I have adored Thai food for years now. It's really the one cuisine that inspires me to stuff myself silly. The coconut curries really have a hold on me, and panang is currently my favorite. Making it at home is pretty easy if you buy your paste; Lobo and Maesri brands are two I have tried and like. The problem with these prepared pastes is the astonishing amount of sodium per serving. I think I recall the Maesri containing about 640 mg of sodium per tablespoon! I did look up a recipe in Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet for red curry, which to me tastes similar to panang (panang has peanut butter in it) and there are lots of ingredients to deal with. The inclusion of shrimp
paste piles on the sodium anyway so let's just say we have it occasionally and call it good. Please note, Asian home cooks tend to use the prepared pastes just like we buy bottled spaghetti sauce.
Kaffir lime leaves are not the same as Persian lime leaves. I brought home kaffir lime leaves and broke off a leaf from my Persian lime tree. When I rubbed both leaves between my fingers the leaf that smelled good was the kaffir lime. So you can't substitute leaves from your tree. The fish sauce is the Three Crabs brand from Thailand. I asked a fellow shopper in the Asian store several years ago which brand she recommended and she said Three Crabs. If you've ever heard of Mai Pham, who owns Lemongrass Restaurant in Sacramento, well she likes that brand too. My helpful fellow shopper also pointed me to Chaokh brand coconut milk and by gum, I'm sticking to it.
Eggplant works really well with curry and having a garden comes in real handy. Paul planted Japanese eggplants and we're starting to get a nice little crop. They went into this curry.
My Eggplant Panang
10 1/2 oz chicken, cut into bit size pieces
1 T oil, neutral, like grapeseed
1 pkg Lobo or 1 - 4 oz can Maesri Panang Curry Paste
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
2 tsp fish sauce or to taste
5 kaffir lime leaves
1 t brown sugar
1/2 large red bell pepper, sliced in 1/4" wide strips
4 small Japanese eggplant, sliced in 1/2" thick rounds
Saute chicken over medium heat with a little oil until cooked through. Add 1 T oil to 10-12" nonstick saute pan, heat on medium setting. Add bell pepper and sweat for 3 or 4 minutes to get
it a little tender. Push pepper to side and add curry paste to middle of pan and cook for 30 - 60 seconds to release aromas. Add coconut milk and gently whisk into paste. Whisk in water, then
add eggplant rounds, chicken and lime leaves. Bring to gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes or so, checking for eggplant tenderness. Add the brown sugar to taste in order to tame any harshness. Stir in fish sauce as above or to taste. Serve over sticky rice.
Ah, sticky rice. One of the best things about Thai food, although it is actually regional. I believe steamed jasmine rice is more commonly served. When Paul and I dined in a wonderful little place in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, we asked for sticky rice. The owner informed us just a little bit indignantly that sticky rice wasn't served in his neck of the Thai woods. So what - we love it, especially with saucy dishes ladled over it or on the side where one can grab a ball of rice and dip it in sauce like bread. This rice is called glutinous or sweet rice and is available in southeast Asian stores. It doesn't swell up like other rice, it gets sticky. You need to soak it in water for several hours if possible, I allow 2 hours minimum. Rinse the rice well and cook with a steamer basket, using a rice cooker if you have one. I have also set a steamer pan in my steam canner. A cup of uncooked rice will feed 3, possibly 4 people if you aren't too piggy. It is very important not to
let the water touch the rice or you'll have a soggy mess - I know of what I speak! Steam 15 or more minutes; check with a fork and taste for doneness. If desired, cut up some lemongrass and stick it in the rice before steaming to add a subtle citrus flavor.
Before I leave you, here are my favorite local Thai restaurants: Bangkok Restaurant, 3255 W Hammer Ln # 18, Stockton CA, phone 209-276-8616. We've been eating there for years, originally called Nut Pob in a different location. My Thai friend says the flavors aren't authentic, probably because the owners are from Laos. But the food kicks ass, and the geang curry, a yellow curry with chicken, potatoes and carrots is addictive. I think it's part of the cause of my weight problem!! I haven't had better pad thai than theirs, and the tom yam gung (hot and sour soup) is to die for. Or at least roll around on the floor.
Thai Basil has several locations and is family owned. Go to www.thaibasilrestaurant.com/ for
menus, etc. The Elk Grove location is the closest to us, at 8785 Center Pkwy # B120, Sacramento (really Elk Grove - Laguna district), phone (916) 681-8424. It's a bit, no a lot more gourmet, and a little more expensive, but worth it. We had an amazing dinner at the J St. location in Sacramento - 2431 J St - (916) 442-7690 and were able to eat outside in the garden.
Lucky, because the joint was jumpin'.