Sunday, May 18, 2008


A trip to the farmers market this morning yielded some lovely, just picked, yellow squash and zucchini, from Jonathan and Amy's farm in Okeechobee. Three little yellow ones and two green. Cost: $2.00.

Once home, I washed the produce and sliced up both yellow and green squash. I put a good handful of each away in a plastic bag in the fridge for later and tossed the remainder with some Vidalia onion that was lightly sautéed in a little olive oil. While the squash softened up a bit, I put on a 1/2 cup of jasmine rice to cook. *

When the squash and onion were tender yet still a bit crisp, I removed them from the pan to a large bowl to wait while I prepared the curry sauce. This is a simple process if you have some Asian staples in the pantry. Coconut milk and canned curry paste will turn a simple veggie stir-fry into an exotic meal, with very little effort on the cook's part.

In the same 12" sauté pan that I used for the squash and onions, I added a bit more olive oil and added about 2 ounces, approximately 2 tablespoons, of Prik Khing Curry Paste, purchased from the Asian Market in a little 4 oz. can. I use Maesri brand from Thailand. The more paste you use, the hotter the dish will be. One tablespoon is mild, two is medium-hot, three is hot and the entire can, four tablespoons / 4 ounces, is extra hot, but for those in the know, I wouldn't call that 'Thai Hot', to achieve that level, you would have to add more chilis. The curry paste consists of: dried red chilis, garlic, shallot, lemon grass, sugar, salt, kaffir lime, galangal, coriander sees, cumin, cardamon and bay leaves.

Devoted, authentic Thai cooks would perhaps make their own curry paste. Their kitchens would undoubtedly be well stocked with the necessary ingredients. But American cooks may not always stock everything necessary to achieve that delicate, complex balance of sweet, savory and hot. I like to keep an assortment of canned curry pastes on hand, along with canned coconut milk to conveniently whip up a tasty sauce on the spur of the moment. It's amazing how easy it is to produce an impressive bowl of rice and veggies with this fragrant sauce, rich with flavors.

Stir the curry paste into the oil and let it cook over medium heat for a few minutes then you can simply stir in a can of coconut milk, or go the extra step that makes it more of an authentic technique, by separating the coconut milk and adding it in two additions. To do this, do not shake the can prior to opening. The top portion of the milk will be thick. Scoop it out into a little bowl leaving the watery bottom in the can. Add the thick coconut milk to the paste in the pan and stir to combine. Let the mixture cook slowly (watch the heat) until little oily bubbles appear all over the top, then stir in the remainder of the coconut milk from the can. Allow this to simmer gently until the little oil bubbles dot the surface again. Now it's ready to receive the previously sautéed vegetables.

Add the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook a few minutes to reheat and allow the sauce to coat each surface. Serve over jasmine rice with a bit of fresh basil or cilantro.

The sliced squash that I cooked would serve two generously - cook all 5 squash to serve four. As I'm cooking for one, I have leftovers of the cooked squash - certainly enough for another meal. Meanwhile, the sliced raw squash that I set aside makes a wonderful addition to a raw veggie salad plate with hummus for a dip. Another fast, easy, nutritious meal - from the same $2.00 purchase.

*Tip: Easy rice preparation. Wash rice in strainer. Use 1/2 cup rice for two servings; one cup rice for 4 servings. Place washed rice in saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover rice by about 3/4" - 1". Bring rice and water to boil, stir to combine and then lower heat allowing rice to boil gently UNCOVERED, until water above rice has disappeared. Then remove pan from heat. Cover the top of the pot with a folded linen towel or cloth napkin, then add the cover. Allow to rest undisturbed for 12 - 14 minutes. The rice will continue to steam and finish cooking, producing lovely, separate grains. Uncover, perfectly cooked rice, fluff with fork.

With fresh produce at the farm stands, farmers markets and grocery stores, quick, easy meals are a snap. And with garden fresh produce, the simpler the preparation, the better to enjoy the fresh flavors.

Prepare a feast with two zucchini, three small yellow squash,

one medium Vidalia onion, a little rice and a simple curry sauce.

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