More often than not, my inclination is to try any recipe that appeals to me that week. So it was with this warming dish of coconut-scented rice, curried pork, crisp vegetables, a splash of lime juice and the crunch of peanuts. A recent issue of Food and Wine introduced me to a blogger who lives in the far reaches of northern Minnesota hard by the border of North Dakota. Given her location, it makes all the sense in the world that she’d would be making Thai Food, doesn’t it? In a sense it does. This is American food today. We are unrestricted by geography, our population and our supermarkets more and more diverse. And nothing says that better than the popularity and continuing story of Molly Yeh of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the blogger in question. Originally from Brooklyn, Molly Yeh has embraced her new home with a vengeance. But she certainly brought a lot of Brooklyn with her. The first of her recipes is for Halvah-Stuffed Challah bread. But what she must truly pine for is New York’s Thai Food. So she has created a version of it using a technique that is pure Midwestern.
|A Farmgirl Dabble’s Tater Tot Hotdish|
That technique involves a Hotdish, “a staple at potlucks and church suppers throughout the Midwest”, and particularly popular in Minnesota. At their most basic, the ingredients used in Hotdish are pasta, ground beef, green beans, corn and canned soup. Potatoes are also used and there are literally dozens of recipe calling for Tater Tots as shown in this version from http://www.afarmgirlsdabbles.com/. There’s even a version called Minnesota Goulash that has nothing to do with the original Hungarian goulash. This one is made with ground beef, macaroni, canned tomatoes and a can of creamed corn. There aren’t many rules except for the ubiquitous use of Cream of Mushroom Soup. The advantage to cooking this way is that dish can be prepared in advance, travels well and comes together in One Pot so it can get to the Church in one piece. In fact, it’s not a Hotdish if it requires any more than one pot. What Molly Yeh has done is to create a Thai version. In her recipe, Ms. Yeh put together with bell peppers, onions, carrots, snap peas along with rice and pork. (If you’d prefer, it can also be made with ground Chicken.) To make it Thai, she used Red Curry paste and fish sauce. And in blatant disregard for Cream of Mushroom Soup. Ms Yeh wisely substitutes coconut milk. To be honest, I liked the dish but critically it lacked any heat to speak of. It was a very distant cousin of the Thai food we love in New York for its complexity of flavors and its blends of great spices.
In researching further into the Hotdish culture of the state Molly Yeh now calls home, I think I discovered the reason. The earliest immigrants to Minnesota were overwhelmingly from Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Their taste preferences continue to influence Minnesota to this day. In general that means an avoidance of hot spices in favor of earthy and aromatic ones. What Molly Yeh’s One Dish Thai Curry lacked in heat, it more than makes up for in heartiness. It’s a perfect winter warmer. But if you want to make it feel really Thai, please feel free to up the ante and incorporate as much Red Curry Paste as your taste buds desire. Fortunately, this can be accomplished at the end of the cooking process by stirring in the paste one tablespoon at a time until the spice level passes your taste test. Here is the recipe with twice the heat of Molly Yeh’s original. You can still take it up several notches from here.
One-Pot Thai Curry Rice with Pork adapted from Molly Yeh in Food and Wine Magazine Serves 4. Active Time 30 mins. Total time 1 hr. 15 minutes
1 cup Basmati Rice
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. ground pork or chicken
4 tbsp. Thai Red Curry Paste
1 13.5 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. Asian Fish sauce
1 red bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small onion, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 carrot, sliced into ½ inch rounds
4 oz. snap peas cut into ½ inch pieces
Lime Wedges, Cilantro leaves and crushed roasted peanuts for serving.
1.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice and stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until all the liquid is absorbed, about 6 minutes. The rice will not be completely cooked.
2. In an enameled medium-sized cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Add the pork or chicken, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the curry paste and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the parcooked rice, the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, bell pepper, onion, carrot and snap peas and mix well. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
4. Uncover and bake for about 10 minutes longer, until the rice is tender and all of the coconut milk has been absorbed. Now is the time to taste the curry and gradually stir in by the tablespoonful, additional red curry paste until you reach the your desired level of heat and spice.
5. Serve warm with lime wedges, cilantro leaves and crushed peanuts.