Chef Amanda Cohen of NYC's vegetarian favorite, Dirt Candy, knows it takes peak satisfaction to pacify her most carnivorous of guests. So she's conjured a versatile Thai green curry paste that pumps up the piquancy of a whole host of dishes on her menu, not to mention it freezes well "without losing its value."
Ginger, galangal, chiles and kaffir lime leaves are blended together to form a paste that’s packed with flavor. "Somehow you taste everything separately, and yet everything together at once," Cohen says. "You get moments of What's that?! But all you care about is that it's really tasty." Incorporate it into rich, sweet dishes or blend into a creamy side sauce to add a bright and spicy element to any meal.
Here are five of her favorite ways to get that flavor-loving feeling at home.
① Thai Green Curry Sauce
Quickly blanch equal parts Thai basil and cilantro until they’re slightly wilted, then dry and process into a smooth paste. Add enough neutral oil to a hot pan to thinly cover the surface, cook two tablespoons of Thai green curry paste (see the recipe) until fragrant, and then stir in one tablespoon of the basil-cilantro mixture until the two are incorporated. Add just enough vegetable stock or water to make a smooth green sauce. Then drizzle equal parts warm coconut milk and curry sauce over noodles, seafood or fish dishes for a bright and clean curry.
② The Perfect Garnish
Cohen initially came up with the paste as a dressing for a cucumber-and-avocado garnish, and it's still one of her favorite uses. Finely dice ripe but slightly firm avocado and cucumber into "teeny tiny bits." Toss them with just enough paste to coat, drizzle with a few squeezes of lime and season with a sprinkling of salt to taste. The neutral flavors of the avocado carry the spice and citrus of the paste, so when you "hit something too spicy, your tongue will find [the] cucumber and avocado to cool it down."
③ A Flavorful Finishing Oil
Quickly blanch a hearty bunch of cilantro and squeeze out the water. Combine the cilantro with two tablespoons of curry paste and a cup of olive oil, and "blend it like crazy" until the cilantro is fully incorporated. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for a day, then strain out all the solids.
The result is a bright-green oil that brings vibrancy to both sweet and earthy vegetable dishes. Toss with diced red beets before roasting; mix it with julienned cabbage and carrots, bean sprouts, peanuts and lime juice for a light, healthy and flavorful slaw; or use it as a finishing oil for entrées that need a quick, colorful boost.
④ Creamy Cooked Dressing
"Cooking the paste deepens it for stronger pairings," Cohen says. For a creamy dressing, mix a quarter cup of hot oil with one tablespoon of the paste. It will bubble and slightly cook. Then stir in half a cup of nut butter (she recommends cashew or peanut), two tablespoons of soy sauce or tamari, one tablespoon of lime juice and just enough water to thin it out. The result is a creamy, slightly spicy dressing that can then be used for salads with bitter or zesty vegetables.
⑤ A Cleaner Grilling Oil
"People make marinades for grilling vegetables, but the little bits in them often stick and burn," Cohen warns. Blend two tablespoons of paste into a cup of oil until smooth, and apply liberally to vegetables before grilling. The oil is "super flavorful" and works well with sweet vegetables like butternut squash or sweet potatoes, slightly bitter greens like Swiss chard, or anything with flavor-absorbing nooks and crannies like broccoli. Tossed into a salad, the veggies provide ample flavor without needing additional dressing.