Cambodian Curry Mouan
From my culinary travels I’ve learned that a fast and simple Cambodian curry can be made by heating coconut milk, whisking in an authentic Cambodian curry blend, and adding vegetables and protein of choice. I’ve also come to respect more complex curry blends, such Curry Mouan as I adapt here from The Elephant Walk Cookbook, by Longteine De Monteiro and Katherine Neustadt.
The authors of The Elephant Walk and recipe note that a curry like this that one makes from scratch is not an everyday event as it is requires too many ingredients, but that with its magnificent array of flavors it is a wonderful dish for a celebration. I’ve adapted this recipe to be a vegetarian version of their chicken curry, but I note where this substitute is, and eliminate the fish sauces.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sliced lemongrass
3 dried New Mexico chilies, soaked, seeded and deveined
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
2 slices peeled galangal, about 1 1/2 inches across and 1/8 inch thick (osubstitute ginger if galangal is unavailable)
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks, cracked
4 whole star anise
9 cardamon seeds
1 small Asian nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cup water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro stems
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
(2 1/2 teaspoons shrimp paste, except in vegetarian version)
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (light for fewer calories)
1 1/2 – 2 pounds tofu (or chicken)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce (not for vegetarian version; substitute veggie bouillon)
4 teaspoons sugar (organic, whole)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound Idaho potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch thick slices
To Make the Paste: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all of the paste ingredients and fry for about 5 minutes, until the flavors have been released. Place in a blender. Add the water, cilantro, turmeric (and shrimp paste if used) to the blender and blend until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
In a large heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of the coconut milk and cook until the oil begins to separate from the milk, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the curry paste and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes while the spice flavors develop. If the surface of the sauce is not covered with dark spots, add another tablespoon of oil.
Add the tofu to the sauce, stirring well to coat, then add the onion, sugar and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of coconut milk and cook to a high simmer, partially covered, until the tofu is tender.
While the curry is cooking, heat the remaining 1/2 cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and fry, turning, until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the potatoes to the pot with the tofu and finish cooking (if you are making this with chicken, make sure that you cook the meat for 30 minutes) until the potatoes are tender. Serve with rice.
By Annie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment, Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).