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Sweet-and-sour Thai curry of water spinach and fish, served with pandanus rice

This is another deeply flavored Thai red curry that is so different from the commercial stuff we get in restaurants.

What makes this curry special is the curry paste, a very complex flavor profile achieved from the different chilies, herbs and shrimp paste. The color is a deep maroon-red and the flavor starts sweet, transitioning to sour quickly, followed by a slow, persistent heat from the chilies on the after palate. The whole spinach leaves add that touch of herb and the fish is delicately spiced with the curry.

The main effort is in making the curry paste, otherwise the recipe is quite simple and quick. If you want, you can substitute a commercial Thai red curry paste, but I guarantee the complexity of flavor and nuances of the curry will be lost.

This is a wonderful cookbook that highlights recipes from a city that is renowned for its cuisine. The recipes stay true to their origins and the author gives a wonderful history of the dish and its origins. I am drawn more to cook from this book because of the fabulous flavors.

For more recipes from this wonderful cookbook, click here.


For the red curry paste:

2 teaspoons coriander powder

5 large dried Thai long chilies or Guajillo chilies, soaked in water overnight, de-stemmed and de-seeded

4 fresh Thai bird's eye chilies

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon galangal, chopped

1 tablespoon very tender lemongrass, chopped

1 teaspoon kaffir lime rind

1 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste

1 tablespoon cilantro roots and stems, chopped

5 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup shallots, chopped

3 tablespoons oil


Use any commercial Thai red curry paste.

For the Curry:

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup red curry paste, from above, or store bought variety

1 tablespoon dried shrimp, puréed to a powder

1 14 oz. can coconut milk

3 tablespoons palm sugar, or jaggery, plus more to taste

3 tablespoons tamarind paste

2-3 cups fish stock or water

Salt, as needed

1 lb water spinach, or regular spinach, washed and tough stems removed

2 lb cod steaks, cut across the fish, or boneless fillets

A few drops fish sauce

2 teaspoons kaffir lime juice, or zest and juice from 1 Seville orange

3-4 kaffir lime leaves, halved longitudinally

For the Pandanus rice:

3 cups jasmine rice

2 pandanus leaf cut into 2 inch pieces

To make the red curry paste:

Add all the ingredients for the curry paste, except oil, to a blender and add just enough water to form a thick paste. Add just enough water to allow the purée to slide down the sides of the blender, you do not want this paste too watery. Purée till very smooth.

Heat a small saucepan with the oil and sauté the paste on a low flame till the water has evaporated and the oils begin to release, about 15-20 minutes. Take care towards the end that the paste does not burn. The final paste should be a deep red color. Store in the fridge for a week, or freeze for extended periods. I generally make 2X volume so I have some in the freezer for the next time.

To make the curry:

Heat the oil in a large pot, big enough for all the fish and curry together, and add the curry paste and shrimp powder. Sauté for 2 minutes, making sure to break up the shrimp paste if needed.

Add the coconut milk, palm sugar, tamarind paste, fish stock or water and salt (remember the shrimp paste has a lot of salt and you have already added salt to the curry paste) and stir well to mix. Simmer gently for 15 minutes till you see the oil begin to float to the surface.

Add the fish and spinach leaves (whole) and simmer for about 7-12 minutes, depending on the size of the fish pieces. While the fish is simmering add the zest and juice of kaffir lime or orange. When the fish is cooked, add a splash of fish sauce, stir well. Turn off the heat and add the kaffir lime leaves and keep the curry sealed for the lime leaf flavors to permeate the curry. Taste and adjust salt, sweet and spice.

To make the rice:

Cook rice with the pandanus leaves as you normally would, on the stove top or rice cooker.

To serve:

Serve the rice and curry in individual bowls or plated as in the photograph.

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