“I cook Thai food like a mother would,” said Thongphoon Pandher, the executive chef of Viv Bar & Restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. “With love.” And the league of loyal customers—Thongphoon’s extended family of Thai food aficionados—agree.
“So many of your daughters and sons work here?!” I asked, with a pinch of curiosity and two of incredulity (I understand Thai, you see, and every restaurant staff member I came across called her mae, meaning ‘mother’ in Thai).
Smirks and giggles answered my question. They call her mother because she cooks for everyone like how she would for her own children, with love.
Thongphoon then took me into the kitchen and, like the matronly mentor that she is, patiently instructed me on how to cook Thai red curry since she understood that I dearly miss authentic Thai food.
Red curry, or kaeng phet, is a popular Thai dish consisting of red curry paste, coconut milk, vegetables, and a meat-based protein like chicken, beef, pork, or duck.
The red curry paste is made with dried red chili peppers, garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and lemongrass. Today, prepared Thai red curry pastes are available in Asian markets in bottled jars.
Traditionally, all types of Thai curry pastes were made with the same ingredients. The only thing that would change was the type of chili pepper. Red curry paste is made with red chilies, green curry paste with green chilies, and yellow curry paste is made with—you guessed it – yellow chilies.
Although Chef Pandher’s red curry recipe is simple and quick, it went a long way toward curing my nostalgia for Thailand. If not entirely, then at least while I was delectably consuming the dish.
As I ladled the curry over steamed jasmine rice, the rice quickly absorbed the sauce into each grain. Then, I scooped up a big spoonful of rice, chicken, and veggies. It was a perfect balance of the sweetness and creaminess of coconut milk, the spiciness of chilies, and the aroma of herbs. Yum. It’s the type of food my mother would cook for me, if only she were Thai too, cooking with love!
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 cups coconut milk
8 ounces chicken breast, sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
1/2 cup green and red bell peppers, sliced
1/4 cup Thai basil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add curry paste, and stir until the aroma is released. Pour in the coconut milk, mix well, and bring to a boil. Then add the kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, sugar, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and chicken. Bring it to a boil, making sure the chicken is well done, about 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and add Thai basil.
Recipe adapted from the original recipe of Viv Bar & Restaurant