We were hot and hungry. We wanted quick and simple comfort food in the stunning heat of summer, something seasonal and light but spicy, done in 10 minutes, 15 tops. With the last of the shelling peas, young zucchini, a local white fish called hake, and Thai basil in my garden that needed pinching, I figured I could throw together a quick curry. My pantry provided the rest: coconut milk, fish sauce, raw cane sugar, bottled Thai red curry paste and some of its ingredients to give it oomph. The ingredients for red curry are no mystery and are attainable. I just didn’t have them all on hand and didn’t feel like venturing into the heat to find them. I thought the bottled red curry paste was a little flat, so I added dried lime leaves, lime juice and a little ground hot red pepper. I have ginger (though not Thai ginger called galangal) and lemongrass growing but not ready to eat. Otherwise, I could have done the curry from scratch.
This curry couldn’t be simpler or more immediate. You can prepare the vegetables while the curry paste and coconut milk are simmered to the point of getting acquainted, so to speak. Other seasonings are added and then the vegetables, in order of the length of time it takes to cook them (here, peas first, then cubed zucchini). After a couple of minutes, the fish (or shellfish) is added to poach gently for a couple of minutes and the mélange is finished with a handful of Thai basil leaves that wilt almost immediately. I like to serve this on rice noodles or bean threads, which soak in hot water while the curry is being cooked. Rice works too but you have to start it before everything else.
Zucchini, Peas and White Fish in Thai Red Curry Sauce
1 14-oz can coconut milk (light is fine and is what I used)
2 tbsp bottled Thai red curry paste
Optional or alternatively: chopped lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal (Thai ginger), hot red pepper (i.e., the ingredients of Thai red curry)
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar (I use Demerara or organic raw cane sugar)
1 c shelled peas
1 small zucchini, cut into ¼ to1/3-inch cubes
½ lb white fish (cod, hake etc.) or raw shrimp or even scallops
Optional: soy sauce or salt or additional fish sauce
Optional: red pepper
Optional: freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ c Thai basil leaves or to taste
Rice noodles, bean threads, or rice
Place half the can of coconut milk in a large sauté pan and whisk in the curry paste to blend well. Add the remaining coconut milk and the optional extra curry seasonings if using them and blend well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and peas. Simmer for 2 minutes and add the zucchini. Simmer for 2-4 minutes or until the zucchini softens just slightly, then add the fish. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Taste the broth and add something salty, something hot or something citrusy. This will largely depend on the flavors of the Thai curry paste or its ingredients. Add the Thai basil leaves to wilt and serve immediately over rice noodles, bean threads or rice. Note that the rice noodles and bean threads can be soaked in boiled water while the curry is being assembled and will be ready at the same time. Rice needs a longer cooking time and should be started while you assemble the ingredients.