Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chocolate-Coated Raisin Fudge Brownies!

Chocolate-covered raisins have been part of my life for a while.

Nonna always had a stash in the drawer below the microwave. She saved them just for me and I knew just where to find them.

A walk passed the self-service snack section at the University Center cafeteria meant a bag-full for study motivation. Dangerous yet delicious motivation.

And any run to Bulk Barn for some corn nuts, brown sugar or cocoa meant I'd also be buying chocolate-covered raisins. Inevitable is the right word here. 

I am particular too - I don't like Glosettes. What? I know. How contrary.

I prefer the no-name unbranded type. Glosettes have a sugary coating between the raisin and the chocolate that provides an unappealing and unnecessary grittiness. That shiny shellac interferes with the smooth melting quality of chocolate. The unbranded ones melt better and are texturally superior.

Then the supermarket by my old University started selling "Big Daddy's" in their bulk section and it was over! They were jumbo raisins (like the size of your thump tip). Plump, juicy and with a thick layer of chocolate. Studying was no longer an issue but fitting into jeans was. Freshman 15 was all over me.

I really love this combination and I have no idea why I never thought to pair them in my favourite chocolate dessert (BROWNIES!) until today.

If you like soft, if you like chewy then these are the BEST fudge brownies for you!

First up, soak the raisins. Feel free to add a splash of vermouth or whiskey.

Next, make the luscious dark chocolate batter and scatter the raisins on top.

These brownies are the perfect balance between soft and chewy. They have some of the softness that you would expect from boxed brownies but with an indulgent chew from solid dark chocolate. Please do not make boxed brownies to verify - just trust me since I used to create them for a living. I developed this one, and they are great. But trust no one else.

How do you make soft and chewy brownies?

You might find recipes that call for vegetable oil since oil is liquid at room temperature, therefore liquid = soft, and butter = firm. NO! Don't do this. Although it is technically true, using oil to make brownies is a disgrace and leads to oily, often rancid-tasting brownies. Oil is for deep-frying. Butter is for baking.

To get that texture, we want to use a good mix of chocolate and cocoa powder. I have made many (MANY) brownies in my time and often use a good dose of dark chocolate. Solid chocolate contains cocoa butter which is super hard at room temperature. That means it will make firm and chewy brownies. Replacing some of that chocolate with cocoa powder (but keeping the butter the same and making up for the sugar content) lends a softer texture. The beauty is that the softness comes at room temperature, but these babies are still sticky and fudgy from the fridge. The kind that you really sink your teeth into! It's the best of both worlds.

How to make silky ganache without cream?

Use a blend of butter and milk. Also, use chocolate (or a blend of chocolates) that have a moderate sugar content. I would avoid strictly bittersweet chocolate for this because the high cocoa content means that it is more tempermental. Here I use a blend of bittersweet and milk chocolate to provide sugar (and added milk solids) to help bind water from the milk and stabilize the liquid phase.

How to recover broken or separated ganache?

Ganache splits or looks oily because the cocoa butter separates out of the emulsion. It usually occurs when the fat phase is too grand. To bring it back, whisk in some cold milk a bit at a time until it tightens up and appears glossy and smooth. The gradual addition of milk provides room for the fat to suspend into.

Go ahead and add 1/2 cup of raisins. I thought 1/3 cup was just enough to add that juicy burst and intense dried fruit, almost fermenty/winey flavour without interfering with the texture or taste of the chocolate.

Everyone I shared these with enjoyed them so much more than you would expect since raisins tend to get an old-people rap. They asked "why haven't you put raisins in brownies before?"

I asked myself the same question. I'll be doing it again and again.

Big love.

Chocolate-Coated Raisin Fudge Brownies
makes 12-16 squares

For the raisins:
1/3 cup (50g) sultana raisins
2 tbsp (30ml) boiling water
1 tbsp rum

For the brownie layer:
3 ½ oz (100g) bittersweetchocolate (70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
6 tbsp (84g) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
½ cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or rum
3 tbsp (18g) cocoa powder
½ cup (71g) all-purpose flour

For the ganache layer:
3 oz (85g) bittersweetchocolate (70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
2 oz (56g) milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp (30ml) milk
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8” baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang at each side.

First place raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over top. Cover and let stand for a few minutes.

To make the brownie base, melt chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth.

