Be Merry / Hot, Hotter, Hottest

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In Indian cuisine, where curry dishes were invented, the meaning of the name "curry" is seasoning that is either moderate or searing hot. The Indian curry blend will contain a large variety of dried spices such as: turmeric, cardamom, chili, coriander, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and fenugreek, all roasted (to evaporate the moisture in them ) and ground. Traditionally the Indian spices were ground finely on a flat granite slab with the help of another stone. In contrast to Indian curry powder, Thai curry, which comes in three flavors and colors - green, red, and yellow - is a paste that contains a few dried spices and a broad range of fresh herbs, roots, and leaves such as lemongrass, pearl onions, kaffir lime leaves and peel, galengal, chili, garlic, and ginger. The addition of fresh ingredients is what gives Thai curry its rare quality.

Indians generally add ghee (clarified butter ) or yogurt to the curry powder during the cooking to moderate the spiciness of the seasoning and tenderize the vegetables and meat. In southern India and in Thailand they prefer to use coconut milk for this task.

Indian or Thai curry is easy to make and contains a limited number of ingredients. The technique is simple: First you fry the curry powder or paste in hot oil to evaporate the moisture and open up the spices' aroma. Next you add cuts of chicken or meat, shrimp and tofu and stir-fry briefly on high heat. Once the cuts have been seared and partially cooked, you pour out the cooking juices to make a thick and flavorful sauce.

At health food stores, supermarkets, and Asian grocery stores you can find a wide range of readymade curry pastes. Sure, a freshly made paste that was ground shortly before cooking will be substantially tastier, but the store-bought one is more convenient and the result is absolutely tasty. Curry dishes don't keep well in the refrigerator, so they are best eaten close to their preparation time. Curry should be served warm (not piping hot ), over a bed of white rice or blanched bean thread noodles to absorb the flavors of the sauce.

Each paste, whether freshly homemade or store-bought, has a different degree of spiciness and dominant spices. The peppers' hotness changes from one variety to another and from season to season, so it is difficult to control in advance. In preparing a curry dish it is best to start off with two-thirds of the amount of paste a recipe calls for and add more if necessary after adding the coconut milk and tasting.

Green chicken curry with shiitake mushrooms & cashews

Ingredients (6 servings ):

2 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil

5 tablespoons green curry paste, store-bought or homemade (see recipe below )

2 teaspoons cane sugar

500 grams skinless boneless chicken thighs (pargiyot ), cut into medium cubes

1 hot red or green pepper, scraped of seeds and sliced into semi-circles

1 can (400 milliliters ) coconut cream

1 cup (250 milliters ) coconut milk

3 tablespoons fish sauce

10 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried

14 Shiitake mushrooms without stems, wiped with a paper towel and sliced into strips

1/4 head of Chinese or white cabbage sliced into slivers

1 cup frozen peas

4 tablespoons chopped cilantro or basil

3 tablespoons chopped roasted cashews


Heat coconut oil in a wok or deep frying pan and fry the curry paste and sugar. Stir 1 minute while boiling. Add the chicken cubes and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add hot pepper and fry for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut cream and bring to a boil. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, kaffir leaves, and vegetables, and bring to a boil again while stirring. Lower the flame slightly and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with cilantro and cashews, and serve warm with plenty of sauce over white rice or cellophane noodles.

Green chicken curry with Shiitake mushrooms & cashews.Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche