January 20th, 2014
Thai curries are one of my favorite foods ever. But, having been lucky enough to travel to Thailand and also eat at some of the best Thai restaurants in the country, I’ve come to expect big things from Thai curries like complex flavors with lots of tension between hot, sour, and earthy notes. So, yea, supermarket red curry doesn’t cut it for me so much. (Go ahead: I know I’m a food nerd.)
But then why do I buy it so often?!
I keep thinking that, one day, I’ll crack the code and learn how to make a spectacular, piping hot bowl of soupy red curry from the stuff foraged in the Asian food aisle of my supermarket. To help, I’ve enlisted mail-order frozen kaffir lime leaves, hard-to-find kaffir lime oil, fresh lemongrass purchased from out-of-the-way spots. And still nada (so far).
Though I haven’t given up—and am getting closer thanks to a better than average red curry paste by Maesri—I decided that I had to find other, satisfying ways to use my not-homemade red curry paste. So far, this Red Curry Beef Stir Fry is the ticket.
I think that I love this so much because it signifies an important (to me) mental shift. I expect deep layers of flavor from soupy curries, but not so much from quick-cook stir fry. Instead, the flash spice of bird chili peppers, hint of kaffir lime, and general lemongrass flavor work perfectly to make a quick, delicious weeknight meal with big flavor. And that’s exactly what this dish is.
We all love it. Even me.
* A quick note about red curry paste: some brands are spicy, and others are not. If there’s no indication on the label and you’re feeding folks who aren’t into spicy food, taste before you make. I include notes in the recipe for how to adapt this if you want to make a mild and a spicy version in one take. It’s possible.
Red Curry Beef Stir Fry
(Can be shared with meat eating kids 10+ mos up)*
3 teaspoons to about 2 1/2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, divided
3 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
Juice of 1 lime, divided
1-1 1/2 lbs stir fry beef, depending on how much meat you want to serve
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
1 red bell pepper, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/4″-wide strips
3/4 lb string beans, washed, trimmed and halved
Cilantro, washed and trimmed, for garnish (optional, but highly recommended)
1. In a medium bowl, combine 1-2 teaspoons of curry paste, depending on your preferred heat level, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and juice of 1/2 a lime. Whisk until a smooth paste forms. Add beef and toss with your hands until well coated; set aside.
2. To make your stir fry sauce, whisk together coconut milk, remaining teaspoon cornstarch, remaining juice from 1/2 a lime, and 2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 tablespoons red curry paste until smooth. The amount of curry paste you use will depend on the spice level of the paste and your desired heat level for the final dish. (See below for how to make a mild version first, followed by a spicy version without having to start over.) Set stir fry sauce aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a wok set over medium-high heat. Add beef, being careful not to overcrowd (you may have to cook the beef in batches) and stir fry, tossing all the while, until browned and cooked to just rare. Remove from wok and set aside.
4. Heat remaining tablespoon of coconut oil in the emptied wok. Add bell pepper and string beans and stir fry, tossing all the while, until just tender and charred in spots, about 4 minutes.
5. Add beef to the vegetables and toss to combine. Cook for another minute, then add stir fry sauce. Toss again and cook for 2-3 minutes, until sauce thickens and beef reaches desired doneness. (Be careful not to overcook stir fry beef, since it can get tough.) Serve hot, straight out of the wok, over rice and garnished with cilantro.
To make half mild and the other half spicier:
* In step 2, add a smaller amount of curry paste, or no curry paste at all, to your stir fry sauce. Set the rest of the curry paste aside.
* In step 5, add half of the stir fry sauce to the wok as soon as you add the beef. Cook for 3 minutes and, in the meantime, whisk remaining curry paste into remaining stir fry sauce. Check meat and if it’s well done enough after 3 minutes, quickly remove mild portions and add the last bit of spicier stir fry sauce to the wok. Cook just long enough for the sauce to thicken and remove from heat. Your spicy portions remain.
*Note: Though this dish can be pureed for younger eaters, I recommend it starting at 10-months-old due to my personal preference to focus on fruits and vegetables until at least 10 months. That said, if you’ve introduced your little eater to beef earlier, share away! As long as you make a version mild enough for their sensitive palate (a little spice is good; don’t be too afraid!), this is safe to feed anyone.