As a fairly conscientious cook, I experience a wave of mild shame whenever I open a can or plastic sachet of ready-made Thai curry paste. This dissipates the moment I add it to the pan and inhale its alluring, complex aroma, which reminds me that these shortcut products yield an entirely delicious dinner – and that in this case I am not aiming for authenticity any more than I intend a dish like curry-spiced Coronation Chicken to be more than remotely Indian.
Three or four times a year, Jackie and I eat variants of today’s recipe, most typically using cool-weather vegetables, most deliciously celery root or winter squash. There is usually leftover sauce, and this serves as an excellent ready-made “gravy” for fish or, better yet, lamb chops. The only necessary adjustment to the recipe relates to cooking time: hard root vegetables take longer to cook than late-summer corn and zucchini.
Yes, that corn: By now, at least in the New York area, the farmers’-market corn isn’t what it was a few weeks ago. It is best cut off the cob and gussied up in some way, either with complementary vegetables (peppers, onions) or processed into corn pancakes or fritters. Facing a couple of slightly over-the-hill ears of corn, I thought of those and other dishes and how marvelous spicy corn preparations can be. Combining sweet corn – and in this case a gentle-flavored summer squash – and our usual faux-Thai curry sauce seemed to make very good sense.
It did – and it made very good eating too.
Two 250 ml cartons contain more coconut milk than one 13.5 oz can, so the quantity and intensity of sauce will differ, but this is a very forgiving recipe. The Aroy-D brand packed in cartons tastes more like freshly made than most canned coconut milk.
- 2 ears corn
- 1 small summer squash OR 1 additional ear of corn
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil, vegetable oil or clarified butter
- 2 medium shallots or a smallish onion, minced
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
- 3 Tablespoons store-bought Thai curry paste (use whatever kind you like: Red, Green or Massaman for instance)
- 2 250 ml containers coconut milk (Aroy-D brand if possible) or 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk (not sweetened coconut cream)
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce (Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese) (optional)
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- A handful of Thai basil, regular basil or coriander leaves, roughly chopped or torn
Cut the kernels off the ears of corn, and use the knife to scrape down the cobs to collect any starchy juices. If using the squash, do not peel it; just cut it into dice a little bigger than a large corn kernel. Combine squash and corn and reserve.
In a smallish casserole or “chef’s pan” – 1.5 to 2.5 quart capacity – heat the fat over medium-low heat. Add the minced shallots/onion, ginger and a sprinkle of salt and cook until soft but not browned, stirring regularly, about five minutes or longer depending on heat and the fineness of your chopping.
Stir in the curry paste, raise the heat to medium, and stir more or less constantly for 1 minute; add the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Make sure there are no lumps of undispersed curry paste. Add the lime zest, soy sauce and (optional) fish sauce, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, partially covered.
Add the corn and (optional) squash and simmer for three to six minutes, until the squash is cooked but retains some crunch; the corn will be fine.
When you’ve cooked a pot of plain rice (1.5 cups of raw rice will yield enough for two) and have let it stand for at least ten minutes, finish the curry by bringing it back to the simmer and adding the lime juice and herbs. Check for seasoning; it will probably be just right. You can also cook the rice before embarking on the curry; it will still be as warm as it needs to be when it’s time to eat.