Whisk eggs with both sugars until thick and lightened by a shade. Add hot melted chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined and glossy. Whisk in salt and vanilla. Whisk in cocoa powder until incorporated. Then sprinkle flour over mixture and fold it through. Scrape the mixture into your prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Drain liquid from raisins and scatter over the batter, poking them in slightly.

Bake until puffed and the surface looks matte, about 20-23 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. To make the chocolate layer, combine chopped dark and milk chocolate in a bowl with butter and milk. Microwave on medium power in 30 second bursts, stirring until smooth and glossy. Stir in salt. If the mixture looks oily and separated, add a few drops of cold milk and whisk until it tightens up to a homogeneous silky ganache. Spread evenly over cooled brownies and refrigerate until set before slicing.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Best EASY 1-2-3 Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies are hard to beat. They never get old and don't need renovation. If there's anything I crrraaaaave, CCC's are up there with brownies and ice cream in the top three. It's that type of craving that stops everything - like I can not think, move forward or operate (semi-) heavy machinery until I get what I want!

The only thing that beats eating a warm homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie is knowing an awesome recipe that you can easily commit to memory and batch up as soon as you get THAT feeling.

These are called "1-2-3" Chocolate Chip Cookies for their easy-to-remember proportions by volume

1:2:3 = butter:brown sugar:flour

That is:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

It's a one-bowl deal with this recipe. No sifting, no mixing dry ingredients in a separate bowl, no browning butter (but brown butter is delicious!). We get around this by the order of addition - mix the baking soda into the wet mixture before the flour goes in to make sure it is evenly blended.

Do you know the story about resting cookie dough? It's worth it. But, I get it. We want to eat cookies NOW, not 24 hours from now. The thing with me is that I get the same fulfillment making cookie dough as I do eating cookies. An opportunity to chop dark chocolate or dunk my fists in a pile of chocolate discs means an opportunity for me to eat as much as I want. And cookie dough.... let's face it. It's delicious.

As a Food Scientist, I have to mention that you need to realize the risks. Raw egg is not much of an issue as eating raw flour. There have been a few cases of E. Coli contamination in flour recently, so keep that in mind and eat at your own risk.

You don't need a recipe to make this recipe. Well, the first time you do but then you're cool. Your memory can handle this. It is easy.

How to make soft chocolate chip cookies?

Use some liquid sugar, baby. I like to use honey because it is acidic and helps to balance the sweetness slightly and reacts with baking soda. You could also use corn syrup or agave. The point is that these liquid sugars are humectants, meaning that they bind water and keep these cookies from drying out too fast. Also, don't overweigh the flour - 1 1/2 cups is 215 grams. If you are not using a scale, use the spoon & sweep method and do not pack the measuring cup. It's better to err on the side of less here.

How to make chewy chocolate chip cookies?

Sugar is the ordinary ingredient that makes cookies chewy - and it's the right amount of sugar that counts. Trying to reduce the total sugar in a cookie recipe will produce crisp and crumbly instead of chewy. Unlike making crisp sugar cookies that call for heavy creaming of butter and sugar, chewy cookies should take less of a beating. Just mix the butter and sugar together until they are evenly blended and the mixture looks like wet sand or a slightly fluffy paste. It should not be pale and very aerated.

Resting the dough and giving time for the moisture in the dough to thoroughly absorb the flour will also lend chewier cookies since less water can be lost during baking this way. A chilled dough is stiffer so that it won’t spread as aggressively while it bakes meaning that the centers will stay thicker and chewier.

How to make rich-flavoured and evenly golden brown cookies?

Let the dough chill out. Refrigerating cookie dough for several hours or overnight allows the dry ingredients, including flour and baking soda, to evenly marry into the dough and become hydrated. This leads to more even browning (enhanced by baking soda) during baking and thus a richer flavour overall.


Let's not forget the star of the show - the chocolate! Your cookies can only be as good as the 6 ounces of glory that you put in. Although we call them chocolate chip cookies, I never use chips. I prefer to chop up a block of quality dark chocolate which produces irregular shards and chunks, or use gorgeous callets, which are lentil-shaped discs of chocolate designed for melting and with a high cocoa butter content. It will melt gently into pools of molten splendor and coax the cookies to spread with cracks and crevices.

Chipits? Don't even. They contain a lot of sugar and milk solids to help them hold their shape during baking (ie. the don't melt nicely).

