Greetings, this is Mr. Lazy Knitter, and I’m here writing a guest post as Ms. Lazy Knitter is traveling for work this week. My creative outlet is cooking, and contrary to my wife, I have a tendency to go overboard with effort. I converted to Judaism as an adult, and keeping a kosher household has been an interesting and challenging adventure.
One of the biggest challenges is finding hechshered (Kosher-certified) ingredients for cuisines that fall outside of the mainstream. In general, you can find hechshered sauces for any dish you could find at a standard Americanized Chinese restaurant – General Tso’s, orange chicken, Mongolian beef, teriyaki, etc – but anything Asian outside of that band becomes nearly impossible. Today, I’ll detail my journey of searching for, failing to find, and ultimately making from scratch, one of these ingredients: Thai yellow curry paste.
As a child, my family had a yearly ritual. Every year, we would attend the Printer’s Row Book Fair in June. For those of you unfamiliar, this is an event in June where the streets of the historic Printer’s Row district, a Southside Chicago neighborhood that was home to many publishers and printing houses, are filled with pavilion tent after pavilion tent of small publishers, used book stores, and other book aficionados and companies selling their works. My parents, who take to books much in the same way dragons take to gold, would descend upon the festival with half a dozen tote bags and a printed Excel ’93 spreadsheet of their existing collection (in a vain attempt to not end up with too many duplicates), and not leave until the bags were overflowing. At the end of every trip, we would stop at a small Thai restaurant in the neighborhood, and have their famous golden noodle soup. I’m sure we ate other dishes as well – I have vague memories of chicken satay – but the soup looms large in my memory: huge bowls of rich, aromatic curry broth filled with both soft and crispy noodles.
A few years ago, I had a hankering for the soup from my childhood, so I endeavored to recreate it. At the time, I was able to find a brand of hechshered yellow curry paste, which, along with coconut cream and broth, forms the basis of the soup. Recently, I had a hankering again. Thus began my journey to find the precious paste.
My first step in locating any ingredient is to check my standard bevvy of grocery stores. I’m fortunate enough that I live within a few miles of several standard grocery stores with extensive kosher sections, as well as a dedicated fully-kosher grocery store. However, upon checking all of these, none of them had any variety of Thai yellow curry paste, hechshered or not.
When local grocers fail my, my next destination is usually the internet. Amazon is frequently unhelpful when searching for kosher ingredients, as searches through the website default to fuzzy searches that drop terms like “Kosher” or “hechshered”, and searches through Google will give results like non-kosher ingredients that “customers often viewed” with “kosher salt” or similarly unhelpful results. Several of the largest kosher supervision organizations provide searchable lists of products they hechsher, but none of these yielded any leads on yellow curry paste. Some Google-fu eventually yielded a single result – a kosher Thai restaurant based in Florida that sold its curry pastes online several years ago, but had since shut down.
So, out of options, I looked up how to create the paste myself. The process isn’t particularly demanding, but some of the ingredients required were more than a little unusual – galangal (a Thai relative to ginger), lemongrass (a citrus-flavored reed), and kefir lime leaves (the fragrant citrus leaves of a small Thai lime tree) – and aren’t found at traditional grocery stores. This meant it was time to visit my favorite Korean supermarket/mini-mall, Super H Mart. The Super H Mart in Niles, Illinois is quite the place to behold, featuring a full food court, multiple Korean specialty shops, aisle after aisle of imported ingredients, and a produce section that could be used to repopulate the world’s agriculture in place of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Just about any kind of edible plant can be found in the produce section of H Mart.
So, armed with my galangal, lemongrass, and kefir lime leaves, along with regular ginger, garlic, and shallots, I set about making my own Thai yellow curry paste. I started by slicing all of the above into large chunks and roasting them in a large cast-iron pan with a small amount of oil. Once everything had a nice brown on it, I pureed it in batches with my Cuisinart cup blender, then switched to the stick blender attachment to blend it all together, along with salt, black pepper, coriander, turmeric, fresh cilantro, and curry powder. For those looking to add a little spice to this paste, Thai chilis can be roasted along with the other aromatics and added in as well. I would normally be all over this, but Zee loves her curry but can’t yet tolerate the heat, so I left it out.
The yield from this was 2-3 cups of curry paste. I used some of the curry paste immediately to make the golden noodle soup, but I spooned the rest into an ice cube tray and froze for use in future curries. Creating a roux from equal parts coconut oil and flour and then mixing in a few cubes of curry paste forms a great base for quick and easy curries.
Some quick and dirty recipes are below. Most of my cooking is done by gut feel and active tasting, so these quantities are not exact, and end up a little different every time, but these are some general guidelines.
Thai Yellow Curry Paste
1 cube of fresh galangal, approximately 2 inches per side, sliced into thin sheets
1 cube of fresh ginger, approximately 2 inches per side, sliced into thin sheets
2-3 medium shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
20-25 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
2-4 stalks of lemongrass, hard outer layers removed and sliced in half lengthwise
0-30 Thai chilis, depending on desired spice level
8-10 kefir lime leaves
1/2 cup cilantro stems and leaves
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coriander1 tablespoon curry powder
Salt and black pepper to taste
Lightly oil a large cast iron pan and add the galangal, ginger, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and optionally chilis. Roast on low to medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until browned, turning over halfway through. Remove from the pan and puree in a food processor or cup blender, then puree in the kefir lime leaves, cilantro, and spices. Add salt and pepper to taste. Freeze any paste which will not be used immediately, it will keep in the freezer more or less indefinitely.
Golden Noodle Soup
1/2 cup Thai yellow curry paste
1 can coconut cream
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 pound chicken or tofu, cut into small pieces
4 oz rice noodles
8-10 kefir lime leaves
Sliced green onion, crispy wonton pieces/noodles, diced cilantro for topping
Saute the curry paste in the bottom of a large stock pan for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut cream and broth, stirring to mix, heat on high. Add tofu or chicken, kefir leaves, and noodles. Bring to a boil and cook 10-15 minutes, until noodles are soft and chicken or tofu is tender and cooked through. Spoon into bowls and top with green onion, diced cilantro, and crispy wonton pieces or noodles.