Krung Kaeng Khiew Wan

May 12, 2007 at 3:30 PM (aromatic mixtures, chiles and other capsicums, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, Thailand/ Issarn/ Laos)

the-paste.gif   

    This is a recipe that is absolutely integral to preparing one of my favorite dishes. At 19, while on a day-long expedition to Chicago with an art class from college, I was fortunate, when dinner-time came, not only to be persuaded to try Thai food, but to have chosen a dish from the menu made from this preparation as my introduction to the cuisine. I have never forgotten the flavour of that dish; few do who have ever tasted it. And, while store-bought pastes are readily available for this and other popular Thai dishes, none approach the flavour and aroma of the hand-made-from-scratch ones.

    Khiew means green. Wan is sweet. Krung* means a paste of fresh, aromatic things used to season a dish…. “Wet masala” or “masala paste” might be the best English translation of krung, as the word masala itself is becoming assimilated into the language… Kaeng is a more difficult word to translate. In my opinion, the best English equivalent would be a loose use of the word stew…..

    Kaeng is often translated as “curry”, but that seems to be a catch-all word in English for anything cooked in a well-seasoned liquid, or even something that happens to have a pinch of “curry powder” in it; I avoid the word for the most part. There are, in the Thai repetoire, dishes called kaeng cheud (sometimes spelled jeud), which are “clear stews” directly descended from the Chinese “clear soups”, as they are called in English. Also, there are dishes called prik kaeng, which are nearly-dry dishes cooked in a thick paste of mostly chiles. And to top off my argument, there is a paste and associated stew called (krung) kaeng kari……. “kari” seeming to follow suit with the British term “curry”, (of still-unknown exact extraction, but perhaps from the Tamil word kari); recipes for it contain a quantity of prepared “curry powder”…… Obviously then, in the Thai language, the word kaeng does not, in their minds, denote “curry”, as all of their food contains aromatic substances, naturally, for flavour and health….So, in lieu of all this, I use the word stew as the closest English word to kaeng.  Therefore, I will translate the Thai title of this preparation to “Masala paste for sweet, green stew” or “sweet, green stew flavouring paste”. Does that sound okay with you? You will find this paste used to make what is known on Thai menus simply as: “green curry”.

    Nomenclature aside, let us delve into the pleasures of making our own krung, shall we? This particular paste is always made using fresh green chiles, and also traditionally includes the addition of fresh chile-leaves. Spinach leaves, or any other well-coloured, mildly-flavoured green can be substituted, and often are, even in the best Thai restaurants. This paste, and subsequent stew made with it, is known for it’s beautiful, jade-green colour, delicate harmony of spices, and somewhat intense heat. It is often stated to be the most refined and sophisticated of the many Thai kaeng, and I have read that it is the favorite of the Thai Royal Court. Many, many recipes for this one, special paste exist; oddly, they are all in agreement with most of its components, but differ greatly in proportions. I am continually making notes with every attempt I make, and reading and listening to Thai cooks speak with obvious enthusiasm about it. I share with you what I have today.

    I implore you, when making this for the first time, to use a mortar-and-pestle; this gives the correct consistency and texture to the paste, as well as an unforgettable sensual experience coupled with a certain meditative quality often spoken of when performing repetitious tasks that require patience. Try to aim for every slice of the fine mincing to be 1 mm or less; your mincing skills will ultimately determine the smoothness of your finished paste. If you must use an electric wet-grinding machine, do add as little water as possible; be sure to allow a little extra time for frying (when the time comes to preparing a kaeng) to allow the extra water to evaporate before proceeding.

You will need:

Garlic, finely minced, 3 T

Coriander roots and/or stems, finely minced, 3 T

Chile-leaves or other greens, two handfuls, finely minced

A mix of mild and hot fresh, green chiles, seeded if you wish, and finely minced, about 2 1/2 C (I used two poblanos, 16 serranos, 6 long Thai chiles)

Coriander seed, whole 1 T

White peppercorns, whole, 1 t

Cumin seeds, whole, 1 t

Anise or fennel seeds, whole, 1/4 t

Turmeric, ground, 1/8 t

Nutmeg, ground, a pinch

Galanga**, about 1″, peeled and finely minced, 2 T

Lemon grass, 2 stalks, pale-crisp parts only, 2 stalks, finely minced, about 4 T

Kaffir lime peel/zest***, finely minced, 3 t

Shallots or onions, finely minced, 2 T

Kapi/ shrimp paste****, 2 1/2 t

Salt

1)Dry-roast the coriander seed and white peppercorns lightly, just until fragrant. Remove and let cool. Do the same with the cumin and anise seeds. Grind all of these together to a powder, add the turmeric and nutmeg; set aside.

2)Sprinkle the minced chiles with a little salt and mix well. Allow to stand for 30-45. Place these in a piece of cheesecloth or muslin and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Set aside, reserving the liquid in a separate bowl.

