It’s pitch dark outside and it’s only 5pm at the moment. It’s time embrace noodle soups and saucy stir-fries!
When I first went to Adelaide, Australia in 1996, the first meal that my Aussie mum Lisa made for me was Tom Ka Gai, the fragrant coconut soup which I absolutely love now. Unfortunately at the time, as a 12 year old I have never in my life tasted coconut milk, let alone Thai food, I couldn’t finish the bowl. (sorry..) It was just.. so strange for me. I think she realized that I found it too exotic and weird, because for dinner she ended up giving me mildly spicy chicken chippies and fish fingers. I ate them eagerly of course. Who doesn’t like fried things? I recalled the memory years later to Lisa, and she said she knew that every kid likes them and it wasn’t as exotic as Tom Ka Gai. Even now when I make the soup, it reminds me of that first day when I walked into her home. It was on a warm sunny spring day and the entrance to her house smelled strongly of fragrant jasmine bushes. I was welcomed by Lisa and her daughter Heidi. They bought a book (possibly a travel guide? I’m not so sure) with names of Korean food translated into English. After eating the strange soup, they asked me to circle all the food I liked from the book. Since then, Kimchi has been a staple at her house, bought from the market on fridays. 🙂
Since my first Thai food experience, I have learned to love it. Australia has the best Thai food I have ever tasted anywhere. (I haven’t been to Thailand yet) You can get great bowls of curries and soups at almost any decent looking thai restaurant or stalls at a food market, like in or around the Adelaide Central Market which I really miss.
Having tasted such quality thai food, needless to say it was very disappointing when I tried one thai restaurant after another in Germany that were mediocre at best. Plus, most Germans can’t eat spicy food, so whenever I went to a thai place, I had to ask them to make it “Thai-scharf, bitte” (“Thai-spicy please”) or ask for an extra bowl of chili and Sriracha sauce. Since then I have given up on trying to find a good Thai place, but the upside to this was I learned to cook Thai food. The basic ingredients like lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, galangal, curry pastes, thai chili, palm sugar, and fish sauce can be found at most Asian markets here, if not fresh then frozen.
This recipe is clearly NOT authentic, but it’s easy to make and has many basic flavours of thai food. The roux made with red curry paste takes 5 minutes to make and you can add any vegetable you have in the fridge. If you can’t find galangal, then ginger will do. But have a visit to the Asian market and buy lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, and galangal. You can freeze them so making thai food is a breeze if you are in for a cozy bowl of curry or a noodle stir-fry on a dark wintery day like today.
Red curry roux udon stir-fry
Inspired and adapted from Veganomicon Cookbook
400g Fresh udon noodles
For the red curry roux,
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
2-3 tsp red curry paste (start with less. Add more if the sauce doesn’t strong enough)
60ml (1/3 cup) coconut milk
100ml hot water or vegetable stock
For the stir-fry,
A good knob of coconut oil or vegetable oil with high smoking point (not olive oil)
1 onion, sliced into half-moon shape
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3cm piece of galangal or ginger, very finely chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, bottom 4 cm part only, tough outer layers removed, very finely chopped
2 kefir lime leaves
1-2 thai chili or any spicy chili you have on hand (more or less, depending on how spicy you like your food)
Two or three big handfuls of chopped whatever vegetables you have (Zucchini, carrots, broccoli, kale, mushrooms, and etc. If you are using sturdier veggie like broccoli, chop them up into small florets)
40ml-60ml water or vegetable stock as you need it
A splash or two fish sauce OR soy sauce if you are vegetarian
Lime wedges and coriander (cilantro) and/or thai basil leaves to serve
1. First, make the roux. In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Add the flour. Stir to make a paste and cook for 2-3 minutes until the raw smell of flour disappears and the paste looks lightly golden.
2. Add the red curry paste to the roux. Mix well. Slowly stir in the water or stock, whisking vigorously to get rid of the lumps. Add the coconut milk. Keep whisking until the sauce becomes somewhat thick and there’s no lump visible.
3. At this point, boil the water and cook the noodles according to the direction on the packet. Refresh under cold water and let them drain while you make the stir-fry.
4. Heat a deep frying pan or (preferably) a wok over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and fry until slightly golden. Add the galangal or ginger, garlic, chili, lime leaves, and lemongrass and stir-fry for 1 minute or until fragrant. Do not burn. If they seem to be cooking too fast, turn down the heat.
5. Add the chopped vegetables and stir-fry until tender or slightly tender, depending on your taste.
6. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the udon noodle and 40ml of water/veg stock and stir-fry until well combined.
7. Add the red curry sauce at once and quickly but gently mix in with the noodles until well combined and warmed through. Add the fish sauce or soy sauce to taste.
8. Serve with a wedge of lime and a good sprinkle of coriander and/or thai basil leaves.