red curry with farm fresh vegetables and tofu

meatless monday
notes from maggie's farm


it was a cold, rainy night in 1981 when I was so viciously betrayed.  i've never really recovered.  something i thought i could count on without fail, i could go to in times of questions and troubles.  well i was let down in a way that no woman should have to endure.  i was a victim of..........

the better homes and gardens cookbook

I left home at a (way too) young age, well equipped, i thought, clutching my mother's kitchen bible, her copy of the better homes and garden cookbook, referred to as bhgcb from here onwards. if i had any questions at all, she said, i'd find the answers to life mysteries within.  it had her famous pie crust recipe (with the 'way too much salt!' notation), and recipes i used as i was learning to cook, too.  never a question, they all came out flawlessly.
so it was with the utmost confidence that i cracked open the spine that day, the day my (former) inlaws would be visiting for their first meal cooked in my kitchen.  now friends, this was in louisiana.  there were very, very high expectations from the kitchen of a young wife in louisiana.  these girls could whip up any color of roux you need as soon as they were able to drag their very own highchair to the oven, and stir, stir, hum, stir, drink dark coffee with chicory and milk from their sippy cup, and stir some more.  and here i was, hailing from oklahoma.  with nary a spice in my cabinet. tough audience i had, but nooooo problem. i had the better homes and gardens cookbook.  i had this in the bag. so it was that day when i opened up to the meat tab, and found, on the last page of the section, curried pork.  that was it.  simple.  curried pork. it sounded elegant, and unknown.  i knew what pork was.  may have heard of curry, i can't recall.  i'd serve it with this green bean recipe, found behind the vegetable tab, because it was exotic in only the way that fresh vegetables seemed to me to be back then ( look ma, no cans!)  can't lose.  winners.  a self-satisfied smile on my face, i headed to the grocery store.    i would need: boneless pork, apples, chopped onion, curry powder, salt, (yeah, no, i didn't have any) ground ginger, cornstarch, skim milk, quick cooking rice, raisins, fresh green beans, butter, more curry powder, pineapple chunks, (cue the shark attack music). oh and chinet. the good stuff.  i mean it was my inlaws. i also picked up the ingredients for the apple dumplings, also found, of course, in the bhgcb.  i thought i remembered my mother making us those--they were great.  good plan.  

now this post is going to go on waaaay too long if i keep you entertained with the details, here, although lucy and ethel would have played them out perfectly.  but somehow lucy always knew she was a disaster.  i, on the other hand, was sure i was preparing a dinner like no other my inlaws had ever encountered.  and in fact, i was. (more shark attack music, here...)
i followed the directions to a t, and what i got, well, what i got was a plateful of wrong.  the green beans were fashionably crisp, but for more traditional palates, just raw.  however the majestic disaster that was the curried pork, well it simply defied description.  it was perhaps the nastiest thing i'd ever made, or even eaten.  worse than my mother's california rice casserole (!) (another story, another time.)  three bites in, i burst out, tearfully, 'everyone stop!.  this is awful.'  they looked at me with their forks midair, and then slowly, each fork lowered itself to the plate.  no one argued, no one objected with 'oh no, really, it's great'...everyone, everyone, was silent.  it was the longest five seconds of my entire life to that point. and then, well then we all laughed. uproariosly. great guffaws. even though i was a broken woman on the inside. after we caught our collective breath, we had apple dumplings for dinner.  and although they had taken 8 hours to make (come to find out my mother had heated frozen apple dumplings from a box), they were, well let's just say they were not bad.  not great, but not bad.  edible.  a claim that the curried pork and green beans could not make. in my mind, and yes, i spent a lot of time there those days, this had gone a lot differently.  the trauma of it all imprinted itself on me so strongly that it was a full 25 years before i could even hear the word curry without flinching.   

but of course, that was then and this is now.  curry is now my bfflove me some curry.  because i had no idea then that curry and curries, well they weren't the same.  sprinkling a little (insert awful name brand) curry powder over your dish does not a curry make.  curry powder (of which there are many, some better than others) and the dish, curry (of which there are many, some better than others) are not the same animal.  i've come to enjoy some curried meats, when the better curry powders are utilized (like that delicious stuff my friend adrian brings back from trinidad for me) but curry, the dish, is what we're focused on today.
curries are simply ingredients cooked with spices, with or without gravy.  they are primarily thought to be of indian origin, but many pan asian cuisines have adopted their own spice mixtures and versions of curry.  the subject of curries is so exhaustive that to cover all of the styles and variations requires more time and spice space than we have today, but here is a link to some curry info that will get you started.  so we'll go into depth another time.  our curry today is of the thai cuisine (surprise, surprise), loaded with fresh flavor, seasonal vegetables, and a superfood that is a healthy, lean protein source--tofu.  now tofu on it's own can be a rather bland and bleh.  but it soaks up flavors like a charm, making it perfect for the highly-seasoned curry.  it'll have you and  yours, like a certain yankee farmer fella, asking for seconds....and thirds! 

