After some time out of town, we paid a long-overdue visit to the nearby Hollywood Farmers’ Market yesterday in an effort to restock our fresh vegetable coffers for some much-needed home cooking. We then celebrated with a farmers’ market vegetable-rich curry dish inspired by a recent visit to Portland, Maine’s vegetarian Thai café, Green Elephant.
The dish is almost broth-y enough to be a soup, with the thin rice noodles absorbing a decent amount of the liquid and leaning on the tastes of both fresh and pickled vegetables to provide bursts of cool flavor to compliment the heat of the curry. Many prefer chilled salads and other cold foods in the depths of summer weather, but, for dinner, I often like to go the other route—hot, spicy, saucy meals that make you sweat and leave you satisfyingly exhausted afterwards, paired with a nice cold beer or chilled wine.
Here’s what you need:
• 1/2 of a 16 oz. Package Rice Vermicelli/Thai Rice Sticks
• 1 13.5 oz. Can Coconut Milk (not Light Coconut Milk)
• 1 4 oz. Can Maesri Brand Green Curry Paste
• 1 Block Super-Firm Tofu (we like Wildwood’s + Trader Joe’s knock-off of it)
• 1 White Onion
• 3 Medium Carrots
• 4-6 stalks of Kai-Lan or Chinese Greens/Broccoli
• 2 Scallions
• 6-9 Leaves of Thai Basil
• (optional) Pickled Vegetables for Topping
• Olive Oil
First, fill a medium stockpot with water and bring to a light (not rolling) boil and then remove from heat. Now carefully remove half the rice noodles (they’ll fly all over the kitchen regardless of how careful you are, but it’s worth a try) and put all but 1/8th of them in the hot water; set aside the rest. Fully submerge the noodles in the water and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes; more’s fine.
For the remaining noodles, heat a large cast iron skillet and fill with an inch or so of olive oil. Allow to heat (but not smoke) on medium heat and the crumble the extra noodles into the oil. They should almost immediately puff up with a sizzle. If they don’t, up the heat a bit. Cook for only a minute or two, carefully removing the crispy noodles from the oil and transferring to a paper towel-lined dish once they’ve puffed and before they brown.
Dice the tofu block into 1″ or so cubes and, using the same warm oil in the skillet, fry to a golden color, stirring and turning to assure most of the sides of the cubes crisp up. Once done, set aside in a paper towel-lined dish.
Once that’s done, you may have some excess oil in the pan you might want to drain (you only want a tablespoon or so for this next step). If so, drain the excess and then ad the onion—peeled and sliced into thin ribbons—over medium heat. Sauté until caramelized a golden-brown and then bring the heat to low. Once the skillet’s cooled a bit, carefully add the coconut milk to the onions, fill the can with purified water, and then add that water as well. Then mix in your can of curry, crushing with a fork or other utensil and mixing thoroughly. Warm until the mixture begins to bubble a bit in the middle and then remove from heat.
Meanwhile or beforehand, slice your kai-lan or greens into 1-2″ ribbons; slice carrots into oblong disks, cutting diagonally along the carrots’ axes (as in the diagram to the right); cut scallion into small circles and then set everything aside separately. With the carrots, we often like to salt them heavily after slicing to break them down a bit but still have them be fresh. Then, right before plating, we rinse the salt off them with some running water.
For pickled vegetables, we usually have a number of different things in the fridge, some using a variation of this bread + butter recipe with less sugar or using the quick pickle method of slicing a vegetable up and submerging in some rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar. This works great with thinly sliced beets (pictured). Then in this particular case, we also used some fresh bamboo from the farmers market that we had pickled using the bread + butter recipe, sans most of the sugar and playing with some different spices. But the pickles aren’t totally necessary, just fun to use in this and many other dishes. Or just to snack on.
When you’re ready to plate, grab two generously sized bowls, drain the noodles from the hot water, and divide among the two bowls. Then place your kai-lan + tofu down and top with most of curry onion mixture. Divide the crispy noodles and top the bowls, then drizzling the remaining curry overtop to saturate the noodles a bit. Add the rest of your fresh + pickled vegetables and enjoy. If you live in the east or other areas not so affected by drought, a nice, cooling shower is highly recommended after.