1-2-3 Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 18-20 cookies

½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (220g) packed light brown sugar
2 tsp (10ml) honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ cups (215g) all-purpose flour

Mix together butter and brown sugar until smooth and creamy and somewhat fluffy using a spatula or wooden spoon. It should look more like a paste or wet sand than a very pale aerated mixture. Mix in honey and vanilla extract. Beat in egg until well incorporated. Mix in salt and baking soda. Fold in flour and chocolate chips just until evenly combined.

Cover dough in the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Bring the bowl out to room temperature 30 minute before using.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

oll heaped tablespoons of dough into smooth balls and flatten onto prepared baking trays. Space them 3 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes until evenly browned.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Thailand's Street Food Travel Guide

A Guide to the Wonderful World of Thai Street Food

There's no denying that Thailand is home to the most epic street food scene around, and it's no wonder that CNN voted Bangkok as the city with the world's best street food. If you love food and love being surrounded by delicious smells and flaming woks with meals made to order for not much more than a dollar, then go there. Go to Thailand!

Let's take a peak at what there is on offer.

Tom Yum Goong is a spicy seafood soup laced with fresh sour lime juice. The shrimp-based broth (Goong means "shrimp") is intensely flavoured with red chili, cilantro and galangal as well as all the wonderful citrus flavours of Thailand like lemongrass and kaffir lime.

There are two versions of Tom Yum - one being clear and the other creamy. This particular version in the picture above is creamy from the addition of evaporated milk. The signature look of creamy Tom Yum is the firey red chili oil slick that floats to the top. It comes from a flavourful roasted Thai chili paste called nam prik pao.

If you are on an island you must have a whole grilled fish. This version was my favourite by far, piled high with fried shallots, sliced lemongrass, ginger, spring onions, red chili and cilantro and smothered with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Really, wow.

Thai Green Chicken Curry (Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai) shows off the fresh South East Asian flavours and tropical feel. It is based on green chilis, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel, coconut milk and lots of fresh Thai basil. It is one of my favourite Thai dishes for its clean and vibrant flavours. Grab a bowl with steamed jasmine rice for just 40-50 THB ($1.65 - $2.00).

You'll see mounds of fresh curry paste in colours of red, orange, yellow and green piled high in markets throughout Bangkok. They are so fragrant! Gotta give props to how smooth that red paste is - I'm estimating that would be about 35 minutes of pounding and sweating.

Above is one of my favourite curries - Massaman Curry. It is a southern dish with flavours influenced by the Muslim-Malaysian culture. Rich with coconut milk, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise, this curry is so satisfying and tickles every single taste bud. Check out my recipe for Massaman Curry so you can make it at home!

Pad Thai is everywhere and it is so good. Now, this is one dish that isn't the same everywhere you go. Don't be tempted by the pile of pre-cooked noodles on a flat top griddle sold for super cheap (even for Thai standards) on the tourist roads of Khao San. Those fall flat and I would hate for your impression of pad thai to be based on this. Anywhere else - from a street food vendor that provides seating on playful tiny coloured plastic chairs and tables - will be delicious.

You will find that every vendor makes it slightly different from different types of noodles to a slightly different flavour balance in their sauce. Look for condiments - someone who sells Pad Thai without the usual offerings of fish sauce, extra lime, sugar, ground chilis and peanuts is not the truth! It sell for anywhere from 30-50 THB ($1.10 - $2.00) depending on if you order prawns or not.

This Pad Thai is made with thin vermicelli noodles, although I prefer the wider noodles called "sen ley", which are more traditional.

Green Papaya Salad called "Som Tum" is traditionally an Isaan dish coming from the North Eastern provinces but due to its popularity you can find it everywhere in Thailand. This is one of my favourites with intense chili, sour lime balanced with palm sugar and plenty of garlic. It is a perfect play on savoury and sweet where the two elements need each other for this dish to make sense. 

You can identify Som Tum vendors by the wooden mortar and pestle they use to make it in. They will lightly pound red chili, garlic, dried shrimp, long green beans, peanuts and tomatoes with strips of green papaya before seasoning with palm sugar, plenty of lime juice and fish sauce. Just 30-35 THB!

Bags of dried shrimp of various sizes are sold in street markets. They're used to make popular dishes like Pad Thai and Green Papaya Salad, just to name a few.