3)Wrap the kapi/ shrimp paste in a small piece of aluminum foil and roast over medium heat until fragrant, 4-5 minutes, flipping several times. Set aside to cool. 

4)In a large mortar, use the pestle to pound the minced garlic into a smooth paste. Add each ingredient in the exact order listed, adding the next only when a paste has been achieved with the preceding ingredient (the dry, roasted spices are added together obviously, and can be used to absorb any liquid that starts splashing at any moment before this). At the end, unwrap the kapi and blend this very well into the paste. Add the reserved chile-liquid.

This paste will keep for a week or two in the refrigerator, or longer in the freezer.

    As an afterthought, if anyone has any ideas about how to make the experience of hand-pounding this paste a little less sensual, I’m all ears!

glasses.gif

*This is also sometimes called nam prik kaeng: chile-water [for] stew.

**Galanga or Kha is in the ginger family and has a unique flavour worth seeking out; it is always available fresh in Thai markets. If it is truly unattainable, substitute 3-4 T finely-minced ginger.

***Kaffir limes or magrut are available fresh in December-January in Thai markets in the U.S. The dried peel is available year-round from a few mail order companies. It has a very unique fragrance and flavour. Substitute with 4-5 t of regular lime zest if absolutely necessary.

****Vegetarians may substitute kapi with a slightly greater quantity of miso paste or mashed cubes of fermented bean-curd; skip the roasting in foil step.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Musical said,

    Lovely recipe, Pel. Thanks for suggesting the sources for the greens and galanga 🙂 I like that picture of yours 😉 He he, really, how did you let that happen 😀 sorry, i shouldn’t be laughing. Hope your skin isn’t stinging from the masala! and its good thing that your wear glasses 🙂

    and btw, that was a lovely note on the “Green Curry”, umm, errr…..the sweet green stew flavorng paste :). i completely agree on the use of mortar pestle for making the spice mixes and even chutneys! The consistency is beyond compare!! I recall how back home we use to make chutneys with the traditional mortar pestle or stone hand grinders!! The ones made in machine grinders save time, but the texture and consequently the flavor gets compromised too!

    That is too true Musical! For such an ancient invention that the mortar-and-pestle is, it has never truly been replaced by any machine!!! It is more time-consuming, but isn’t it nice to just pound away and think?

    Those are really old glasses that were issued to me during my very short career in the U.S. Navy….. we used to call them “birth-control glasses”. 😀 After I added the chiles, one speck of the masala flew into my eye (I wear contacts nowadays)…. that was when I retrieved those glasses and didn’t mind so much how they looked! 🙂 LOL! It was too funny when I was finished, and a very good thing I moved my paste-making to the outdoors! 🙂

    Any of those substitutions work just fine! Thai cooking is not meant to be exact at all; it is meant to be fun and the cook is expected to experiment a bit and be unique! 🙂

  2. bee said,

    i have kaffir, glangal, lemon grass, thai chillies right now in my refrigerator. what can use in lieu of shrimp paste?

    Miso paste is often substituted….. I was wondering to myself if the pale, fermented tofu cubes sold in jars might be better though! They hit the palate in a way more similar than miso I think. Also, yellow bean paste… basically something fermented, pungent and salty that is used in small amounts as an underlying note.

  3. musical said,

    Pel, btw, that pictures of yours is the kinds that Moms go ga-ga over 😀 when kids try to do something adventurous!

    Hehehe…maybe I’ll print it out and give it to my mother tomorrow! Thank you! Happy mother’s day to you Musical!

  4. Manisha said,

    Aha! The post behind the fake trackback finally makes an appearance.

    But why sweet, Pel? This is more like adding dynamite to a curry!

    How do you rate the green curry paste that comes in bottles? Do you feel about it the way I feel about bottled chutneys and pastes? I could so do this right now if I had all the ingredients. I think a hot shower will have to do instead!

    This little project takes a few hours… good on a free afternoon for the Thai-obsessed! The bottled- jar’d (sp?) paste is so lacking in the finer aromatic qualities…

    Sweet it is called, and sweet it is! When the kaeng is made (that’s another post- but the number of different kaengs made from this is infinite), palm sugar is always added…. just a bit to enhance the sweet, herbal flavour… and then too that bit of sugar puts a bit of delay on the hotness! Plus, only a few tablespoons of this paste are used for one kaeng- so this makes enough for several. My mix of chiles is mild compared to others I have on file! One calls for handfuls (!!!) of bird-dropping chiles- those little 1″ “power pellets” !!! You could do the whole thing using green capsicums if you like.

  5. Anita said,

    You were talking about green curry all that time! 😀

    Now, if you only had the sill-batta there would be no splashing at all! So this will have to be on top of the shopping list after all. 😉

    My trip to the INA market is due now – restock on the galangal, and get that shrimp paste.

