Red Curry with Fish

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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.
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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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish

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The words “sweet and sour” have a special place in my heart. Sweet and sour chicken was one of the first Chinese dishes I ever tasted. It was when I was a kid and my parents splurged one night to take us to the only Chinese restaurant in our town. It was an upscale place, with lazy suzan tables that my sister and I couldn’t get enough of.

The combination of sweet and sour is not found in Greek savory dishes. So, for us, sweet and sour chicken was incredibly exotic. It was a main dish and a dessert all in one! Eventually, my mom found a recipe for a version of it and she would make it often enough that it became a little less exotic, though it still remained a favorite.DSC04044

When I came to the U.S. to study, there were several food trucks on campus, and one of them was Chinese. At least once a week, I would pay them $5 and they would hand me a white styrofoam clamshell container, heavy and warm. I would open it as soon as I could find a place to sit. Inside it, waiting for me, was some white rice, topped with battered and deep fried nuggets of chicken, and smothered with that golden syrup, of sweet and sour fame. It was divine.

So, when Steve and I were going through the Jerusalem cookbook for a recipe to try out a couple of weeks ago, we were intrigued when we saw the name of this particular one. The colorful photo didn’t hurt either. So we gave it a try and, as with everything in this cookbook, we were not disappointed. The dish really is better after it sits in the fridge for a day or two, and is best eaten at room temperature. I did make one change though. I reduced the amount of coriander. It overpowered the dish and took away from that perfect combination: sweet and sour.DSC04039Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish – Slightly adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices (350 g)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed in mortar and pestle
2 bell peppers (one red and one yellow or orange), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch strips (300 g)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated on microplane
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups (320 g) of dice tomatoes in juice (from two 14.5 oz cans, some will be left over)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cider vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1 lb (500 g) white fish fillets (such as cod, halibut, pollock, etc.)
all purpose flour for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large ovenproof deep pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and crushed coriander seeds. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add peppers and cook for another 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves, curry powder, and tomatoes and cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and some black pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a separate frying pan over medium high heat. Sprinkle fish with some salt, dip in the flour, then in the eggs, and fry for about 3 minutes, turning once. Transfer fish to paper towels to absorb excess oil. When all fish is cooked, add to pan with the peppers and onions, pushing the vegetables aside so that the fish is at the bottom of pan. Add enough water just to immerse the fish in the liquid.

Place the pan in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature. The fish can be served now or put in the fridge, covered, for a day or two to let the flavors combine. Before service add salt and pepper, if needed.