Noodle Soups are enjoyed all throughout Thailand in different forms and flavours. I've never met one that I don't like. Despite the sweltering hot climate, piping hot soup is extremely popular and it's quite an experience eating a boiling bowl of soup sitting outside in the humidity under the blistering sun. They often come with various types of meat and veg. The noodles could be thin rice noodles "guay tiew sen mee" or slightly wider noodles "sen lek", or it can be egg noodles "ba mee".

The meat varies from boiled beef to chicken drumsticks or sliced seasoned pork. It's also not uncommon to have fish balls or pork balls that have a spongy texture similar to hot dogs. The broth is always the star of the dish and seasoned well with soy sauce and fish sauce, sometimes aromatics like cinnamon and star anise are added and you can smell these from a mile away. Pick up a bowl for a dollar and call it lunch!

Pad Kee Mao (translated as "Drunken Noodles") certainly tops my list. It is a stir-fry noodle dish most commonly made with big fat wide rice noodles called "sen yai". These fresh noodles have a silky melt-in-your-mouth texture and take on some char from the wok as they are stir-fried. The "drunken" name comes from the fact that this is often quite a spicy dish with lots of red chili. Depending on who makes it, there can be an assortment of vegetables but certainly look for baby corn and fresh peppercorn berries!

Grilled Bananas called "Kluay Ping" can be found on almost every main street. They are so not what you will expect. If you are thinking bananas from South America, the ones we get sent up here to North America, then scratch those thoughts! These Thai bananas called "Kluay Nam Wa" surpass everything we think a banana can be. They are short and thick, very moist, almost creamy (never starchy) and slightly sour. They are extremely aromatic with flavours of coconut and pineapple.

A popular street snack is having them charred over a grill sometimes in their skins. In their skins they have a custardy texture and out of their skins they have a smokey dry exterior and silky insides. If you order the ones without the skins, be sure to ask for the syrup! What the vendor will do is take the banana off of the skewer, chop it into pieces and put it in a bag with the most dreamy coconut caramel sauce! I drink this stuff - no kidding. It's made from coconut milk, palm sugar and salt and I tell you it is gold. A going rate of 3 for 20 THB (less than a dollar). Can't beat it.

Northern Thai Sausage, called "Sai Oua" and often referred to as Chiang Mai Sausage is one of the most flavourful things you can eat. It is difficult to find in Bangkok, but ubiquitous in Northern provinces. Pork meat is mixed with so many beautiful fresh herbs and spices including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, turmeric, ginger, galangal, garlic and cilantro and then grilled over charcoal. 

It is easily identified by how it is presented in a coil shape and you can buy it by the kilo. Don't miss a chance to try it if you spot it in the markets!

Grilled meat skewers are everywhere, and hurry because your favourite pick will sell out fast! My choice is the pork shoulder skewer ("Moo Ping") and I can't tell you how many times I've come to a street cart and they were sold out. Bummer. All that was left was chicken ass (seriously, she called it chicken "ass") and chicken neck. I'm sure they are great, but I want pork and pork sells quick!

This isn't your typical shishkabob OK.
#1 - these skewers are always cooked over coal which makes them already 100x better than my backyard BBQ.
#2 - they are marinated in this sweet, salty, garlicky, coconut milk sauce.
#3 - one skewer = 10 THB. Incredible.

Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Neow Ma Muang) is one of Thailand's most well known desserts for a reason - it is utterly delicious. No where in north america will you see rice and fruit served for dessert, but in Thailand they know what they're doing. Sticky rice is first steamed to perfection so that it is translucent and chewy. Then it gets a soak in a mixture of coconut milk, sugar and salt until it soaks up all the syrup. It is served up with slices of fresh ripe mango and extra coconut cream on top. You will want to eat this all day and you can make it home with my recipe too.

If you have a sweet tooth then you will stop in your tracks when you spot this colourful display! An array of candied fruits and jellies are on show to cool you down on a hot humid stroll through the streets of Bangkok. Here you pick 3-4 choices and they are served to you in a bowl of shaved ice and coconut milk poured generously over top. 

As the ice melts it creates a sweet cold coconut milk soup with colourful goodies of all different textures floating throughout. There's candied pumpkin, sweetened dried bananas, ginko nuts, red beans, taro, barley, papaya, jackfruit, coconut jellies, herbal jellies, mango and more. It can be hard to choose sometimes...

