Sunday, September 26, 2010

How NOT to Make Thai Tofu Green Curry

I'm not a chef. I've never claimed to be. I'm a baker. Some people can bridge the gap and do both well. I'm not one of those people. I leave most the cooking to my boyfriend Ken who is quite the snack master. And because most of the time I venture to make dinner it ends in tummy aches and ruined pots.

Here's the thing: I don't like to babysit my food. I don't mind doing extensive prep work as long as I get to pop it in the oven, set the timer, and forget about it for awhile. It's why I love baking. Most recipes have built-in coffee breaks. If I've got to be standing over a stove tending and nurturing a dish, I'm going to end up walking away and ruining it. I don't have the time or patience to coddle you, Risotto. But what's that you say, Lasagne? After I assemble you, I can leave you to do your own thing in the oven? Well then, I think we can be friends.
So when asked to make a dish outside of my comfort zone for the next challenge in Project Food Blog, I knew it had to be a stovetop dish. As soon as I'm pre-heating that oven, I automatically feel like things are a little more right in the universe. You want to make me uncomfortable? Hand me a wok and some vegetables. I'll be cranky and whining in no time. And that's exactly what I did to myself last week.

For challenge two I decided to tackle a classic Thai dish, and one of my favorites: Green Curry. It fit the profile perfectly: a classic ethnic stovetop dish that required some babysitting to develop flavors and cook vegetables. [Insert ominous music here.]

I also love any excuse to hit up the asian supermarket. It's documented here. So I made my shopping list, grabbed $20, and headed to Oregon Market. It's go time.

If you don't have any asian markets near you, I'm really sorry. They're a great source of cheap produce, tofu, exotic sauces, and entertainment. If you're vegan/vegetarian, I recommend staying as far away as possible from the meat case. But if you've been thinking about going vegan/vegetarian, go to your nearest asian market and walk immediately to the meat case. You'll quit cold turkey (pun intended).
The irony of this particular asian market is that even though I know every ingredient I need for my recipe is in there, that doesn't mean I'll get everything I need. This is for two reasons: 1. Good luck finding someone who both understands AND speaks english and 2. although the packaged goods almost always have an English translation, only about 1/3 of the produce is clearly labeled in any language. And getting adventurous in the asian market's produce section is a level of risky behavior that I'm just not comfortable with.

Because I couldn't find the kaffir lime leaves or the galangal the recipe called for, I settled for the pre-made green curry paste (which still took me an hour to find). And I got all this stuff for $15. Vegetarian fish sauce, green curry paste, fried tofu, coconut milk and a slew of produce. Not too shabby.
I wanted to make the curry close to the version I get from my local Thai take-out. While researching Green Curry recipes, I found that though the curry sauce remained mostly constant, the vegetables and meats seemed to vary by author. I decided to follow the recipe for the curry, and guess at the rest of the ingredients in the take-out version. This was probably mistake #1. [Ominous music cue 2]
The curry came together really well. It was very fragrant, and had a great mellow heat but deep flavor. But once I started adding the vegetables, everything went downhill. Perhaps I didn't allow the vegetables to saute long enough. Perhaps I should have let the tofu heat in the sauce longer. Perhaps I added too many vegetables. Perhaps I should have measured the vegetables before tossing them in. Perhaps I should stop thinking I can wing it with things I'm not familiar with and follow a freakin' recipe already. Who knows? There were a lot of variables.
All I know is that it looked and smelled lovely, but it tasted TERRIBLE. I took a few bites, and threw the rest of mine away. Ken, who can usually choke down the worst of what I serve him, ate about half of his, slyly dumped the rest, and made sure to let me know he wouldn't mind if I got rid of the leftovers. Add it to the long list of dinner FAILS that have come out of my kitchen. We both agreed, I should really stick to desserts.

I've heard that eggplant can be a really fickle mistress. I think I'll blame it on the eggplant, and continue to work on my vegetable sauteing skills. Do any of you have an awesome green curry recipe? Or have some tips on working with veggies, tofu and curry sauces in a wok? I'M ALL EARS. For now, I'll share the recipe I used, and hope you've got better skills than me.
Thai Tofu Green Curry
(adapted from Squidoo)

1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 lemongrass stalks
14fl oz of coconut milk
6-8 Kaffir lime leaves (if you can find them; I used lime zest instead)
Thai fish sauce (several brands make a vegetarian version, if you can't find it, you can use soy sauce)
1/2 lime zested, and juiced
2 Tbsp green curry paste
1 eggplant, sliced
1 cup green beans
Tofu (I used packaged fried tofu, but you can use regular extra firm tofu, drained and cubed)
Thai basil and sprouts for garnish

Peel away the outer leaves of the lemongrass, cut into pieces and crush each piece with the flat end of a knife to release the fragrance. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the green curry paste and sugar and heat over very high heat for about a minute, stir with lemongrass. Reduce heat slightly and add the lime zest (or leaves, if using). Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and reduce heat, simmering and allowing the curry to thicken slightly. Add the tofu, and allow to heat and absorb flavors for several minutes. Add vegetables, and allow to cook about 5-7 minutes, or until reached desired tenderness (You don't really want to listen to me on this part anyway, this is where I messed up!). Check seasonings, and add more fish sauce, thai basil and cilantro to taste. Use sprouts as garnish, if desired. Serve over jasmine rice.


  1. Hey great minds think alike! I was thinking of making a vegan version but I didn't want to source vegetarian fish sauce. This looks beautiful -- sorry it didn't come out perfectly!

  2. That's so true that cooking can sometimes be like babysitting your food! I think this looks lovely and good for you for trying!! :)


  3. This we master together. My all time favorite. Pictures are awesome :)

  4. Hi how are you?

    I was looking through your blog and found it interesting. I also have a blog, and it has changed over time. I sometimes reach out repeatedly and reach out to new blogger's and sometimes I make new friends.

