Pumpkin and Salmon Thai Yellow Curry

‘Tis October– jewel-toned pumpkins and pale, pimpled gourds and squashes are everywhere, ranging from the miniature, bite-size variety to the pregnant ones too heavy to carry and the big white ones that look like enormous heads of garlic.



Here's the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking mid-sized gourd
Here’s the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking, mid-sized gourd

To me, this recipe – pumpkin and salmon yellow curry with bok choy – embodies what October is all about: a slight chill in the air, Halloween decorations adorning window displays and backyards, settling into the rhythm of the semester, while the end (six weeks more!) is tantalizingly close.

This recipe comes courtesy Nigella, specifically Nigella Bites. I love Nigella, the simplicity and lushness of her cooking, especially when she’s cooking for one. Her recipe includes shrimp as well, which of course, you can add here if you like along with the salmon. But I think the salmon is quite hearty and substantial on its own. This golden, marigold curry is perfectly balanced and will warm you right up after a long day at work or school. Aside from prepping the pumpkin, which can take a few minutes, the rest of it is pretty straightforward and quick.

Prep: 40 minutes

Serves: 2


Approx. 1/2 pound salmon fillet (preferably organic), skinned and cut into large, bite-sized pieces

1 lemongrass stalk, cut in thirds (whack the lemongrass with your knife at different points along its spine so that it releases its lovely citrusy scent)

1/2 a medium-sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks (3/4 pound approx.)

1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (approx. 20 oz.)

1 tbsp. Thai yellow curry paste. Start with 1 tbsp and then add more during the cooking if you want more heat.  (I like the brand Mae Ploy. You can also use red curry paste if you don’t have yellow – see my recipe here). Note: the curry paste is not vegetarian – it has shrimp paste in it

2 tbsp. palm sugar (use cane sugar if you can’t find palm sugar)

1-2 tbsp. fish sauce (start with 1 tbsp and add more later if needed)

1 1/2 cups warm water/vegetable stock/ fish stock (I used vegetable stock here)

1 tsp. turmeric

3 heads of bok choy or any other green vegetable

Juice of one lime

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Prep your ingredients: first, cut up the pumpkin into bite size pieces – discard the mushy center and seeds and remove skin.

    Knife skills are not perfect but as long as they are more or less the same size, it doesn't really matter.
    As you can see, they are not all perfectly the same size, but as long as they are more or less the same, it’s fine.
  2. Cut the salmon into bite size pieces as well, approximately the same size of the pumpkin.

    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
  3. Chop your lemongrass and put a heavy saucepan or crock pot on medium heat.
  4. Add 1 tbsp. of curry paste into the pan and skim the creamy bit of the coconut milk from the top of the can. Combine the curry paste and coconut cream well until it becomes a thick but pale-looking sauce. yellowcurry1
  5. Continue to gently stir the sauce and add the warm water or stock, fish sauce, lemongrass, palm sugar, and turmeric. Bring to a boil. The sauce will become bright and golden once you add the turmeric. yellowcurry2
  6. Add the pumpkin and simmer, on medium-high heat until the pumpkin is almost fully cooked (cooking time of squash varies considerably – so keep an eye out. It could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes).
  7. Pierce the pumpkin with a fork and when it is still a soft but with some stiffness still in it, add the salmon and bok choy and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  8. When the vegetables wilt, squeeze in the juice of one lime.
  9. Taste to make sure the flavors are balanced. Add fish sauce if you desire more saltiness, sugar if you want more sweetness, and more lime if you want it more sour. Take the pan off the heat and garnish with cilantro just before serving over white or brown rice.
  10. EAT!pumpkincurry3


“Burmese” Curry Noodles with Tofu, Baby Bok Choy and Carrots

Last night, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover, in which he spent a dizzying 30 hours in Singapore and ate his way through something like 8 meals. His last meal before he boarded his 17 hour flight back to New York was a heavenly-looking laksa, a spicy Peranakan noodle soup, for breakfast. Watching him patiently standing in line, sweating through his expensive shirt on an ordinary, humid morning in Singapore, made me long for that bowl of goodness.

So, here it is: a hot, spicy bowl of noodles and curry to simulate being in or around Singapore, minus the fascism. Since laksa usually involves some meat, it was merely a jumping-off point. In fact, once I started cooking, I went more in a Burmese direction – this is a modified khow suey, really, from the Shan state in Myanmar/Burma – than a Malaysian one (all references being very loose here). It doesn’t really matter; what you’ll find are big flavors and a balance of spiciness, sourness, and sweetness. Best of all, this dish is entirely vegan and vegetarian (simply omit the boiled egg as condiment).

