The first time I ever tasted curry, I was surprised. Surprised that I liked it. That I actually LOVED it. Up until that point, for whatever reason, I had been convinced I wouldn't like it, and so I never gave it a try.
I was living in China at the time, during my second year of teaching, and had become good friends with a few of my older students; they were business professionals, taking advanced English classes to improve their language skills, so of course, communication with them was much easier than with some of my younger or less advanced students.
One of the girls had invited me to lunch that day, and we went to one of those great little hole-in-the wall places that you don't think twice about as you pass by, but that inevitably has the best food. She ordered lunch for me, a chicken and potato dish cooked in some kind of yellow curry, served over rice. I loved everything about it - the thick and slightly spicy curry sauce coating the tender pieces of chicken and soft potato, the double starch of getting potatoes and rice in the same dish, the way it warmed me through after walking in the cold air from the bus stop.
And so I was hooked. Among the many ways I grew from living overseas, living in China also helped me to be very open to trying new cuisines. Except for silkworms. And beets. Gross.
Jamie and I go out for curry every few months, and try to order something different each time, so we can try new things. A few weeks ago, we went to a restaurant here in Denver called Indochine, which serves Vietnamese and Thai food, also offering many of its dishes gluten free, if requested. We'd been there once before, and I ordered a combination noodle bowl with noodles, vegetables and several kinds of meat. This last time, I ordered a curry dish - the combination of chicken, potatoes and coconut caught my eye while I was perusing the menu, so I knew that had to be the dish I would try.
That bowl of curry, served with a steaming bowl of jasmine rice, was so delicious that it was hard to put my spoon down when I got full. Determined to find out how to make it myself, I Googled Massaman Curry that night, and found this recipe by The Very Hungry Cook. It looked and sounded pretty close to what I had eaten that night, so I printed off the recipe and went in search of the ingredients.
We have a very large Asian market not too far away, where we buy all of our ingredients when we make sushi or any other Asian-inspired recipes, and can't find the ingredients at our regular grocery store, or need sashimi-quality raw fish. Just a few weeks ago, we had a sushi night, and Jamie made these beautiful rolls with salmon, tuna, cucumber and other ingredients. Don't let their innocence fool you - he hid so much wasabi in one of them that I think my sinuses are permanently damaged!
He also made these fried soft-shell crabs, with an aoili sauce for dipping. They look oddly like hands with too many fingers.
I made a few other assorted dishes - small bites of tuna or salmon with cucumber and pear, with a little horseradish cream.
A sashimi dish with thinly sliced cucumber, jalapenos, vinegar, lime juice and soy sauce. And of course, tuna tartar with sesame crackers. I was a little lazy that night with the picture taking and didn't stage them very well or set up a good light - so these were all taken on our coffee table with not so great lighting.
Back to the curry, though... almost. Before making the curry that night, I thought we'd have an appetizer of spring rolls with a spicy dipping sauce. They really weren't hard to make - I just mixed up some julienned carrots and cucumbers with a handful of sprouts, some green onions, and seasoning (Jamie says I added way too much garlic, and I think I agree, although I have a pretty high garlic tolerance), and then wrapped them up into tidy little packages using spring roll wrappers that I'd softened in water. That was the easy part. But when I fried them - disaster! They completely fell apart, literally exploding in those squishy little wrappers. They were way too greasy and were practically inedible. As you can see from the next picture.
I won't give up on these, though, and may try them again sometime, but likely with a sturdier wrapper, like a wonton wrapper.
Now really back to the curry! I was really impressed with the recipe, as it was very similar to what I'd eaten that night. One of the few changes I made was with the spices - I just added ground spices, instead of the whole spices in the original recipe, although I'm sure toasting whole spices makes a huge difference in flavor. I couldn't find Thai basil, so used regular sweet basil. I couldn't find the star anise, so I left that out, which made me sad, because it looks so beautiful. I also couldn't find tamarind paste at the Asian market for the life of me, but I found a can of tamarind soup concentrate, so we used that and it worked fine. I also think that, for my own personal preference, I'd probably leave out the peanuts next time we make this.
This dish is definitely a make-again dish, which is good since we have plenty of the curry paste left, so I'm looking forward to another night of yummy curry! And hopefully, I'll be able to find a few more ingredients next time.
For dessert that night, I also made a bourbon bread pudding, using up the rest of the apple swirl bread I'd made. The pudding was very similar to this one that I'd made for Jamie's birthday, except I left out the chocolate and added some golden raisins. Topped with a little whipped cream and cinnamon, it was a wonderful ending to the night, and made up for the disappointing spring rolls.
But failures in the kitchen are as much of a learning experience as the successes!
For the Massaman Curry recipe, please click here.