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Red Curry of Pumpkin, Beans & Basil

May 24, 2011

For most of us, our first real experience of cooking comes when we move out of home and have to fend for ourselves.

One of the first lessons we have to learn is how to time everything: when to put what on, so that it all ends up ready to serve at pretty much the same time. It’s often something that, if you’re an experienced cook, you just take for granted. We forget what it was like to be a newbie in the kitchen, and all those meals we made where the vegetables were overcooked mush by the time the meat was ready, or you’re trying to keep everything else from spoiling while you wait for the potatoes to cook.

So, for any readers who are new at this cooking game, and maybe a bit at sea with the timing bizzo, I thought this one would be a good one to use as an example. It’s a fairly simple recipe, cheap as chips to get together, and the results are fantastic.

This is sort of vegetarian – if you want to keep it strictly vegetarian, substitute some miso or soy sauce for the fish sauce (although they do taste fairly different) and make sure you use a red curry paste that doesn’t have shrimp paste in it.

What do I need?

  • 600g of pumpkin, peeled and seeded, and cut into 2-3cm cubes (roughly)
  • Some oil
  • 1 tbsp of red curry paste
    (you can make your own if you’re a smartarse, otherwise just buy a jar like the rest of us)
  • 1 440 ml can of coconut cream
  • 200g green beans, cut into about 3 cm lengths
  • 2 Kaffir lime leaves, crushed
    (or about a tsp or so of the stuff you can get already crushed in a jar)
  • 1 tbsp grated palm sugar (brown sugar makes a pretty good substitute)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (or soy or miso, if you must)
  • About a cup of basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp lime juice

What do I do?

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, preheating means put the oven on for 5 or 10 minutes to heat up, before you start cooking. Fan-forced ovens heat quicker than a regular oven.

Put the pumpkin on a baking tray, drizzle it with a bit of oil, and toss the pieces around to coat them. Bake the pumpkin for about 20 minutes, or until it’s tender.

Once you’ve put the pumpkin in the oven, put some rice on to cook. I recommend basmati rice, or maybe jasmine rice with this. If you’re used to “rice” just being the old Sunwhite Calrose, try some of the different varieties – you’ll notice the different smell, especially. I like to use basmati rice as a good, all-round rice.

If you’ve got a rice cooker – use it! I scoffed at ours when my wife bought it, but I quickly learned that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Just bung in rice, water, switch it on, and forget it while you prepare everything else. Too easy.

Now you’ve got the pumpkin in the oven and the rice on to cook, combine the palm sugar, fish sauce, basil leaves (put a few leaves aside to use as a garnish) and lime juice in a small bowl. The first time I used palm sugar, I was thoroughly perplexed at how to get those rock-hard lumps to crumble up into something useful. The trick is to grate the sugar on a fine grater. If you’ve got one of these little beggars, they’re perfect. As for the lime juice, I find that those small squeeze bottles you keep in the fridge are ideal.

Once you’ve got the palm sugar, fish sauce, basil and lime juice combined, put it aside – you won’t need it till last, but it’s easiest to have it ready now while you’ve got a spare moment.

Once the pumpkin has been cooking for about 15 minutes, heat a small splash of oil in a large saucepan, add the curry paste and cook it over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring it constantly with a fork to break it up.

Add the coconut cream slowly, stirring well with a wooden spoon.

By the time the coconut cream is smooth and starting to heat up nicely, add the pumpkin (and any juices in the baking tray), the beans and the lime leaves. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.

Once the curry is cooked nicely and the rice is ready (which should hopefully happen pretty much at the same time), stir the bowl of sugar, leaves, sauce and juice you combined earlier into the curry, and dish it up straight away.

Use the basil leaves you put aside to garnish, and prepare to impress

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2011 4:03 am

    My top three essential kitchen items are a really GOOD knife (the best you can afford), a stick blender and the rice cooker. Everything else I can pretty much take or leave. And hey, most Asians I know use them. Restaurants included!

    • May 25, 2011 5:34 am

      Yes, I really, really, want to get some really good knives. At least a chef’s knife.

      But yes, at first I thought the rice cooker was a bit of a wank, but now I couldn’t do without it.

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