I am convinced that Thai food is rooted in comfort. I love it almost more than any other cuisine. Actually…strike, reverse that, I love all kinds of food so there’s no way that’s actually true. There are just some situations where nothing but the delicate balance found in Thai food will do the trick. Plus, the influence of cuisines from neighboring countries means you’ll find variations within Thai cuisine that make it exciting and interesting. For example, no two restaurants will make curry exactly the same way.
Last night, my husband (oh my goodness, I get to say that now!) and I visited Plearn in Walnut Creek. We shared the Chicken Satay served with peanut sauce, pickled cukes and red onion. I ordered the Pat Broccoli (broccoli and beef in oyster sauce served with brown rice) and he ordered the Pad Thai. I had fresh coconut water (out of a coconut with the top hacked off) and he had a Thai coffee. Simple and delicious.
Another bonus: eating gluten free is so easy at Thai restaurants. Double check with your server to make sure the dishes you’re ordering don’t contain soy sauce, but after that, you’re pretty much dealing with steamed rice, rice noodles, and sauces made from fish sauce. Of course, you’ll want to avoid any black bean sauces or hoisin you might find on the menu, but overall, you’ve got a ton of choices: fantastic salads, great wokked veggie dishes, and yummy saucy proteins.
My favorite thing on the Plearn menu is the Basil Fried Rice. It’s just so good. The flavor balance is wonderful and, c’mon, what’s not to love about fried rice? My husband made this great point about french fries: they’re deep fried starch covered in salt. Of course they’re good.
I think that also applies to fried rice, fried chicken, and almost all foods containing oil + starch + salt.
When I think of comfort food, there’s nothing more comforting than coconut curry. Curry has so many variations, and there are a ton of ways to make it. Although I’m sure mine is some sort of bastardized version, I can usually whip it into shape with things I keep on hand, or make it so that leftovers go to good use. You can adjust this recipe according to your needs or what’s in your pantry. That’s the thing about home-cooking: it can and should be made yours.
As my wise husband once said (I keep referring to him today), “I don’t think Escoffier is going to rise from the grave to chastise you on your home-cooking skills.” The same is true for you. Home cooking is home cooking. It is, fundamentally, about sharing sustenance, time, flavor, and you with your family. That doesn’t mean you should suck on purpose. It just means you don’t have to break your back daily.
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 14 oz. can coconut cream
2 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee, more if needed
1 onion, chopped
2 or 3 minced cloves of garlic
2 tsp. or so grated fresh ginger
1 large mild dried chili (I happened to have an ancho on hand)
2 or 3 spicy dried thai chilies
5 or 6 dried curry leaves (I bought these fresh at Monterey Market and dried them on a plate for a few days, turning them whenever I walked by, then stored them in a jar when they were completely dried)
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
Maldon Sea Salt, to taste
*julienned or chopped veggies, whatever you have on hand – broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, bell pepper, etc.
*chicken, beef, fish, or shrimp – thinly sliced. Use whatever you have on hand.
Melt the coconut oil or ghee in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until softened. Add the dried chilies and let them toast up a bit. If you’re adding fresh veggies, do it now and sauté them until just beginning to soften. If you’re adding meat, now is the time to do that, cooking it only until it’s just about finished. Add the garlic and ginger and stir, keeping them moving so they don’t burn.
Add the coconut milk, coconut cream, curry leaves, spices and salt and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the meat is cooked through, the veggies have reached their desired done-ness, and the flavors have come out of the chilies and curry leaves. Remove the peppers and curry leaves, and serve over steamed rice.