I am anxiously awaiting the day when both my kids are able to eat spicy food. For most of my adult life I have cooked spicy meals for myself, but I’ve had to tone it down to accommodate their tastes. I especially miss making Thai food. I have probably mentioned before that it is the first cuisine that I really learned how to cook. My friends and I would cook elaborate multi-course Thai dinners just for fun, and we would make most everything from scratch – even our own curry pastes. So, when Mia chose some mussels for dinner from the fish store the other day, I decided to try to make them into a non-spicy Thai curry. I happened to have several ingredients at home already that I would need. First, a bunch of cilantro with the roots still attached. Not very exotic, but an important ingredient for a nice curry paste is cilantro roots (not stems), and too often they are trimmed off. Second, and definitely more exotic is fresh turmeric root. It looks like fresh ginger with a dark orange tint. I saw some at the Park Slope Food Co-op and was so surprised to see it that I bought a full bag without knowing what I’d do with it. It’s rarely used in traditional Thai curries, but who said I was trying to make anything traditional? If you do like things spicy, just add a few Thai chilies along with the other ingredients when making the curry paste.
Mussels with coconut milk and fresh turmeric (serves 3-4)
2 lbs mussels, well scrubbed
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro, with roots, washed well
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 can coconut milk
2 Tablespoons fish sauce (soy sauce can be substituted)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
Place 5 cloves of the garlic, turmeric, ginger, cilantro roots and the zest of the lime into a mortar. Pound it by hand until it turns into a fairly smooth paste. If you are feeling lazy, or don’t have a mortar and pestle, feel free to use a food processor or blender – just make sure it is smooth enough. Heat the oil in a wok. Slice the remaining clove of garlic and add it to the hot oil. Cook it until it starts to turn golden, then add a large spoonful of the curry paste. Stir and fry for just a few seconds. Immediately stir in the coconut milk, followed by the fish sauce and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, add the mussels, and cover. Simmer for several minutes, until all the mussels have opened and are cooked. Stir in the juice of the lime, along with some leaves from the bunch of cilantro. Serve immediately.