Secret Ingredients

Banana Flower: If you find one of these eggplant-colored strange beauties, wash it and shave rounds off the tip of the flower as thin as you can. Soak the shavings in water with lime juice squeezed into it. They said they did this to preserve the color. Makara pulled this out of a magic hat. I haven’t seen them at her store. The curry will be great without it.

Birds-eye Chili peppers. These come in green or red usually, and are about the size of a small child’s pinky finger. They’re super spicy, especially given that they’re so small. I would say 3 of these little guys would have the same spiciness as 1 habanero pepper. If you can’t find birds-eye chilis, use another fresh chili to give your curry zing and heat.

Coconut Milk: It’s made by massaging coconut meat shavings in water and then removing the actual coconut meat. It comes in cans. The fat separates so you can shake the can to make a uniform liquid before opening. Some cans have stabilizers in them keep the liquids from separating. I prefer without. Light coconut milk is just regular coconut milk watered down. Coconutdoesn’t keep very long, so use the entire can.

Curry Paste: Curry means different things all over the world. To a woman in India it means a blend of black mustard seeds, hot chilis, cumin, bay, cinnamon, turmeric, tomatoes prawns coconut milk. To this Cambodian family, it meant coconut milk and chilis, but then galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. When you make curries from scratch, they’re more alive and exciting in flavor than anything pre-packaged in a spice jar or can. When these Cambodian ladies are in a hurry, though, they like to use Maesre brand Red curry past from Thailand as a substitute for theirs. It comes in a small can about the size and shape of a small tuna can.

Kaffir Lime Leaves: fragrant, fast moving, healing and warm, Kaffir lime leaves are pure magic. Just split one and breath it in. The plants grow well, I’ve seen first hand many times, as potted plants indoors in Maine. I’m going to try to graft a piece of one and grow it in a pot. If that doesn’t work I’ll have to resort to spending $45 buying in a fancy gardening/home catalogue, where I've seen them sold. Wish me luck!

Galangal. It’s a root that looks like ginger (it’s a relative) but its skin is a warmer tan and mildly shiny compared to its cousin. The flavor is a little less burning hot and a little more floral than ginger. You find it in the refrigerated section.

Green papaya. These are papayas that are not yet soft, ripe, and sweet. They’re green on the outside and hard. You peel the skin off, then use a rippled vegetable peeler (available at Asian markets) or mandolin to make thin strips. Don’t eat the seeds in the center. I don’t know what happens if you do. I think they just taste bad.

Mung Bean Sprouts. I have never seen really fresh sprouts in supermarkets. The ones I’ve found at the immigrant markets are creamy white, perky, clean, and pop in your mouth with freshness. Soak submerged in cold water to wash, then strain before using.

I found all my ingredients for this at Mittapheap World Market (except the banana flower – good luck with that one!) at 61 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine, open 7 days a week 9am-7pm. 207-773-5523. Look for an Asian market in your area, or maybe you can find fresh ingredients to order online these days.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011