ANDY WRECKER GREEN CURRY MEATBALLS
Let’s all be honest here. Yes. Including those of us who say we love to cook, and would ferociously defend the legitimacy of home-making Turkish kofta platter, Taiwanese gua bao, or even Italian duck prosciutto, once in a blue moon at least, let’s not kid ourselves. In practicality, the song and dance of travelling to exotic and exhilarating corners of the world through a dialogue in our own kitchen is, most of the time, only romantic in theory. At the end of the day, if you are any lucky, the flaming urge for such adventures mostly gets put out by a take-out menu amidst a stack of its own kind, that quietly settles in a kitchen drawer with can-openers and plumber-contacts. Authentic, or not authentic. Good, or no good. Doesn’t matter.
That’s what normal people do.
I used to be normal. Yes. I used to be normal in the sense that I too, raised healthy curiosity for all things exotic and delicious, which perhaps could even develop into a moderate ambition to dissect and tackle in my own kitchen. Perfectly normal and harmless because ultimately, just like any other sanity-abiding citizens, I was able to quickly come back to my senses (the road to Chinatown is always jam-packed… I gotta do the thing that I gotta do and besides, seriously, my hair just doesn’t feel like it today) and make peace with the fact that, illusions aside, the stack of menus from nearby restaurants serving mediocrity is, as it turned out, what I deserve.
But once in awhile, meteor hits, land shatters, world crumbles. When the critically acclaimed white dude Andy Ricker, who’s responsible for the complacency-wrecking Thai dishes from Portland to now National dominance, decided to publish his uncompromisingly authentic recipes to publicly shame his peers, plus the freakishly pink pad-thai I held with my trembling chopsticks, I knew the end to my take-out bubble was near. I thought, fine, how much can this hurt…
The next thing you know, I’m ruined. This ruins me.
It’s only been two weeks and I’ve made this four times. Four!
A question from Jason summed it up elegantly… “Since fucking when do we make our own Thai green curry paste?”. Judging from the scattering lemongrass and my battle-wound against galangal, I’m no longer fit to answer. But even him, even him who doubted, melted into submission with the first bite, all arguments muffled by the indisputable deliciousness dwarfing all take-outs and the sound of his chewing mouth. There’s no turning back. The dark side is too powerful. I know what you’re thinking though… Despite the only remotely “difficult” part is really nothing but hunting down all the necessary ingredients, which you then simply dump into a spinning blade and after which, everything is just smooth sailing… even so, it’s the mere idea of building your own green curry paste from scratch that sounds… too much. I know! In fact, you know what, I’m not even gonna be an advocate for the dark forces. I’m sitting amidst the burning ashes of what used to be my Thai take-out menus, and head-deep in my homemade curry ecstasy because of my own doing. I brought this upon myself.
You, you on the other hand who’s still sane and normal. Think long and hard. There’s no turning back after this.
Ready-made Thai green curry paste may be widely available now, and looking at the dauntingly long and possibly exotic list of ingredients down below, you might think why the hell would you want to complicate your life like this. The answer is simple, because it just tastes better. I usually find commercial green curry pastes unnecessarily salty, extremely even, which means you’ll need to reduce the amount used in the dish, which then means you won’t get as much flavours as you would using home-made. But if it just isn’t possible to DIY, you can use a commercial brand in reduced amount.
Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and galangal (a much more pungent ginger, sort of) may not be commonly available in your local supermarkets. So best stock up at every chance you come across them on your trip to Chinatown or Asian grocery stores. You can finely slice the lemongrass and galangal, then freeze them in air-tight bags. Kaffir lime leaves can be frozen whole. They all freeze extremely well and trust me, you’ll want to keep them around.
The lemon juice in the meatball will break down the protein slightly and makes the meatball soft and “melty”.
- 2 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
- 15 small, or 8 large (100 grams/3.5 oz) Asian green chilis, stems removed and chopped
- 2 medium stalks (65 grams/2.3 oz) of lemongrass, finely sliced
- 3″ chunk (45 grams/1.6 oz) of galangal, finely diced
- 8 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 3 medium shallots, diced
- Zest of 1 small lime
- 8 whole black peppercorn (or equivalent amount of ground black pepper)
- 2 tsp of Thai shrimp paste (Tra Chang brand if possible)
- 2 tsp of fish sauce
- 1 tsp of finely minced kaffir lime leaf (about 2 leaves)
- 1 tsp of yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
Most recipes suggest food-processor for pureeing any type of curry pastes, but over the years I found my food-processor of various brands, unable to break down the tough fibers of lemongrass and galangal to the consistency that I wanted. If your have faith in the power of your food-processor, by all means use it (but reduce the amount of coconut milk to 1/4 cup). Otherwise, I would suggest using a blender (if you don’t already own one, check out a website like Kitchen Habit.) The blender will need more liquid to process, which is why I increased the amount of coconut milk from 1/4 cup in the original recipe, to 1/2 cup. It didn’t really make much difference in my opinion, as the excess moisture will evaporate during cooking.
To make the curry paste: Dry-toast ground coriander and ground cumin in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, approx 1 min. Combine ALL of the ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smoothly pureed. You may need to stop the blender and press down the ingredients a few times to get it going. Store the curry paste in an air-tight container in the fridge until needed.
Green curry meatballs:
- 350 grams/12.3 oz of ground pork
- 2 tbsp of finely minced cilantro
- 1 tbsp of grated ginger
- 1 tbsp of lemon juice
- 2 tsp of cornstarch
- 2 tsp of fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
- To cook the curry:
- 1 small Asian eggplant
- 1/2 cup of coconut cream
- 1/2 cup of Thai green curry paste (or less if using commercial brands)
- 6 ~ 7 kaffir lime leaves, torn slightly by hand
- 2 Thai red chilis, stems removed
- 3/4 cup of coconut milk
- 1 cup of water
- 1~2 tsp of grated palm sugar, or dark brown sugar
- More fish sauce to adjust seasoning
- 1 handful of Thai basil
To prepare the meatballs and eggplants: Preheat the broiler on high.
Mix ground pork, minced cilantro, grated ginger, lemon juice, cornstarch, fish sauce, ground coriander and ground white pepper together until even. Divide and shape the mixture into 8 meatballs and set them on top of a baking-sheet. Bake in the oven, turning once, until browned all over. Set aside. Clean the eggplant and trim off the stem. Peel the eggplant with a fruit-peeler, then cut it into triangular chunks. Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil over the top, then bake under the broiler until golden browned. Set aside.
You can brown the meatballs and eggplant in a skillet if you want to. I just find baking easier for this task.
To make the green curry: In a wok or a sauce-pot, heat and stir the coconut cream over medium-high heat for 7~8 minutes, until the moisture evaporates and the cream breaks (you will see oil separating from the white coconut milk solids). This process might splatter a bit, so you might want to cover the wok/pot PARTIALLY with a lid. Continue to cook for another minute, then add 1/2 cup of green curry paste. Cook and stir for 2~3 min until the mixture is slightly browned on the edges of the wok/pot, but careful not to let it burn. Add 3 kaffir lime leaves and red chili, and cook for another minute, then add coconut milk and water.
Add the browned meatballs into the wok/pot, with 1 tsp of palm sugar (or dark brown sugar) and 2 tsp of fish sauce. Turn the heat down to cook for 15 min, then add the eggplants and simmer for another 15 min, or until you see oil floating to the surface of the sauce. Adjust the seasoning with more fish sauce and sugar if needed. Add 1 handful of Thai basil and let it wilt. Serve immediately with hot steamed jasmine rice.