Mussaman Curry

My friend Janelle’s favorite Thai curry is Mussman, so I waited to cook this dish until she could join me for a meal. This time, I actually made my own curry paste from scratch. What a lot of work – worth it in the end, but I can see why the canned curry pastes are popular! The basic recipe for Mussaman curry paste is;

4 dried red chiles
3 Tbsp. shallots, minced
1/4 c. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. galangal, finely sliced
1 Tbsp. lemongrass, finely sliced
2 cloves
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. peppercorn
1 tsp. salt

Note: I omitted the shrimp paste, since that’s an ingredient I probably wouldn’t use again. Also, if the word “galangal” stopped you in your tracks, here’s what it looks like.  Similar to ginger root (though it seems a bit more perishable in my experience so far) galangal is used in many Thai soups and curry pastes and considered to have nutritional and digestive properties.

Steps to make the curry paste: remove and discard seeds from dried red chiles, chop the flesh into small pieces and soak in warm tap water until they’re soft. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, dry roast the coriander, cumin, cloves and peppercorn until aromatic and starting to brown. Grind these in a mortar and pestle with salt into a powder. In the same skillet, dry roast the garlic, lemongrass, shallots, and galangal until starting to brown. In the mortar and pestle, grind together all of these ingredients, adding the softened red pepper too. It takes kind of a pounding and grinding motion, and I don’t have a very large mortar and pestle – so it didn’t work perfectly, but I ended up with a fairly smooth paste in the end. I actually just made half this recipe of curry paste for the curry dish described below, but if you make a double batch you’ll have some for another meal too!

The recipe for this Mussaman curry comes from a cookbook I previously mentioned, that came to me direct from Bangkok. My friend Harold was teaching English in Thailand for a couple of years, so I asked if he had seen any authentic cookbooks written in English. Not only did Harold find me this cookbook, but he also came up with the brilliant idea to have his students read through it and write me little post-it notes in English for the recipes. So now many of the recipes have little comments, like “You can use coconut milk and fresh milk (low sugar)” and “This is a menu very common food in Thailand”. What a great idea, and great gift – and the students got to practice their English at the same time!  Thanks again Harold!

Because the cookbook came from Thailand, I know these must be fairly authentic recipes. And I know from the post-it on the Mussaman curry recipe that “Mussaman” means Moslem.  Ideally, that means I would have NOT used pork in the curry recipe, typically beef or chicken is used. But pork is what I had on hand, so that’s what I used. Musssaman curry usually contains cubed potatoes and peanuts, and I also added green beans. The dish has a nice spice to it without being overly hot, and treated this way the pork also gets really tender. It didn’t turn out as red-colored as the dish when you order it from a Thai restaurant, or even as the picture in the cookbook shows, but it tastes very similar anyway.

Mussaman Curry
1 lb. pork, chicken, or beef, cubed
1 can coconut milk
1/2 recipe (or about 3 Tbsp.) Mussaman paste
1 potato, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. green beans
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. tamarind cooking concentrate
1/2 c. unsalted roasted peanuts

In a large skillet, stir-fry the curry paste in a Tbsp. of oil until aromatic. Then add the meat and continue to stir fry for a few minutes to partially cook the meat. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape all the good bits off the bottom of the pan. Add potatoes, green beans, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Let simmer covered for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with fish sauce, brown sugar and tamarind, and taste to adjust seasonings accordingly. These ingredients round out the dish with flavors of salty, sweet and sour, respectively. Cook for a little longer until all vegetables and meat are cooked through. Serve over rice.

Adapted/Mixed from: Healthy and Easy Thai Cooking by Nuengnuj Chaixanien, AND Thai Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson

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