Red Curry with Fish


It was my first year out of college and I was in the process of coming out to all of my friends. It was exciting and exhilarating but also a little terrifying, like a roller coaster ride. Every time I told someone I was gay, I felt my lungs expand, my heart beat stronger. Beyond the emotional changes I felt physical ones too. I slept better than ever and had a voracious appetite. I was ready to eat the world.DSC05134

When I came out to my college friend Linda over the phone she suggested I come to Chicago, where she lived at the time, to visit her. I booked my flight as soon as I could. The first night there, she took me to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. I hadn’t really experienced Thai food before. There weren’t any Thai restaurants in Philadelphia where I lived for four years and I didn’t know of any in New Jersey either, where I lived at the time. I ordered some kind of curry and I fell in love. The flavors were classic: coconut, peanut, chilies, and lime. But to me they were magical. The constant back and forth between sweet and spicy, salty and sour, made me feel like a kid with ADD, not knowing which to experience first. I couldn’t wait for the next bite.

The following night Linda asked me if I had any requests on where to eat. “Let’s go back to the Thai place,” I said immediately. It didn’t matter that I was in Chicago, a city with amazing food. I wanted to eat Thai food again.

Since then, I have eaten a lot of Thai food. In New York city there are countless Thai restaurants, some right next to each other, but much like the equally countless Chinese restaurants here, most of them make terrible food. Overly sweet or watery, loaded with cheap bell peppers or drowning in cloying sauces. Some friends told us to always ask for our food “Thai style” when we order it, but it doesn’t seem to make a big difference. At least not for us.

This recipe may not have its origins from a remote region of Thailand or be the dish Thai mothers make for their children, but it’s simple and adaptable and very flavorful. It’s quick to make and does not require any special expertise or equipment. You might even like it enough to make it two nights in a row.DSC05151

Red Curry with Fish – Adapted from Bon Appétit


1 large shallot
6 garlic cloves
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1½ cups whole peeled tomatoes, plus juices from one 15-ounce can
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves (if not available, substitute with three strips of lime peel, using a vegetable peeler)
Kosher salt
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large shallots, peeled, edges trimmed, and halved lengthwise
1 pound firm white fish (such as halibut or cod), skin removed, cut into 2-inch pieces


Pulse shallot, garlic, and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric; cook, stirring, until paste is darkened in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, breaking up with your hands, then juices. Cook, stirring often and scraping up browned bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk, sugar, and kaffir lime leaves (or lime peel) and taste, then season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavors meld, 8–10 minutes. Add carrots and shallots and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, 10-15 minutes.

Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it’s very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove kaffir lime leaves (or lime peel).

Spoon curry over plain white rice and serve with a lime wedge to be squeezed over curry before eating.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup


Sometime in early February, there will come a day when I think “If I have another butternut/acorn/spaghetti/whatever squash soup/gratin/side dish I will barf.” But that day is at least two months away. Right now, it’s the honeymoon period for me and winter squash.


What a perfect food they are. Large and substantial, they keep for long periods of time without the need for refrigeration. They are nutritious and oh so flexible. They can be roasted, boiled, mashed, sliced, blended, you name it. And to top it all, they are sweet, with natural sugars that caramelize under a blast of heat, adding notes of things tropical, far from the cold winters where they reside.


Needless to say, everyone and their mother (literally) has a recipe for butternut squash soup. But I wanted to create my own. I chose to pair butternut squash, roasted at high heat to get some nice caramelization, with coconut, admittedly a classic pairing. I kept things simple and used a selection of mostly Thai flavors. The soup lets the squash shine but it with the unmistakable background of lime and ginger and fish sauce.

The soup is lovely as is, but I’ve found that it really comes alive with a few drops of hot sauce sprinkled on top. I’ve been using Louisiana hot sauce with great success. To make it more substantial, you can add some sautéed shrimp like in the photos here. Or, as I did last weekend, place a small mount of Trader Joe’s Dried Kimchi in the center of each bowl of soup. The combination was phenomenal.


