander. Add the linguine to the curry pesto and toss to combine. Adjust the saltiness with more fish sauce if needed.
The dish can be served warm or cold, garnished with some thinly sliced red chili and fresh mint (I saved a little ground lemongrass for garnish but turned out it added no value to the dish so…). Thai away!