    I thought perhaps this recipe would catch your eye, it does smells heavenly! So, yes, do restock…it’s worth it! Making a kaeng 🙂 is so easy after the paste is on hand… 🙂 Yes, the sill-batta is indeed integral… what would happen if suddenly there were no power to run the machines? The sill-batta still works, as it has for a long, long, long time… 😀

  6. Cynthia said,

    Unfortunately, I can’t get some of those ingreditents here 😦 However, I have made a note of the recipe and this summer when I head to the US I am going to look for them and make the paste there, bottle it and bring it back with me 🙂 I just hope that my friends have a mortar and pestle (lol)

    Oh…a food processor might work…glad to see you!

  7. musical said,

    Oh Pel, thanks! Not a Mommy, but hey, good wishes are fun 😀

    I agree! Well, good tidings to your own mother then!

  8. Anita said,

    Where’s everyone?
    Gone shopping for shrimp paste, you think?

    Springtime….outdoors! 🙂

  9. Ramya said,

    Hey, am a first timer to your blog.. and I must say that you have a wonderful collection of recipes!!! Really loved your blog and a great job with the pictures too!!! 🙂

    Thank you Ramya… and welcome! Drop by whenever you like!

  10. Musical said,

    “Where is everyone?”

    They are in New Delhi, courtesy your post 😉

  11. Manisha said,

    Sorry, I was swallowing all the accumulated drool from the mention of chaat and jamun. And also this phalsa that I have never had. Such is the power of words.
    And all this as Pel sleeps…wake up, wake up! Wherever you are!
    [groggily] I’m awake I’m awake! These aren’t my teeth…. eh…who cares, they still work. I actually have my grandmother’s tooth….well, no just a filling really. After she died we found it in her cupboard, labeled, in a bottle for safe-keeping. I demanded it! 🙂 forget that…. look what’s going on at Anita’s!!!

  12. bee said,

    pel, i went to the thai store and got both fermented tofu cubes (in a bottle) and vegetarian tom yum base. which shoild i use in place of kapi? and what do i do with the rest of the fermented tofu? use it like regular tofu?

  13. bee said,

    ignore that question, pel. i have a veggie thai cookbook called ‘buddha’s table’ and most of the recipes use fermented tofu so i’m going with that. i didn’t have the poblanos or jalapenos, i only have thai chillies, but this is turning out so outrageously good. i need to cook thai more often. that book has been looking at me for months, and it’s only now that i’ve opened it.
    i’m cheating though. i’m using the food processor.
    I don’t blame you- a smoother paste can be achieved by a machine, and less mess! 🙂 Thai chiles are pretty hot- you may want to mix them with plain green capsicums to get 2 1/2 c…. any green chiles will work, and I’m sure that you or anyone adept at working with them is able to contrive a palatable mix! 😉 Fermented bean curd- red and white, are used in small amounts for stir-fried sauces as well… The tom yam/yum paste translates to “simmered/ boiled salad…” It is used for a specific “soup” in Thai cuisine most often with shrimp (tom yam goong) sometimes chicken (tom yam gai), sometimes fish (tom yam pla)…but it can also feature tofu as the main ingredient… mushrooms as well! Basically it is an entirely different paste… 🙂 Although it is often served as a first “course” in American Thai restaurants, in Thailand all dishes are offered at once, and the tom yam, although fiery itself, is sipped between bites of other food throughout the meal. A bit akin to a rasam…

  14. bee said,

    green curry made with 1/3 cup of pel’s unpronouncable paste (with my modifications), coconut milk, and some veggies and tofu. we just ate it with with onion naan. jai says a special thanks. he just loves it. so do i.

    sorry for the crappy pic. we gotta run somewhere.
    thanks again.

    Looks great you two! No way is this your first time with the green curry!! (sweet green stew) 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  15. Kaeng khiew wan gai (sweet green stew of chicken) « Elaichi et Cetera… said,

    […] May 31st, 2007 at 2:46 am (Jihva entries, dishes by cuisine, Thai/ Issarn/ Laos, dishes by main ingredient, various nuts like me, chiles and other capsicums, vegetables/ fruits, chicken, birds, jackfruit, coconut, animals)     Oft referred to as the queen of Thai c-c-c…(must I say it? Nope!!) stews, kaeng khiew wan is lushly herbal and fragrant, and most provocatively pale-green from its infusion of krung kaeng khiew wan… […]

  16. Peanuts » jugalbandi said,

    […] Thai Green Curry Paste (Krung Kaeng Khiew Wan) (Elaichi et Cetera) […]

  17. Suganya said,

    Pel, I am one of the recent victims of your famous green curry paste. We had it for tonight’s dinner and I licked my bowl clean. Loved it. Thanks Pel, for this wonderful recipe. I wish you a great year ahead. Treat us with more of such tasty recipes 🙂

    I’m very glad you liked it! Now you’re making me wish I had such a dish handy myself, but yes, I suppose it’s time to move on to another of the Thai pastes…

  18. jugalbandi » Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Keow Wan) said,

    […] probably our favourite. We’ve tried various recipes for Thai green curry. The first one was this one (with vegetarian substitutions) from the Prince of […]

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