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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Frugal Cooking: Thai Curry for Absolute Beginners

For intermediate version with pictures, see previous day's post. This one is for true beginners.

The greatest thing about the internet is the accessibility and sharing of knowledge. As I mentioned in another post, I always think everyone knows what I know. And so does everyone else. In truth, of course, each of us knows a lot of things other people would be happy to know.

Like, for instance, how to make Thai coconut curry. With that knowledge, you can eat the food you crave even if, hats off to MFK Fisher, the wolf is at the door. It’s fine to patronize your local Thai place; indeed, it’s more than fine, since many ethnic restaurants are small and local operations. But if you lack money or time or want to impress friends or family, do it at home.

But what if you don’t know how to cook at all? In an earlier post, my son described the looks of amazement that greeted his cooking a pot of rice for his college friends. I began to think of all the non-cooks who might be my readers. For these people, when I say mix a can of coconut milk with some curry paste—that’s doable. But when I say pour this over your stir-fry, well, that’s like when someone tells me how to add blogs to my blogroll. I panic and ask someone else to do it.

When I was in graduate school, a friend asked me how to make noodles alfredo. He told me he was a good cook. So I told him to make the sauce by mixing cream, butter, and parmesan. Then I told him to add cooked pasta to the sauce. He said, “Do you drain the pasta?” (Answer: yes)

So: here is Thai coconut curry for absolute beginners. For 4 people or so.


1. Buy a pound of frozen, peeled shrimp. Preferably raw, but cooked would be OK.
2. Dump a can of coconut milk in a pan and then add some curry paste.
3. Heat the sauce and right before you want to eat throw in the shrimp and cook till it’s no longer transparent.
**Intermediate version involves throwing in some chopped scallions at any stage of the operation.

Cook some rice. Follow the directions on the package. For foolproof rice, use converted. I would say 2 cups raw rice (with around 3-4 cups water) for 4-6 people. Any leftovers can be eaten with butter and cheese the next day.

1.This will be a side dish. It can be any veggie really. But for TRUE BEGINNERS, I would say, buy a pound of shredded coleslaw mix.
2. Heat some vegetable (NOT olive) oil in a pan. When it’s hot, dump in the cabbage and stir around. It’s OK if the cabbage gets browned a bit.
**Advanced version: throw in a garlic clove at any time, but preferably near the beginning. Add a little soy sauce.

Oh, as for “order of things” (title of a famous book by Michel Foucault): do the rice first, then the sauce, then the cabbage. Add the shrimp at the very end.

There you have it: a dinner of Thai coconut curry with shrimp with side dishes of rice and stir-fried cabbage and carrots. Cost would be about $8.00 for 4 people.


Hamster said...

Try this Thai cooking website.
It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Hamster--Thanks for the tip!

Duchesse said...

If you enjoy curries and other Asian food I recommend two cookboks by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid, "hot Salty Sour Sweet" and "Mangoes and Curry Leaves"!

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I've always lamented that the Thai restaurants here are way across town. I've made Pad Thai at home, but this looks much easier. I'll give it a shot. I am also envious of your shrimp prices :)

As for me, I have been known to spend a considerable amount of time (45 minutes or so) making home fries (potatoes and onions).

Chance said...

Great post (and Hamster's website tip is really nice). @Duchesse -- I second your recommendation of Alford and Duguids two cookbooks (or anything wirtten by them)-- they are so wonderful, the food anthropology is terrific, the recipes sublime. My favorite cookbook authors. I'm cooking Thai curry tomorrow night, I'll probably amend your recipe with some add-ons. Since I stash coconut milk in my food storage pantry, all I have to get is the shrimp. Anyway, thanks!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--I have a couple of hundred cookbooks, but not those. Thanks for the recommendations.

@Cubicle-Let me know when you try it.

@Chance--Coconut milk should be a pantry staple.