Another way to cool off, especially if you are eating spicy food (and let's face it, you're in Thailand) is fresh juice. Here she's serving up fresh coconut water with young coconut jelly. You can also try lychee juice or have some mandarins squeezed right before your eyes. If you have never had coconut jelly, I would certainly recommend it. The coconut you might be used to is hard and dry - like the shredded or desiccated coconut we buy at the supermarket and often use for baking. This comes from old or mature coconuts and the meat is very thick and hard. Mature coconuts have very little water inside. 

Young or premature coconuts have a lot of water and you can hear it swishing around if you shake it up. Depending on their age, some of these coconuts have a soft jelly inside that is (for me) the best part. It is full of coconut flavour and has a slippery texture. Think JELL-O.

Similar to Mango Sticky Rice mentioned above, you can also find Young Coconut Sticky Rice. This one is less common on the streets and mostly found served in restaurants. If you love coconut, then whoa... you will flip over this. The coconut-infused sticky rice is smothered in more coconut cream and young coconut jelly!

Another one for the coconut lovers - Coconut Ice Cream! The best comes from the vendors that look the least legitimate. For real! If you see someone walking down the street rolling a buggie with a large metal cylinder and possibly ringing a bell, run for it and stop that guy! Open the lid of the cylinder and you will find home-made, hand churned coconut milk ice cream. 

The vendor usually has a variety of toppings including candied pumpkin, roasted peanuts, sticky rice, red beans, taro and sometimes more traditional toppings like sprinkles (but that's boring). I always choose sticky rice, roasted peanuts, and that purplish glob on the side? That's sweet taro paste. Oh, and don't leave without a drizzle of evaporated milk. All this for 10 THB! ($0.35)

Other icy cold desserts are these creamy ice blocks sold by mobile vendors rolling around a cart with a rectangular cooler. That's the problem with these guys - they are mobile so you never know when you might find them! I've been known to run after them on several (SEVERAL) occasions.

It's so hard for me to choose every time, but I'm partial to Durian, Black Bean, Taro, Coconut and Pandanus.... Ok I know that's more than half the list but I like them all! And again, just 10 THB! ($0.35).

Speaking of Durian, you can get it all year round now in Bangkok, but when it is in season it is everywhere and even more delicious.

Durian is known as the "king of fruits" for its unique taste, odour and appearance. It's hard spiky exterior makes it a challenge to get into, but luckily the vendors do all the hard work for you. Once you peel back the thick hard husk, you reveal pungent creamy soft flesh that surrounds quite large pits similar to an avocado pit. The flavour is so unique that is often hard to describe, but I would say it tastes like sweet egg vanilla custard with hints of banana and bitter notes of garlic and perhaps blue cheese. You either love it or you hate it. I love it.

The smell is so powerful that Durian is banned in some hotels and restaurants, and not allowed on airplanes. 

Mangosteen is another unique fruit that must be tasted if spotted. It is super sweet and exotic. To me it actually tastes most like a pimento pepper without the spiciness. Cut away the thick burgundy skin and indulge in the silky sweet white flesh.

You will know when they are in season because there will be mountains of them like this!

Tropical Fresh Fruit is inexpensive and everywhere to be found! It's the tastiest way to stay hydrated while you're market strolling and site seeing. Don't miss a chance to try southern "Phuket" pineapple which is super sweet and crisp.

Lychee fruit is familiar to most people now that has become a popular flavour for beverages. It has a distinct floral, rose flavour and is very pleasant.

Longkong (not to be mistaken for Longan) is a specialty of SE Asia and I have not tried it anywhere else! This fruit is tricky - sometimes they are sweet and juicy and sometimes they are a bit bitter. I always pay a bit more to get the best ones and when they are good they burst in your mouth with sweetness! They taste like a sweet grapefruit and are so refreshing. If you see these - buy a big bag. You need to peel back the skin and spit out the small pit that is in the center of each lobe (the pits tend to be bitter).

Cool sweet beverages are a major trend in South East Asia and this Nickelodeon-looking alien drink is one of my favourite - sweetened coconut milk with pandan-flavoured jellies. When you slurp it up through the straw, the jellies provide a fun texture similar to bubble tea.

