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By the Book: The Meat Free Monday Cookbook’s Thai Vegetable Curry

September 11th 02:09pm, 2012

The more I cook, the more respect I have for the ingredients I’m working with. These days, I want my produce fresh, my dairy organic and my meat, well, I want less and less of it. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a juicy rib-eye as much as the next carnivorous culinarian, but it’s more of a twice-a-year thing for me than twice a week. I want to know what the cow ate, that he was treated well and that he was killed in the most painless way possible. Same goes for my poultry and pigs. This feeling of accountability has shined a new light on all that vegetables can be. My boyfriend and I have even come to challenge ourselves to eat meat-free Monday through Friday. And much to our surprise, it’s been an extremely easy adjustment.

So I was ecstatic to see that former Beatle Paul McCartney and his family had teamed up with the Meat Free Monday campaign to release The Meat Free Monday Cookbook. Meatless Mondays is a movement that’s taken flight across the nation to alert people to the health and environmental benefits of focusing on vegetables a little more and meat a little less. (Sauce has even taken part in the movement, showing St. Louisans how easy it is to go sans meat one day a week.) For this book, I knew I wanted to make something hearty, the kind of dish that would show readers that sacrificing meat (no pun intended) doesn’t have to mean sacrificing flavor or, most importantly, that sense of satisfaction we all seek in a great meal.

Thai vegetable curry seemed like the perfect choice. The sweet lemongrass. The fiery chiles. The flurry of fresh vegetables. The things that make Thai food great are exactly what going meatless is all about.

And most of that held true as I worked my way through the recipe. Most Thai dishes start with some sort of curry paste. It’s a base for all those strong, wonderful flavors. This recipe called for making your own paste – a step I hadn’t seen before and was excited to try my hand at. The technique was simple: rinse, peel, chop, mince and pulse. There was no liquid, so the “paste” was more of a finely minced mixture, but the aroma was pungent and sharp.

The rest of the recipe was mostly a matter of mise en place – ie. much more mincing and chopping than actual cooking. Fine by me. Once I got to the cooking, however, I realized that the timing was a little off. Sauteeing thick chunks of eggplant, mushrooms and red peppers for 1 minute isn’t enough time to allow them to begin to become tender. They needed more like 5 minutes. The same should be said for the rest of the vegetables, added after the coconut milk is brought to a boil. Raw okra needs more than 5 minutes to simmer away in a bubbling broth to truly be its best. I gave it more like 7 or 8 minutes.

Once the sauteeing was over and the vegetables were indeed tender, the recipe finally called for seasoning – as the final step. It instructed to taste and add a dash of soy sauce or a teaspoon of brown sugar to taste. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to cut it. The broth was crying for more salt and more sweetness. Seven or eight dashes and three pinches of brown sugar later, and the broth was sweet and flavorful, with a touch of fire from the chiles. It was a wonderful way to enjoy vegetables. And as the new season brings with it cooler breezes and chillier nights, it’s sure to hit my dinner table again this fall somewhere between Monday and Friday.

Thai Vegetable Curry

For the Curry Paste:
2 shallots, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 stick lemongrass, finely chopped
2 green chiles, seeded and chopped
Zest of 1 lime
Small fresh bunch cilantro

1 Tbsp. sunflower oil
1 small eggplant, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
8 baby bella mushrooms, halved (or quartered if large)
14-oz. can coconut milk
6 okra, cut on the diagonal into 3 pieces
8 baby corn, cut on the diagonal into 3 pieces
5- to 6-oz. can bamboo shoots, drained
Handful sugar snap peas, cut in half on the diagonal
2 handfuls bean sprouts
Soy sauce
Soft light brown sugar to taste

Fresh cilantro leaves
Jasmine rice
Lime wedges

• Prepare the curry paste first. Place the shallots, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Add the lemongrass, chiles, lime zest and cilantro stalks (reserving the leaves) and pulse the mixture until finely chopped. You can also make this paste using a mortar and pestle if you prefer.
• Heat the sunflower oil in a large saute pan. Add the curry paste and cook over medium heat for 1 minute until the mixture smells fragrant.
• Add the eggplant, red pepper and mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently until starting to become tender.
• Add the coconut milk to the pan with ½ cup of water and bring to a boil.
• Add the okra, baby corn and bamboo shoots and continue to cook for 5 minutes or so until the veggies are tender.
• Finally add the sugar snap peas and bean sprouts and cook for another 30 seconds.
• Taste and add a dash of soy sauce or teaspoon of sugar if needed.
• Serve the curry in bowls garnished with cilantro leaves with jasmine rice and lime wedges.

Reprinted with permission from Kyle Books.

What’s your favorite meatless meal to put on the dinner table? Tell us in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of The Meat Free Monday Cookbook. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now we’d like to congratulate Frances whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won her a copy of Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner by Lisa Caponigri. We’d also like to congratulate Earen, whose comment on an earlier By the Book column has won him/her a copy of Cooking Without Borders by Anita Lo. Frances and Earen, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By Stacy Schultz

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7 Responses to “By the Book: The Meat Free Monday Cookbook’s Thai Vegetable Curry”

  1. Angelina Says:
    September 11th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Well I’m a vegetarian so everyday is meatless- but curry is definitely a family favorite and the best way to get my husband to eat meatless meals (not to mention a fantastic way to use all my CSA veggies efficiently). Eggplant parm & a grilled ratatouille have been the most recent hits.

  2. Danielle Says:
    September 11th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    My favorite meatless meal is blended soup. All kinds! Carrot Ginger, Kale, Spring Green — so many possibilities, full of vegetables, served with a side of rice crackers!

  3. Heather {ModernMealsforTwo} Says:
    September 11th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I’m trying to make more meatless meals (which is why I’d love to win this book). My current favorites are Cuban black bean patties and Mushroom ricotta lasagna rolls.

  4. courtney Says:
    September 14th, 2012 at 9:28 am

    i would really like to thank Sauce for the meatless attention. i’m a long-time vegan who’s been able to incorporate the twice-a-year-steak BACK into my diet precisely because St. Louis has a lot of small family organic and humane farms. for the other 363 days a year, i appreciate the tips and inspiration from Sauce. a couple of our favorites include – tahini rotini with lemon & broccoli (a lot like hummus on pasta, but somehow turns out tasting cheesy) and sweet potato peanut bowl (mashed sweet potatoes with turmeric & lemon & cumin, topped with spinach & chickpeas and a tomato-ey peanut sauce). they stick to your ribs, but not your arteries.

  5. Ian Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Our favorite is cucumber curry! we have tons of cucumbers growing in our backyard, and I love this recipe. It’s light and flavorful. Saute some onions, garlic, hot pepper, add tomatoes and peeled cucumber cubes, salt &pepper, some light coconut milk and ginger and cilantro (lots of it!) serve with brown rice.

  6. katie Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    During the fall, spaghetti squash with a simple from scratch red sauce and a great hard cheese grated on top!

  7. Claudia Says:
    September 18th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Oddly, the best ever vegetable curry I’ve had was not in Thailand, but in Guatemala. I’ve been trying to recreate it, but haven’t yet succeeded. Maybe the lemongrass and green chilies will help, along with the lime juice. Either way, I’m going to give this recipe a try, only I’ll substitute cauliflower and broccoli for the eggplant and okra.
    Thanks for the ideas!

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