This is a great dish for a dinner party—not only because its easy to scale up—but because all the condiments look so pretty laid out on the table, and everyone can personalize the curry to their liking. There’s something very nice about allowing your guests to engineer their own magic. What makes it super fun to eat are the condiments: a bit of egg, some fried garlic and shallots, fresh coriander, some green chili and lime.  Worth every bit of extra effort.


A note about cooking:

Everything cooks up pretty fast, so make sure that all your veggies are chopped and ready to go before you start cooking. OR, if you are multitasking, chopping while your garlic and shallots are cooking, make sure to keep a close watch on them, so that you don’t burn them (I often have to make two batches)! You will have several things on the stove at once; at times, this feels like you’re creating music, with different melodic and rhythmic lines coming together, but it can also feel a bit chaotic. I’ve tried my best to show what kinds of multitasking work best here and when you really might want to do things one at a time.


babybokchoytofucarrotPrep time: 40 minutes (with some multitasking)

Serves: 2


1/2 lb. egg noodles/Canton noodles/spaghetti (all work well in this)

5 oz. five spice or other pressed tofu (if you cannot find pressed tofu, use extra firm)

1/4 cup canola or sunflower oil

1 can coconut milk

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste

1” ginger, to grate

Two cups of baby bok choy (green beans or other greens work very well here too), washed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped in rounds

6 cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as you can

2 shallots, sliced with a mandolin or as thinly as you can

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 green chilies, chopped (or dried red chili is fine too)

1 tsp. red chili powder

Juice of one lime

Peanuts, for garnish

Cilantro, for garnish

2 eggs, hard boiled

Limes, for garnish

1/2 cup of warm water

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. If using the five-spice tofu, cut your tofu into cubes and cut the carrots into rounds. Add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric and mix everything well. (If you can’t find pressed tofu and are using tofu in water, drain your tofu well, cut it into cubes, and fry it in 1 tbsp. of sesame oil, to sear it. See: http://mortarandpestle.info/malaysian-coconut-curry-with-okra-chips/ for more detailed instructions)  tofucarrots
  2. Steps 2, 3, and 4 can be done at the same time. In a large saucepan, bring water to boil for your noodles. Keep an eye on the time and remove them a minute before what the package instructions say. Set aside.
  3. Place two eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring this to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and cover the eggs. They will be ready in 10 minutes and will be hard boiled but still a bit creamy. Once done, chop your eggs and place in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. At the same time, heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan on medium heat.  Slice your garlic and shallots (you can use a mandolin if you have one). When the oil is hot, fry the garlic and turn down the heat to medium-low. Keep your eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t burn. In the meantime, place a paper towel on a dinner plate. When the garlic turns golden brown, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it on the paper towel. Fry your shallots in the same oil until they are crispy and brown (not black!) again making sure not to burn them.  Set aside on a paper towel. shallots

shallotsfrying5.  Take 1 tbsp. of the oil from the fried garlic and shallots and pour into a medium or heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and green chili. Once the cumin starts sputtering, add the marinated tofu and carrots into the pan. Let the tofu and carrots cook for 30 seconds, and then add in the coconut milk with the warm water. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan, to get any bits of ginger or garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-low and bring the curry to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. burmesecurry16.  While your curry is simmering, heat a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the peanuts and roast until they are brown (3-4 minutes). Shake the pan occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. Set the peanuts aside in a small bowl.

7. Chop your condiments – the cilantro/coriander leaves and lime wedges.  Place your peanuts, shallots, and garlic, in separate small bowls. Once the curry has been simmering for about 10 minutes and the carrots are softened, add in the baby bok choy, along with 1 tsp. red chilli powder, salt and juice of one lime. Grate 1” piece of ginger into the curry. burmesecury38.  Add your noodles and gently ladle the curry on top. Let everything simmer for another 2 minutes, until the baby bok choy is tender, but still firm. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

9. Turn off the heat. Serve your bowl of curried noodles with your accompaniments: wedge of lemon, scallions, green/red chili, cilantro, peanuts, fried shallots, fried garlic, and egg.


burmesecurry7Oh, and did I mention that it’s finally spring?


