Saturday, October 15, 2011

Great Eats: Lotus Root and Sweet Potato Massaman Curry

Recently, a friend and I met downtown Chicago after work for dinner. We ended up at Thai Urban Kitchen, a solid Thai/sushi eatery with an impressive bar and lunch menu. I ordered a fragrant dish with tofu, vegetables, lotus root and sweet potato that all swam in a fragrant, sweet-spicy dull red sauce that was unlike any of the many Thai curries I so dearly adore.

Obviously I was in heaven and from the first bite, and had to try making it myself. After searching around, I found this recipe.

The Massaman, or Muslim curry leans towards Indian cuisine and is a Thai take on a hearty stew. Often made with beef and potatoes, the dish calls for tamarind paste, along with the more usual lemongrass, galangal, chiles and other spices common in Thai cuisine.

Here is my mostly vegetarian take on this fantastic dish:

2 lotus root pods, peeled, diced thinly and again cut in half
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, quartered
1/2 package of firm tofu, drained and diced into small pieces
1 14 oz can of coconut milk
1/2 of green bell pepper
1/2 cup water ( I fill half of the can from the coconut milk to get more flavor)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small chunks
3 bay leaves (fresh are best)
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

3.5 tbs. Mae Ploy brand Massaman curry paste
* I prefer to use the Mae Ploy brand of curry paste and add additional spices later *
~3 tsp. palm sugar
1 tsp. tamarind paste, OR 1.5 Tbsp. lime juice OR 1 tsp fish sauce
(actually, adding all three sounds really tasty)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (mine wasn't hot enough)
1/4 tsp of turmeric, coriander and cardamom

Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of vegetable oil, then add the paste. Stir-fry 1 minute to release the fragrance, but do not burn it - add water or some coconut milk to keep it moving.
Add coconut milk and stir. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and lotus root. Also add the water and bay leaves. Stir well and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover curry. Simmer for 20 - 25 minutes, until the lotus root begins to soften, stirring ocassionally. While it simmers, microwave the sweet potato for a few minutes, until softened and then add to curry. Add green pepper and tofu. Keep simmerin' away until the lotus root is soft to your taste.
Then, add the cumin seeds and any additional spices into the hot curry. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and taste-test, adding more fish sauce/tamarind/lime/spices if not salty or flavorful enough.

And that's it! It's so very simple and so very delicious. A perfect dish for the early fall chilly weather. I left the lotus root a little crunchy in the middle, for a more hearty flavor - cook it to your taste, don't be afraid to experiment and share with your friends!

Serve with a side of basmati or jasmine rice.

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