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My Thai: From Garden to Gullet

February 25, 2010

Good. We got the ubiquitous pun out of the way early.

As you may have noticed, the Explody household is somewhat food obsessed. Well, Mama and Papa Explody started it! For as long as I can remember, Papa Explody has been the chief cook of the family. Growing up in country New South Wales, while many of my generation were eating meat and three veg, my brother and I feasted on Indian and Thai curries, exotic stir-frys and pizzas made with homemade bases, as well as spending a significant portion of our childhood trying to survive Dad’s serious chilli phase. Mama Explody on the other hand has always been head of pastry, thinking nothing of whipping up a quiche for lunch, a cake, shortbreads or a batch of macarons to use up leftover eggwhites. It’s little wonder that my brother has become a chef and I eat a lot.

The food fascination doesn’t begin and end in the kitchen though. Mama Explody is blessed with the greenest of green thumbs, and these days about 80% of the garden is edible. Lemons, cumquats, kaffir and Tahitian limes, chillies, herbs of all kinds, rhizomes such as galangal and turmeric, tomatoes, eggplants, salad leaves; all this and more grows in a surprisingly small space, to be picked for dinner or shared with friends. Let’s face it. Growing turmeric is a hell of a lot easier than finding it at a shop within a 100km radius of a country town. When pressed for tips, Mama Explody revealed that the galangal has moved house with them twice, and that most of these things can be grown in pots to make them more portable.

As you can imagine, there is fierce competition for Explody kitchen time, so I have claimed Wednesday nights when Papa Explody is busy at his weekly French lesson. After seeing the brilliant David Thompson on Poh’s Kitchen last week, I had a serious urge to dig up some delicious bits and bobs from the garden and make a curry from scratch. While eating up Thompson’s Thai Street Food with my eyes, I also came across a simple dessert using teeny tiny itsy bitsy pumpkins of the kind I have been eyeing off at the local supermarket for some time, so unusually for me, I made sweets as well.

Green curry of chicken with eggplant (based on a recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food)

2 cups coconut cream
350g skinless chicken thigh fillets, trimmed and sliced
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 cups stock (or thin coconut milk)
2 japanese eggplants (or baby corn, pumpkin or whatever you fancy)
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
handful of thai basil leaves
a couple of red chillies, sliced diagonally

3 tbsp green bird’s eye chillies
large pinch salt
1 tbsp chopped galangal
2 tbsp chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp finely chopped kaffir lime zest (or regular lime zest)
1 tbsp scraped and chopped coriander root
1 tsp chopped red turmeric
3 tbsp chopped red shallot
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp shrimp paste (gapi)
10 white peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground

Bits, bobs and doodads

First, make the paste. In a mortar and pestle, introduce the ingredients one by one from hardest and driest and softest and wettest, pulverising at each stage before adding the next element, reducing it to a pulp and releasing its fragrance. The smaller you chop the ingredients, the easier it will be to create the paste, which should be quite smooth and without any big chunks. This will take some time and hard work, but is very much worth the effort, and will be superior in both taste and texture to a paste made in a food processor. If you’re short on time however, you can prepare the paste in a blender, adding a touch of water to facilitate the blending.

Fitness fun with Felix: making curry paste from scratch banishes bingo wings!

Heat a wok or pan and crack the coconut cream. You will be able to see tiny threads of oil in the cream when it begins to crack and separate. Add two tablespoons of the paste, and fry over a medium heat, stirring regularly to prevent the paste burning. Add chicken and continue to cook, still stirring, until the paste is fragrant. Season with fish sauce and then add stock or coconut milk. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, add the eggplant and simmer. When the chicken and eggplant are cooked (3-4 minutes) garnish with lime leaves, chillies and Thai basil, and serve with jasmine rice.

I don’t mind saying that this is the best green curry I have ever eaten. The fragrance was unlike any green curry I’ve had, particularly the notes of lemongrass and lime which are absent in pre-prepared pastes. It had a heat which built with each mouthful but didn’t overpower the complex flavours of the curry. While the effort involved means it’s going to remain a dish for special occasions, I will definitely be making it again.

Currying favour at the dinner table

Steamed pumpkin and coconut custard (from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food)

Thompson warns that the thickest coconut cream should be used, otherwise the custard could split and will never set firmly once it’s cooked.

1 teeny tiny pumpkin
1 egg, at room temperature
3 tbsp shaved palm sugar
1/3 cup thick coconut cream
pinch of salt, to taste

Teeny tiny punkins!

Cut the top off the pumpkin and carefully scoop out the seeds, then rinse well. Place the pumpkin upside down in a steamer and steam for about 15 minutes until partially cooked. Remove and turn upright to allow any steam to escape.

In a small pan, mix the egg with the sugar and coconut cream and salt. Gently warm this mixture over a low heat to a little above room temperature, then strain. Pour into the pumpkin and steam gently for about 15-20 minutes until the custard is cooked: it should be softly set, with a light wobble if you nudge the pumpkin. If you find that the custard needs more time, wipe dry the inside of the steamer lid before replacing it, so that no water drips onto the custard as it steams. When it is done, lift off the entire steamer basket and place on a large plate. Leave to cool completely before cutting into wedges to serve.


At the moment of truth, as my knife slipped into the pumpkin, I realised that my custard had indeed cracked and hadn’t set, gushing out into a caramel blob on the plate. Not to worry. It was still delicious and elicited surprised gasps of delight from the parental Explodys. The custard was almost caramel-like in colour and texture, with a deep sweetness provided by the dark palm sugar I used. I plan to keep experimenting with these flavours to achieve the desired result. And so I can eat it more often.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. pommiefoodie permalink
    February 25, 2010 16:54

    Goodness me that coconut custard pumpkin thing looks genius! Shame Mr Pommiefoodie hates pumpkin with a vengeance. Maybe this will make him turn!

    • felixexplody permalink*
      February 25, 2010 20:24

      Oh dear, no pumpkin? From experience I can tell you that the custard does not need to be consumed with pumpkin to be delicious. I definitely recommend trying it!

  2. February 25, 2010 19:39

    oh Felix! I saw the pumpkin recipe in Thai Street Food and thought it looked so wonderful!And you did it you clever girl! How delicious!

    • felixexplody permalink*
      February 25, 2010 20:25

      Well, I KIND of did it! Not quite the desired result aesthetically and texturally, but exceeded all nom-factor expectations!

  3. February 25, 2010 22:12

    Bloody brilliant!

  4. March 1, 2010 17:34

    David Thompson was great on Poh’s Kitchen wasn’t he? Very inspiring. Although I am yet to get my quotient of bingo wing removal exercise, his book has made it to the kitchen bench where it currently sits, quietly mocking me 🙂

    I still have garden envy too!

    • felixexplody permalink*
      March 1, 2010 18:25

      David’s books have been quietly mocking me for years. This is really the first time I’ve given any of his recipes a go. They seem quite daunting at first but really just require some time!

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