so let's hit the market.  the ingredients we're picking up can be found in most regular supermarkets, but if you have a little time and a lot of curiousity, hit a local ethnic market.  it'll be a fun and fascinating field trip.  you might even find some inexpensive things to decorate with;  perhaps some bright and pretty tea tins to plant herbs in, or a lovely little teapot for your desk.  it's a great place to source reasonably priced utensils, or maybe that steamer you've been curious about. have fun!

clockwise, from top--hard tofu, red curry paste,
sliced water chestnuts, coconut milk, and tamari sauce
the curry paste we're using contains shrimp paste, a type of seasoning derived of shellfish, so it's not appropriate for vegetarians, however a vegetarian chili paste can be substituted.  also, be aware that soy sauce often contains anchovies, so if you're vegan you may want to consider an alternative.  i use tamari sauce because i find it less salty and richer in flavor than soy, but they are interchangeable.  here is a little more info discussing the differences in light soy, dark soy, 'lite' soy, and more.

red curry with farm fresh vegetables and tofu
serves 6
1lb hard tofu
3-4 T red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
1 small bunch, each, minced thai (or holy) basil (leaves only), mint (leaves only), and cilantro (stems and leaves), and
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and sliced thinly (optional)
1/4 c tamari sauce
1/4 unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2T nam pla, or fish sauce, optional
3 cups seasonal fresh vegetables--we used sliced sweet potatoes, curly endive (we chopped the greens, and sliced the thicker stalks), red onion, sweet onion (we love onions), and cauliflower-prepared by trimming and slicing in uniform pieces.
1 can sliced water chestnuts

optional garnishes: lime, roasted peanuts, sliced scallions, thinly sliced hot pepper, more cilantro, and chopped raw yellow squash

                                                                                                    several hours prior to preparation (up to 12),  press tofu with a heavy weight in a strainer basket.  looks crazy, but what you see here is, from bottom to top, large pot to stabilize the craziness, then a large bowl in which is nestled a strainer that holds the drained blocks of hard tofu, a plate on top of the tofu, a heavy bowl upon the plate, and cans placed inside as pressing weights.   prepare tofu marinade by combining minced herbs, optional lemongrass,  tamari, rice wine vinegar, and optional nam pla in a ziploc bag.
two hours prior to serving, remove tofu from its pressing contraption and cut into 1-2" squares. place in bag with dressing.  allow to marinate, turning bag every 30 minutes to expose all sides of tofu to dressing. 

in a deep saucepan, combine the cream on the top of the coconut milk, with thinner milk as needed to make 1/2c, with 3-4 T curry paste.  blend well and allow to come to simmer.  stir in remaining coconut milk.  simmer firmer vegetables in sauce first, beginning with potato slices,  adding red onion, sweet onion, cauliflower, endive stems 10 minutes after adding potato slices, and then marinated tofu including dressing with herbs, sliced water chestnuts, and endive greens. simmer on low for additional 15 minutes, or until endive is wilted. serve warm over rice, with choice of garnishes, accompanied by from maggie's farm thai pickle, for sweet, sour, spicy and cool treat-a perfect complement to the full flavors of curry.
from maggie's farm
thai pickle
4.00/half pint

thank you for stopping by today.  we'll see you tomorrow for
tips for tuesday, in the garden: november.
have a great week.


  1. Looks yummy! I love red curry paste with coconut milk!

  2. Kate, This was delicious. It wasn't long ago when I would say things like; Me? Like tofu? Seriously? You're joking, right? But, this stuff was GOOD!

  3. Tom scarfed down five of the servings over two days. It is inspired by your curry from our reception, natch.

  4. Looks delish but why do you press the tofu?

  5. from maggie's farm08 November, 2011

    Hard, or Firm, Tofu still has a lot of water in it. To give it a chewy consistency that is more 'meat-like', pressing removes that water. I find that the difference is worth the effort (because if left unpressed, it does tend to crumble when cooked in a sauce like it is, here, and can have a 'mealy' texture. Occasionally you can find 'extra firm' tofu, and cooks often leave that unpressed. Just a matter of taste and preference, there. Another 'meatless' choice, which is firmer, still, is seitan, or tempeh. Great question! Thanks!

  6. YUM!! Ditto on what Kate B said. Red curry is my favorite.

  7. margaret christine09 November, 2011

    Thank you! I think I'd eat curried cardboard if given the chance..haha

  8. I applaud you for at least leaving home with a book. I didn't start cooking until I got married and then I'd harass everyone in the grocery store for tips on how to cook. My then husband was impressed but I couldn't make the same thing twice. Thanks for the curry info, I had a feeling I had that wrong as well.

  9. Hi Sabrina!
    I think being a newlywed wife was the source for most of the funny stories in my arsenal! lol
    Thanks for stopping by--
    Margaret Christine


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