Malaysian Coconut Curry (with okra chips)

I don’t know about you, but no matter the weather, my craving for Southeast Asian food – sweet, sour, hot, and spicy flavors – is always strong. There’s something about being jolted out of the dullness of the heat and humidity with a bowl of steaming pho or, in this case, being warmed up on a cold winter day with a spicy, sweet and sour Malaysian curry.

Malaysian cuisine, highly underrated and woefully absent in the US (at least outside of urban centers), is usually described as a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Thai flavors. However, there’s nothing derivative here; the fact that this curry is balanced and entirely distinctive speaks to its sophistication. Believe in the harmony of turmeric, tamarind, coriander powder, and soy sauce!  Having said that, I have no idea how “authentically” Malaysian this curry actually is. My dear and talented foodie friend, Tim, first gave me this recipe, along with Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. However, I have made several adjustments, mostly to turn up the flavors.

This thick, delicious, golden curry is perfect with a bowl of white or brown rice.  Today, I paired it with okra chips, which were a perfect complement (recipe here).  My friend stef, who is vegan, gave me a photography lesson today and joined us for lunch–so plus point, both recipes are also vegan. These photos are a product of their gentle but precise direction.




Serves: 2
Total prep. and cooking time: half an hour


2 tbsp. vegetable/canola oil
½ red or white onion, sliced in half moons
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. ginger
1 can coconut milk (400 ml. or approx. 13 oz.)
1 cup warm water
1 box firm tofu (preferably pressed or the firmest you can find)
1 tbsp. tamarind paste (you can add more after tasting)
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tsp. Madras curry powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
2 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. light brown sugar or palm sugar
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 scallion stalk, finely chopped
Chopped cilantro (a handful)
1 lime, cut in wedges

  1.  If using tofu that is in water, remove the tofu from the container and using a few paper towels, gently press down to release any extra water. Cut the tofu into 1” cubes.
  2. Put 1 tbsp. of oil in a pan on medium heat.
  3. Once the oil is hot, slide your tofu cubes into a sauté or sauce pan. You want to gently sear or brown them on both sides. After about 2-3 minutes, check to see if they are browned and turn them over to sear them on the other side. (If you are using pressed tofu from an Asian grocery store, you can skip this step).
  4. In a wok, add 1 tbsp. vegetable oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, until the onions start to brown (about 2-3 minutes).
  5. Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions to the pan with the onions and saute for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour in the coconut milk along with 1 cup of warm water. Once the mixture starts boiling, turn down the heat slightly, to a gentle simmer. Add the tamarind paste, sugar, Madras curry powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder. Add the seared tofu as well.
  7. Using a grater or zest, grate about 2 tbsp. of ginger directly into the curry.
  8.  After about ten minutes, add in the soy sauce and chopped tomatoes.  At this point, taste the curry and adjust the spices as per your taste. Add more tamarind if necessary.
  9. Cook for another 2 minutes, until the tomatoes soften slightly, but they should still look fresh and brightly red against the golden, thickened curry.
  10. Add the green part of the scallions and chopped cilantro. Turn off the heat.
  11. Serve with brown or white rice and a wedge of lemon on the side.

Cold Weather Cooking

Hello people! It has taken me longer than planned to blog, but finally, a Saturday arrived where I’m not drowning in job applications or students papers. Hooray!

Since I last wrote, fall became winter, and daylight savings arrived, rudely shortening the days. I’m still getting used to the darkness at 5 pm, which is making me want to eat dinner at 5:30, crawl into bed at 7, and watch Chopped or Gilmore Girls (I’m in a very easy, no-brainer phase of Netflix-watching at the moment. Blame it on the aforementioned job apps).  In addition to bringing out my geriatric tendencies, the colder weather also makes me want warm, soupy, curried things even more than usual, so expect a few recipes in that genre soon.

Finally, today, we make use of the homemade curry paste calmly chilling in your fridge. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your hard work in making that paste from scratch, and here’s a warm and spicy reward. As always, with a curry, there is a degree of flexibility with the ingredients. Although this is a tried and tested recipe, there will be some variation depending on your own palette, the particular ingredients you use, and the whimsy of the gods. So, taste as you go!  However, I do recommend sticking to the 1 tbsp. of red curry paste since its very, very spicy. You can always add more if you like to clear your sinuses when you eat (no judgment). At this level, the dish certainty still has heat, but is not going to burn your mouth. If things get too spicy, add some more palm sugar, fish sauce, and a bit more water.

Don’t feel obliged to use the same vegetables that I did: simply use whatever you have in the fridge. Green beans, broccoli, tofu, butternut squash, shrimp, or chicken are all fine substitutes. Just remember that you do want a nice spectrum of colors, since the curry itself will be a light gray color and does not scream “DELICIOUS.”

