Take it slow, baby, part III (Gang Som, coconut-free sour curry_
Inspired by my thai cooking session with Slow Food, I've been talking a bit about the history of Thai food on Chez Pim. This post is the third installment, you might want to check out Part I and Part II as well.
A lot of coconut based curries are quite well-known and popular in Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. Less well-known are coconut free curries, like Gang Som (sour curry) and Gang Pah (Jungle curry). It's too bad, really, because these coconut free curries are every bit as good, if not even better because it's also good for your diet.
Tonight I made my favorite coconut-free curry called Gang Som. I used the paste that I brought back with me from Thailand. It's homemade, still, since it was made at my home in Bangkok and packed for me to take back to the US.
The curry paste itself isn't hard to make though. I've done it plenty of times. It is far superior than anything you could buy in a can, so I really suggest you make it yourself. The ingredients are quite easily available, even, so there is really no reason for you not to make it yourself.
Gang Som is made from a type of red curry paste, which could be made from dried chillies as well as from fresh chillies. My family is more in favor of the paste made from fresh chillies, so that's what I usually do. The main flavoring ingredients are the chilli paste, tamarind, and fish sauce. There's a bit of palm sugar in it too, not to make it sweet but just to round up the taste a bit. Shrimp paste gives the paste a bit of complexity, but it is entirely optional. I make my Gang Som with shrimp, again from family habits, but you can just as well do it with practically any white fish.
Sour, coconut-free curry
Gang Som curry paste
5 large not-spicy red chillies (like red jalapeno) and 10 red bird eye chillies
(Or use 1/4 oz dried red chillies in place of all the fresh chillies.)
5 shallots, finely chopped
10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a scant tablespoon of shrimp paste (optional)
a large pinch of kosher salt
Pound all the ingredients of the curry paste together and set aside
1 pound shrimp, uncooked and shells on
2 cups of cauliflower, cut into small fleurettes*
2 cups daikon radish, cut into 2 cm rounds*
4 cups of Nappa cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces*
1 large handful of Sour Grass (optional)
7 cups water
4 tbsp sour curry paste
7 tbsp tamarind paste
10 tbsp fish sauce
5 tbsp palm sugar
1. Peel and devein the shrimps, separate the shells from the meat.
2. In a large pot, boil 7 cups water with the shrimp shells for 15 minutes, remove the shells from the pot.
3. Add the sour curry paste into the pot, bring it back to a boil.
4. Add the tamarind paste, fish sauce, and palm sugar, then bring the pot back to a boil.
5. Add Daikon radish rounds to the pot, let cook for 5 minutes.
6. Add cauliflower and let cook until done.
7. Taste the broth, add more tamarind paste, fish sauce, or palm sugar as necessary. Different brands of tamarind paste and fish sauce will not taste the same. You would have to rely on your on taste rather than the precise measurement, as my fish sauce and tamarind paste may not taste the same as yours. The finished soup should be sour first, then spicy, and salty, with just a hint of sweetness at the end.
8. Add the stem-y part of Nappa cabbage, let cook for 2 minutes, then add the leafy part and the shrimp meat and let cooked until just done, only a minute or two.
9. Turn the heat off and add the Sour Grass. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.
*Gang Som works well with just about any vegetable. This combination -Cauliflower, Daikon, and Nappa cabbage- is only one possibility. You can add pretty much any vegetable to this Gang Som -we even use the white part of watermelon rind in Thailand! Just make sure that you add the vegetables in the order of those taking the longest to cook to the shortest.
P.S. The Sour Grass bit is improvised. We sometimes use a flower called Dok Kae in Gang Som. Since we don't have Dok Kae here in the US, I decided to add a handful of Sour Grass, which grows like weed around my house in Santa Cruz, instead. The sour flavor from the Sour Grass goes perfectly well with Gang Som.