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Surely I've referred a time or two to the indispensable Thai food blog She Simmers, written by linguist and part-time Chicagoan Leela Punyaratabandhu. Well, it's been a long time coming, but now her clever, occasionally impish prose and wealth of knowledge have been collected in a tree-based volume titled Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen by Ten Speed Press.
It's divided into four sections containing familiar and uncommon recipes for snacks (pork satay, corn fritters), things meant to be eaten with rice (fried sun-dried beef, oxtail soup, curried fish custard), one-plate noodle or rice meals (curry noodles with chicken, shrimp paste rice), and sweets (mango and sweet coconut sticky rice, pineapple in scented iced syrup), followed by a section on basic recipes for things like curry paste, chile jam, and coconut milk from scratch.
One of the most valuable things I've taken from Leela over the years, however, is while some shortcuts are unforgivable in Thai cooking (like using ginger when galangal is called for), others are perfectly acceptable, like subbing store-bought curry paste for scratch. You can always punch it up with supplementary fresh ingredients, like Chef McDang says.
While Simple Thai Food publishes next Tuesday, Leela graciously allowed us to publish this recipe for sweet dry curry of pork and long beans, phat phrik khing. Sweet, spicy, with fathoms of umami, the dish "when done correctly . . . is one of the most delicious classic Thai dishes ever," she writes. It's super easy too. You can find everything you need to make it—and any recipe in the book—at Golden Pacific, 5353 N. Broadway, 773-334-6688.
8 oz pork shoulder
2 tbsp dried shrimp (optional)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp red curry paste, or 1 tbsp store-bought red curry paste
2 tsp fish sauce
3 tbsp packed grated palm sugar, or 2 tbsp packed light or dark brown sugar
½ cup sodium-free chicken stock, homemade or store bought, or water
8 oz long beans or green beans, cut into 1½-inch pieces
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, deveined and cut lengthwise into thin strips (optional but highly recommended
Cut the pork against the grain and on the diagonal into thin, bite-size pieces. If using dried shrimp, grind the shrimp in the mortar or mini chopper until flaky.
Heat a wok or 14-inch skillet over medium-high. When the pan is hot, add the oil and curry paste and stir to break up the paste. When the paste is fragrant, after about 2 minutes, add the pork, fish sauce, sugar, and stock, and stir well. Turn up the heat to high and stir until the pork is almost cooked through and most of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beans and continue to stir just until the pork is full cooked and the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. This dish is not supposed to be saucy. When it looks like a dry curry that glistens with deep orange oil, you know it is done. Also, you want the beans to be tender-crisp when the dish is served, so do not cook them until they are soft and mushy. Transfer to a platter, add the kaffir lime leaves, and serve immediately.
From Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen by Leela Punyaratabandhu (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press.