So I had a coconut – don’t ask me why. Now what? First thing is to crack it open and drink the water. Remember, the liquid inside a coconut is coconut water – not coconut milk (Too Much Information: Coconut water is the endosperm (albumin) of the coconut – think of it as the white of an egg, but tastier).
Next is to extract the meat. I took the hard way – I whacked it hard enough to loosen a good bit of the flesh, so I pried it out and peeled away the hard skin with a paring knife (There are easier ways – put it into a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes and the flesh will pull away from the shell…). Grating the flesh gives you a few options, including making coconut milk – not as hard as you might think.
Mix the grated coconut with a couple of cups hot water and let it soak for about 10 minutes. Squeeze through a strainer or cotton towel and you have thick milk. Set it aside. Repeat the above and you will get – that’s right – thin milk. These can be used separately or combined to vary the richness of your dishes.
So I made coconut milk, right? Well, no. While making fresh coconut milk is easy and the end result is really good, I was getting pretty tired of screwing around with this coconut. I was hungry, impatient, had a good can of Thai coconut milk on hand.
Time to cook.
Curries are amazingly simple dishes to cook. They invite experimentation and even if you don’t have everything you need, they’re pretty hard to screw up (just use common sense – don’t substitute Tic-tacs for garlic – stuff like that). So is this Indian, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, British? Depends. Sometimes it depends on what you add to the dish. Sometimes it depends on what you decide it is.
The ingredient list is pretty simple, as you can see, nothing is set in stone – I’m not even including measurements (OK, I’ll come back and do it later…):
1 onion, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 inch pc of minced galangal (has lots of names: blue ginger, ka, etc. Related to ginger, but doesn’t really taste anything like it. But you can substitute ginger here, especially if you’re going for spicy)
1 clove minced garlic
1-1/2 tsp curry paste or powder (either one, variations abound – I tend to use Madras curry and go a bit heavy on it)
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Turmeric
1 14 oz can tomatoes (diced or crushed – canned seemed to work better, but anything will do)
1-2 green chilies, seeded & chopped (again, use your imagination and suit to your palate – I used sambal oelek this time – Indonesian chili paste)
1 can coconut milk (you can use half and half, or heavy cream if you’d like. Again, it’s up to you)
1/2 cup Water
Salt (to taste)
Protein (I really like to use shrimp, but chicken, fish, goat, anything with some semblance of a face will do. You could use vegetables as well. )
Mise for the coconut curry…
Start by sauteing the aromatics (onions, galangal, garlic, chilis) in a bit of oil. After a few minutes, add the spices. Cook a few more minutes, until the spices become fragrant. Add water and tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
Next, add the coconut milk, and simmer for about 5 more minutes. If you’re making ahead (a good idea, as it gives the flavors time to balance) – STOP NOW. Cool it down and refrigerate. Don’t add your protein until you’ve brought it up to temperature again and are getting ready to serve.
I had a pound of shrimp on hand (Atlanta Farmers Market – $4.50/lb for large, head-off – woot!). Just toss ’em in and let them cook for about 2-3 minutes – you don’t want to over cook here. (Obviously, this needs to be modified if you’re using chicken, or any other meat that doesn’t cook in 2-3 minutes. Par-cook them before adding to the sauce. Same goes for vegetables.) Season with salt to taste and serve over rice (jasmine, basmati – same no rule principle applies). If you want a bit more color and aroma, add some julienned kafir lime leaves in the last phase of cooking. Garnish on the side with whatever you like – diced raw tomatoes, minced hard boiled eggs, lime wedges, additional sambal – or nothing at all. Simple.