Pandan is a tropical plant that is used to flavour all sorts of Thai desserts and even savoury dishes. It is often termed the "vanilla" of Asian desserts. The leaves are often tied in a knot and simmered or steeped in liquid to infuse their flavour or they are pureed in liquid to extract the colour. It has a pleasant sweet, caramel-like aroma with very slight floral and grassy notes.

Another one of my favourite snacks that you won't know is food until I tell you right now is black and white coconut sticky rice with red bean steamed in bamboo!

Since it can be often sold in the bamboo, you would not know to buy it if you walked right passed! Once you peel back the bamboo, you will reveal a sweet sticky carb-lover's snack. The rice is cooked with coconut milk and the bamboo lends a lovely fragrance.

I've only scratched the surface of what you can find for less than a dollar on the streets of Thailand. I hope you are inspired to go there and EAT!

Big big love,

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The BEST Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Smooth, creamy, silky... so light it barely lasts on your tongue despite all that butter.

This is how to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

It is my favourite of them all and it sits somewhere between American Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream in terms of its difficulty.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to make Authentic Thai Curry Paste

I'm taking a break from sweet today and taking us "Scientifically Savoury".

Thai food is one of my favourite (if not my favourite!) types of cuisine. I adore the complexity and playful balance of flavours, the brightness, freshness, richness and colour. Like a carnival on a plate, I love it so much and I've travelled to Thailand 8 times (9 times? I've lost count) just to eat. I learned how to cook Thai food and now I can't stop. Lets begin.

There are several different types of Thai Curry pastes that are used to make several different kinds of Thai curries.

Some of the most popular include Red, Green and Yellow. They all begin with similar base ingredients, but certain important additions make them distinctively different.

Penang is another popular curry made using ground roasted peanuts in the paste. It adds richness and of course, a nutty note.

Massaman is a southern Thai curry dish, getting inspiration from its neighbouring border country Malaysia with Muslim influences. You will find most Muslim Thai people in the South of Thailand and the affect that their culture has had on the food is delicious!

If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Thailand or dining at your favourite Thai restaurant, then you'll know that Thai curries are popular dishes and taste unlike anything else in this world! If you've ever wondered how to make it at home then stick around and learn how to make the most authentic Thai Curry Paste.
Ingredients in Thai Curry Paste

Clockwise starting with the dried chilis:
Dried red chilis, called "spur chilis" 
Coriander and cumin seeds
Thai (white) cardamom pods, star anise and cinnamon bark
Cilantro roots
Thai basil
Kaffir lime peel
Turmeric root
Shrimp paste

In this photo above you also see (counterclockwise from the lemongrass):
Krachai (also called finger root or lesser ginger; the latter implies it is inferior but that is very untrue)
Coriander root

Dried Thai red chilis are difficult to find in North America. The ones you find in Thailand are longer and larger than what I typically find here and they're more flexible. You can use fresh ones but the paste will be wetter and also the flavour will not be as rich. Dried chilis have a deeper, more robust and almost smokey flavour about them.

Thai garlic is much smaller than our garlic and you can use 10-15 per batch, no problem. The more the better in curry paste - I have never once used too much garlic. The skins are also thinner so you can smash them up without peeling them.

Kaffir limes are another thing that's hard to come by. Instead of being smooth and nicely round, these Thai limes are bumpy and mottled looking and they pack a bright punch of flavour. When I can't find this (which is often) I use very finely sliced kaffir lime leaves which are easy to find and store! You will want to use these lime leaves in the curry as it simmers anyway to impart even more fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves are inexpensive and they freeze wonderfully so buy a bunch and keep them in the ice box. Use about 6-10 per batch of paste. Remember to pull back the tough stem that runs through the center of the leaf before slicing them.

Coriander root. You're probably thinking. What the? But do it! The root holds a ton of cilantro flavour and we are so stupid to throw them out! Be like the Thai and wash them well. Chop them from the leaves when you are having taco night and then wrap them up and freeze them until you make this paste.

Galangal - some would say it tastes like ginger, but every Thai (and myself) would say that's wrong. Galangal tastes minty, almost medicinal (think vapo-rub) and has more of a bite. Having said that, you can use ginger because ginger tastes great too. It won't taste quite as authentic but it will still be damn delicious, and yes I have used ginger in its place many times. The trick is that you can use lots and lots of ginger in pastes and they only taste better, but galangal should be used with more restraint.