    Well I welcome you to my blog, and if you follwo me, I will also follow you.

    I hope to hear from you soon...


  5. Apologies in advance for back seat cooking...did you salt the slices of eggplant and let it sit in a colander for half an hour and then rinse? If you do that and rinse the "sweat" off, most of the bitterness goes with it.

    The dish looks lovely, and I hope you don't give up on the aubergine!

  6. i made the same thing last night for challenge numero dos! mine turned out super gloopy, because i cooked the pumpkin in mine for too long. i tell ya, sometimes it's best to leave the cultural classics to the experts :)

  7. woahhhhhh!!!! had i made it to the second round, my recipe was thai shrimp coconut curry!!! i even wrote out the recipe already! bummer it didn't turn out, but if you want to try the one i created, it's here: i made it SUPER simple, so it should work out for you. just sub tofu for the shrimp and use vegetarian fish sauce instead of regular!

  8. I love the Asian market, too! It's so much fun to just browse the aisles. As for suggestions, I agree with the commenter who advised salting the eggplant. I'd go on to suggest stir-frying the vegetables individually (sounds like a pain, but you can do it all in the same pan, and when they're done, keep them in the same bowl) and adding them back to the sauce to heat through at the end. Good luck, I'm still voting for you!

  9. "I don't have the time or patience to coddle you, Risotto." Hahahaha! Awesome.

    The good news is that this LOOKS fantastic. Sorry it didn't turn out so well. I have a great green curry recipe on my blog (recently), should you ever get the itch to try again. It's easy and requires very little babysitting--I promise. :)

  10. Looks great! I tried green curry once... it was a mess! I'm glad you had a success! You get my vote!

  11. I ventured to the Asian market for my dish too (my first time- very interesting!!)! Sorry about your still looks totally delish! I voted! Best of luck!

  12. I love curry! Your pictures look delicious so don't feel too bad about the curry. Besides, my entry didn't turn out the best either so at least you're not alone. Good luck!

  13. @Libby- Backseat cook all you like, because I TOTALLY did NOT do that. But now that you mention it, I was told that years ago, and have just forgotten out of lack of practice I suppose. I'm a terrible vegetarian, and don't know how to cook all my veggies!

    @croquecamille- I thought about sauteing the veggies separately, and I think I'll definitely do that next time.

    I can't believe how many of us did Thai/curry dishes. It's making me hungry!!!

  14. Bravo for making the best out of a failed curry and getting a post out of it - you've got my vote! I personally prefer the Maeploy brand of curry pastes (they should have them in your Asian market too) - they're super flavorful and got a good amount of heat.

    I also like that brand of coconut milk because it has this super creamy layer that floats to the top (as long as you don't shake up the can). What I usually do is to heat up some oil in a pan, add in a few spoons of this coconut cream with the curry paste at the same time and allow that to saute for a couple minutes before throwing in the veggies, the rest of coconut milk, and other ingredients. I also usually add in enough liquid (coconut milk + water or stock) to almost cover the veggies so they'll cook. Hope this helps!

  15. this looks delicious :) Good luck with project food and you got my vote for this one! Feel free to drop by :) Good luck and best wishes for making to the top !! WOOHOO

    jen @

  16. Oh man, not a good day for southeast Asian countries! I burned my Vietnamese shrimp toast for PFB2. Will be sending a vote your way just because you made me feel better.

    Bakers unite!

  17. This looks stunning! I can't believe it didn't turn out well! The flavors seem to be there! Good luck in the competition!

  18. Great post! Green curry is the best. I voted for you!

    Good luck! =)

    You can check out my PFB post at :

  19. I have leftover green curry paste from a dish I made the other day, perhaps this is the solution to my conundrum. Voting for you, best of luck moving on!

    Lick My Spoon

  20. Love your blog - it's delightful!

    And I got a good giggle out of the green curry, even if it didn't taste that great - you can blitz the competition in the baking round when you get through!!

  21. This really does look good! As a baker myself, I can totally relate to lack of cooking skills. I don't even own a wok so I've never tried a dish like this. You did an excellent job on this challenge, even though the taste wasn't great. You've got my vote!

  22. Great job in choosing your recipe outside your comfort zone. I am a baker and a cook but cooking meat is my enemy. Voting for you and thank you for your vote too!

  23. Wow, thanks everyone! For the record, the curry itself tasted fine, and would have been great over rice. It was the VEGETABLES AND TOFU that were spit-into-a-napkin terrible. But it's nice to see everyone still supports me, even with an epic FAIL!

  24. It is such a bummer when a food experiment doesn't turn out, but you have my vote for sharing this with all of us- it helps home cooks to know that just because we have a blog doesn't make us invincible. I am more of a cook than a baker, and I would have the same result if I made a dessert!

  25. I love this post-- the curry looks amazing. You've got my vote! :)

  26. "A" for effort as they say...or it a vote...? :) You're a very entertaining writer and the dish really looks good. You could have gotten away with keeping a secret. I voted. :)

  27. Haha, you are so right about baking vs. cooking. I think it's the same point my boyfriend has been trying to make for a while, but I wasn't getting it until now. You're right—cooking needs to grow up and learn to take care of itself.

    Got my vote for PFB. :)

  28. Wow! This is a lovely post, and of course I'll vote for you!

  29. Awww, pity it didn't quite work out but your honesty had me grinning all through the post. Just a though- are you cooking on a gas flame with the wok ? Otherwise it may not have gotten to a high enough temp and stewed your vegs . Good luck, thanks for voting for me and you've definitely got my vote!

  30. Good effort!! I agree, stir frying those veggies first and then adding them back in should improve the dish- but I applaud your gallant effort. Vote for you!