PS–I also want to showcase the wonderful form of palm sugar I found at the Asian grocery store.  Usually, palm sugar comes in a solid chunk and is sometimes hard to scrape out (plus there is a waxy layer on top that you have to remove), I have found these pellets to be extremely useful and user-friendly.  I used one of these nifty capsules for the curry (minor drawback to these is that they are not so great for salad dressings in which you need palm sugar).


Pick pretty veggies!




(Modified from Durham Spirit Company’s “Thai Summer Vegetable Curry.”)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4


1 stalk lemongrass, chopped (peel off the outer layers and bang the stalk across its spine before chopping).

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 knob galangal, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. red curry paste

33 oz. or 1 l. coconut milk (approximately 3 cans)

½ cup warm water

4 tbsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. palm sugar

½ purple eggplant, cubed

½ yellow squash, cubed

½ zucchini, cubed

½ red bell pepper, cut into 2” pieces

¼ cup Thai basil, chopped

Squeeze of lemon

  1. Heat a wok on medium-high heat. In the dry wok (no oil), add the garlic, lemongrass and galangal and sauté for a minute. Add the curry paste and sauté until the curry paste changes color and becomes dark brown.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the fish sauce, water, and palm sugar and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the eggplant and simmer for 15 minutes, until soft. (This is a good time to put your rice to boil in a separate pot.)
  4. Once eggplant has softened, add yellow squash, zucchini, and red bell pepper and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the Thai basil and a squeeze of lemon. Turn off heat and serve with white or brown rice.

Going Analog Part II: Thai “red” curry paste

This past summer, my friend Brenda and I took a Thai cooking class at Durham Spirits Company, which hosts cooking classes and other events in a beautiful historical house in Old North Durham. There were about eight of us cooking at different stations in the spacious kitchen, and afterwards, we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor—which was honestly the best Thai food I have had since moving to the Triangle.

One of the menu items that we prepped during the class was a “red” curry paste. The red is in quotation marks because the paste is not actually red; the color comes from artificial food coloring that is added when the stuff is mass-produced. The actual color is more of a deep brown rather than a bright red. You need a bunch of ingredients for this paste, but fortunately you don’t need to chop or mince anything too finely because its all going into the food processor.  This paste is incredibly aromatic and will transform your Thai dishes. However, this stuff is seriously spicy (loaded with red chilies), so handle with care. A little goes a long way!

Coming up soon…two different Thai curries that use this paste.

Note: to keep this purely vegetarian, replace the shrimp paste with soy sauce.

Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
The final product: delicious, aromatic, homemade curry paste…for your future enjoyment!


(Courtesy Katie Coleman, Durham Spirits Company)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Makes: about 2 cups of paste


1 cup red chilies (dried is fine, without the stems)

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 stalks lemongrass

½ cup galangal, roughly sliced

¼ cup garlic, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. shrimp paste

1 ½ tbsp. coriander seed

1 tbsp. coriander stems, chopped

¼ cup shallots, chopped

Zest of one lime

1 cup water (use the water that the chilies are soaking in)

Generous grind of black pepper

1 tsp. salt

  1. Boil some water. Soak the red chilies in the hot water for about 15 minutes.
  2. Wrap 1 tbsp. of the shrimp paste (warning: this stuff smells rank, like a million shrimps died to make this paste) in a small piece of aluminum foil (Make a little boat).
  3. Into a dry saucepan, add in the shrimp paste in its aluminum boat, dry coriander seeds, and cumin seeds on medium heat, letting them brown but not burn.
  4. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough, outer layers of the stalk and cut off about 5” inches off the top (not the root area). Give your lemongrass a few good whacks along its spine and chop into about 1″ pieces.
  5. Roughly chop the galangal, shallots, garlic, and coriander stems. (Don’t bother peeling the galangal.  As Nigella says, the skin is just more fiber!)
  6. Using a slotted spoon, being careful not to touch the red chilies with your bare hands, transfer the chilies to a food processor. Save the soaking water.
  7. Transfer all the other ingredients to the food processor as well. Add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of the soaking water.
  8. Process to a fine paste, letting the processor go for a few minutes. Warning: the grinding process is going to release very strong aromas—including red chilies—into the air. Be sure to cover the opening of the food processor so that you protect your throat.
  9. Transfer your paste to a storage container. Refrigerate or use right away!