Thai food features on our menu at least a couple of times a month,especially when the weather turns cool. The combination of the fiery thai chilli paste and sweet ,creamy coconut milk is one that is irresistible. Over the years I’ve managed to grow the ingredients needed to make this flavourful paste, in my own garden at home. Lemon grass , galangal and kaffir lime (from my mother’s farm) add the distinct taste to a typical thai curry. The colours of the curry vary simply by the kind of chilli used ; red , green or yellow.
I get excited every time I make a thai curry simply because I love the process that goes into turning out a dish that never fails to delight with it’s lip smacking flavours. Usually I make it with chicken as is common in Thailand but on one occasion I had to come up with a vegetarian version for some dear friends who loved Thai cuisine. Now while most of my non-vegetarian friends say they find themselves stumped for ideas when cooking vegetarian for guests , for me that’s the time the creative juices actually come into play ! It’s fun to examine the ingredients available at your local grocers and incorporate that into your menu of choice !
It so happened that I was discussing this particular menu with my sister-in-law Priya ( passionate foodie and talented cook) and I was telling her how I wished I could make this dish more authentic by adding the tiny eggplants that are such a unique part of a Thai red curry. If only it was locally available ! She thought for a bit and came up with an idea that amazed and delighted me all at once. “Why not try using our sundakkai ?” she said. I knew at once that it would be the perfect substitute. And to add to the joy , I actually had sundakkai growing wild in my vegetable patch .
Sundakkai when dried , as we all know turns into the sundakka vathal which is used to make a delicious vetha kozhambhu ! In it’s green form however,there aren’t too many people who add it to their food. I have used it in the past to make a morre kozhambhu (buttermilk gravy dish ) as well as a simple poriyal and was pleased with the results on both occassions. Now I was all set to try using it in a different cuisine.
In my head , the flavours all seemed like they would mingle perfectly but the proof as they say would be in the final tasting. Holy basil is another important ingredient that is added at the tail end of cooking a red curry and the prettiest , brightest tulsi leaves from our plant are chosen especially for this dish.
All the while that I pounded the bright red chillies in my pestle and mortar and watched as their membranes crushed and spread that glorious red onto the small onions , garlic , ginger and the rest of it I only had one thought going through my head. “I can’t wait to add the fresh sundakkai to this curry !” Once the array of veggies were sautéed in the vibrant curry paste and the coconut milk mellowed it down with it’s rich sweetness , it was time for my new star ingredient to work it’s magic. Along with the final garnish of bright red chillies and tulsi leaves , in went the sundakkai.
The diminutive-ness in size allows it to cook quickly , in a matter of minutes rendering it soft but with still a bit of bite. As I took my pan off the fire , I knew it would continue to cook in the residual heat for a little while longer. A quick taste and I was super happy with the outcome. Not only did it not taste good but it looked so authentic with these little green rounds floating about in that creamy blush coloured gravy.
Next I was curious to see if the botanical properties bore any similarity between the sundakkai and thai eggplant. To my amazement both images on google looked identical right down to the smallest detail. It was also referred to as the turkey berry on both sites ! Imagine that ! To think that people have been sourcing these from special grocers across the country when all the while it was sitting right here in our very own surroundings just waiting to be noticed. I will always think of Priya every time I make the Thai curry from here on !