Turmeric root is easy to find at most Asian grocers, but if you can't then substitute with turmeric powder.

Krachai may prove difficult to find, and it will most likely be labeled "finger root" if you spot it at Asian markets. It has a distinct piquant, eucalyptus-like flavour that is hard to compare. One of my Thai cooking instructors also referred to it as ginseng, which is similar in flavour and appearance but still different.

What tools do I need?

A mortar and pestle. Look for a large, heavy stone or granite one. You want it big enough that the ingredients don't all run up the sides and spill out while you're pounding down.

Alternatively, a food processor. Unless you are making a giant batch of paste, use a small prep food processor so that the blades are in good contact with your ingredients at all times and scrape down the sides regularly. I use this one from Cuisinart. It's just the right size and I find it works better than any other one I've owned thus far.

For the most authentic and rewarding experience (and taste, in my opinion) invest in a mortar and pestle. Pounding up all of the ingredients bursts all of their cells and really lets the flavours marry perfectly. The oils from the chilis and lime peel release more effectively to create an intense flavour. I own this one and love it. Jamie Oliver also makes a nice one, and if you live in Canada check out this one or this one. It certainly takes a lot of effort, but it's worth it. A little sweat means you've earned it.

At home I love to make Massaman curry the most often because it is the one that can be replicated the best here in NA where it may be difficult or inconvenient to find the freshest Thai ingredients, mainly the red and green chilis.

Massaman curry is more of a sweet curry and the flavour of the spices predominates so that you are not missing out on the taste of those dried red chilis that can be hard to come by.


Use sweet paprika powder! To get the colour and flavour of thai curry pastes, you need to use a lot of chilis but if you can't find the right ones than it just wont turn out right. If you use too many of the wrong ones, the paste will be too watery and if you use to many dried ones (the ones I use), it will be WAY TOO SPICY. So I use the amount of dried chilis that I prefer and then add a bunch of paprika to provide the dried chili flavour and colour without the heat. It's a matter of control and it works so well!

How to prepare Thai Curry Paste:

First start with the dry spices. Pound them up to a find powder. For the chilis, any dried chilis that you can find is fine but make sure you are aware of their heat potential before you start adding 20 to your paste! Start with 3 or 4 and remove the seeds if you are unsure. If the chilis you find are very dry and brittle, you can grind these up with the paste. Some people soak them in water for 10 minutes to soften them, but there is plenty of moisture from the other ingredients to smooth it out so it is up to you.

If your chilis are softer and more flexible, then transfer the ground spices to a separate bowl and start pounding the chilis. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt while you are pounding in the first few ingredients, including lime peel/leaf, garlic, lemongrass and coriander root. It helps to make a smoother paste and break down the skins.

Add the remaining ingredients (galangal/ginger, turmeric, shallots) and pound away. Begin adding the dry spices, including paprika if you are using the hot paper chilis.

Roast the spices! If you can dry roast them in the oven, that gives incredible flavour. But it's a lot to ask to turn on your oven just for this. Toasting them through in a dry frying pan with frequent shaking of the pan (so they don't burn) works a charm.

How to eat Thai Curry Paste:

Pastes form the foundation of many incredible Thai dishes including soups, curries and stir fry's. To make a traditional curry, fry up the paste in some coconut oil (or other vegetable oil) to bring out the aroma and then stir in coconut milk. To this you can add an assortment of vegetables and meat. Try chicken thigh or breast, pork tenderloin slices or chunks of beef (particularly for massaman curry). For the veggies you can use whatever you'd like, but traditional items are thai eggplants, pea eggplant, long bean and red pepper. Feel free to use broccoli, zucchini and carrot. Sweeter curries, like massaman and penang, may also have potatoes, fruit (such as pineapple), boiled peanuts and even tomatoes. At the end, be sure to add fish sauce and palm sugar to taste. You will need almost equal portions of both to really enhance the flavours. Once everything is cooked through, dish it out into small bowls and serve with a side of steamed jasmine rice and fresh Thai basil.

To make a tasty quick dish, fry up the paste with minced pork, beef or chicken. Toss in some thinly sliced carrot, long bean and Thai basil and serve with rice.

Use the yellow curry paste as a base to make Khao Soi - a delicious northern Thai chicken noodle soup. I'll post about this separately.