Roasted Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup

Serves 3-4 as appetizer


1 1/2 lbs (650 gr) peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 red thai chili pepper, roughly chopped (optional)
Hot sauce or chili oil (optional)


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place butternut squash cubes in large bowl, add oil, and mix well with your hands. Place on large baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning once or twice, until the edges of the squash cubes begging to turn brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Place roasted butternut squash and the remaining ingredients (except the chili oil or hot sauce) in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour in a medium pot and heat over medium heat. If the soup is too thick, add some more stock, one tablespoon at a time to thin it out.

Serve hot with some hot sauce or chili oil if you like.

Quick Dairy-Free Coconut Saffron Ice Cream

Last week, I cooked a three course dinner that was both gluten-free and dairy-free because one of our friends who joined us is allergic to both. Given those constraints, I started thinking about what to make for this dinner a few weeks in advance. I quickly realized that cooking gluten-free and dairy-free is manageable for savory dishes but when you get to dessert, it becomes a serious challenge.


A challenge I absolutely loved (Top Chef here I come!). Once I decided on the appetizer (pea soup) and the main dish (roast chicken with potatoes and carrots), I started to go over my recipes for desserts. I didn’t want to go the easy way by making a fruit sorbet and call it a day. I wanted to make a dessert that screamed gluten and dairy but without having either of them.

So I chose to make bread pudding, served with ice cream. Yep, I went there.


For the bread pudding, I used my go-to recipe (which I’ll share soon) and substituted regular bread for gluten-free croutons that I bought. I also replaced whole milk with coconut milk. The end result was delicious. The ice cream, however, was more of a challenge. I decided to stick with the coconut theme and I found a recipe by David Lebovitz for a quick coconut saffron ice cream that seemed promising. However, it used heavy cream. So, I decided to replace heavy cream with cream of coconut, which is really coconut milk with lots of sugar and a few thickeners (different types of gum) that turn it into a thick, sweet concoction that’s the basic ingredient in Pina Coladas.


So, I opened a can of coconut milk and a can of cream of coconut, dumped them in a pot, and heated them gently until all the solids melted and it became a smooth liquid. I added a pinch of salt and a bigger pinch of saffron, heated it a little longer to let the saffron steep, chilled it in the fridge, and froze it in my ice cream maker.

I was skeptical on what the final product would be like, especially in terms of consistency. I expected a solid block on ice when I took it out of the freezer the next day. I was amazed when it turned out to be a beautiful, creamy ice cream that you could scoop with a spoon. The saffron had given it a golden yellow color that intensified the illusion that this ice cream was made with actual cream and egg yolks.

The final verdict on the whole dessert? Let’s just say that not a crumb of bread pudding or drop of ice cream was left over in everyone’s bowls.


Quick Dairy-Free Coconut Saffron Ice Cream

If you don’t have saffron, or if you don’t like it, you can omit it. Though I haven’t tried them, other options for additions are lime zest, chopped dried pineapple or ginger, or chocolate pieces. For all of these alternative options, add them to the ice cream right when it’s finished being churned in the ice cream maker.

1 15oz can of coconut milk, unsweetened
1 15oz can of cream of coconut (such as Goya or Coco Lopez)
pinch of salt
hefty pinch of saffron threads (about half a teaspoon)

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk and the cream of coconut. The cream of coconut is usually separated in the can, with the solid cream on top and the liquid syrup in the bottom. Add the entire contents of the can to the saucepan.

Heat gently over medium heat, stirring frequently until the cream of coconut solids melt and everything becomes a smooth liquid.

Add the salt and saffron and continue to heat gently for 2-3 minutes. The longer you steep the saffron, the deeper the saffron taste of your ice cream will be.

Remove from heat and chill in the refrigerator. Once the mixture is chilled, freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.