Whatever you add it to, know that it will taste delicious!

The difference between the colours

Green Curry: this is the freshest of them all and sometimes has no dry spices. The dominant flavours are lime and lemongrass, with the refreshing licorice notes that comes from heaps of Thai basil. It gets its green colour from green Thai bird chilis that taste completely different to the red ones and there is no turmeric used here.

Red Curry: like the curry you are learning to prepare here, it is based on red chilis and often includes coriander and cumin seeds as well as black peppercorns

Yellow Curry: add Indian yellow curry powder (such as Madras) to red curry paste

Penang Curry: add roasted peanuts while making yellow curry paste

Massaman Curry: add aromatic sweet spices (cardamom, star anise and cinnamon) and some yellow curry powder (or more turmeric, cumin and coriander) to red curry paste

Jungle curry:similar to green curry, but made with both red and green chilis! It is spicy as ever - the most spicy of all. It is usually a chunkier paste and really is loaded with chili more than anything else. What also makes this curry dish hotter than others is that it is water-based, rather than coconut milk-based. Without the creamy, fatty and sweet coconut milk to cool and counteract the firey chilis, this curry can blow your head off if you are not used to it!

Watch the video below to have it all explained!

Thai Massaman Curry Recipe
Serves 4-6 people

It's very hard to give you exact proportions for this recipe because I always do it by eye. It's one of those things that completely loses its pleasure if you measure. The one tip I can give you is, there is never too much of most things in curry paste! More garlic - OK. More ginger - YES. More lemongrass - Uh huH! Just go easy with the galangal.

For the spice mixture:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
one 1-inch piece cinnamon bark

For the paste:
4-6 dried red chilis, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
peel from one Kaffir lime (green part only), or 6 Kaffir lime leaves very finely sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced
4 cilantro roots, chopped
a 2-inch knob of galangal or ginger (if using ginger you can use more)
a 1-inch piece fresh turmeric root (or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder)
2-3 shallots (depending on size)
1 tsp shrimp paste

To prepare the curry:
2 cups pure coconut milk or coconut cream (for the ultimate dish!)
1/3 cup of curry paste (or all of the batch - it will make the best curry!)
1 lb sliced pork tenderloin, sliced beef or chicken
2 large potatoes, par-boiled and cut into chunks
any vegetable you like - I prefer pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant or red bell pepper (just don't use anything too potent like green bell peppers which would change the flavour of the curry)
2 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
salt to taste

First roast the spices. Place them in a dry frying pan over medium heat and shake the pan frequently (so they don't burn) until they smell fragrant and start to dark a tinge.

Place toasted spices in the mortar and pound them with the pestle to a find powder. Transfer the ground spices to a separate bowl and start pounding the chilis. Add garlic, kafir lime peel or leaf, lemongrass and coriander root with about 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt and pound away. Salt helps to make a smoother paste and break down the skins.

Add the remaining ingredients (galangal/ginger, turmeric, shallots) and keep pounding. Begin adding the dry spices, including paprika if you are using the hot paper chilis that don't give much flavour or colour. Finally mash in the shrimp paste. Keep pounding until the paste is buttery and smooth - it will take a good 15 minutes.

To make the curry, heat about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (or other vegetable oil) in a wok and fry up the paste to bring out the aroma and then stir in coconut milk. The traditional way that I like to use is to heat about 3 tablespoons of coconut milk in the wok over very high heat until it boils and begins to break or separate. Once the oil separates out, you can start frying your paste. You need really high quality coconut milk to do this and I only and always use Aroy-D. It is the one and only brand you should use too - the best of the best I promise. 

Once the paste is fried up, add the coconut milk and bring to a gentle simmer. You do not want to boil at this point anymore. Add the meat and vegetables in the order they need to cook and simmer until cooked through. I usually add my potatoes and carrots at the beginning, add the pumpkin halfway through, and add zucchini and bell peppers right near the end with a minute left.

Finally season with fish sauce, palm sugar and salt (if necessary). If you can't find palm sugar, you can use honey but start with half the amount since honey tastes sweeter than palm sugar. I highly recommend you try palm sugar because it is delicious and produced from coconut palm trees. I buy the hard pucks and chop or shave off the quantity I want into small pieces. You can also buy it in a jar as a thick paste that is scoopable and easier to dispense and dissolve.

So much love people,
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