How to Make a Balinese-Inspired Curry Paste (and Use It in 4 Dishes)

On this week’s episode of Chefs at Home, chef Christina Nguyen makes a seven-ingredient curry paste that can be used in recipes for southern Thai-inspired curry, lemongrass beef skewers, and more.

Following a spicy tequila cocktail demo from Ivy Mix in last week's episode of Chefs at Home, this week, we're joined by Christina Nguyen, chef and co-owner of Hai Hai and Hola Arepa in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She shows viewers how to make a seven-ingredient curry paste that she then uses in four dishes—a Southern Thai-inspired curry, her mom's marinated beef skewers, Balinese-inspired sautéed cauliflower and green beans, and finally, turmeric dill fish from Hanoi with rice noodles. Along the way, she provides tons of helpful tips, such as freezing flank steak so it's easier to cut. Read on for her step-by-step method and follow along with the video above.

First Up—The Curry Paste

Nguyen says this paste was inspired by a trip to Bali. You'll need lemongrass, fresh ginger, shallots, galangal, fresh turmeric (handle with gloves, so you don't stain your hands), Makrut lime leaves, and garlic cloves—if you want, you can add in Thai chile for some heat as well. After prepping the ingredients, she combines them in a mortar and pestle, placing the hardier ingredients in first. You can also use a blender or food processor to pulverize the ingredients, she notes. A little kosher salt and granulated sugar go in as well. She ends up finishing the paste with an immersion blender. After mixing in a little neutral oil (she uses grapeseed), you're all set to use the paste.

Southern Thai-Inspired Curry

The first dish Nguyen makes with the paste is a Southern Thai-inspired curry, which she prepares with fish sauce, shrimp paste, coconut milk, palm sugar, chicken thighs, and "whatever veggies you have around"—in this case, she grabs red bell peppers, carrots, onions, and green beans.

After heating oil in a pan over medium-high heat, the shrimp paste goes in first, followed by the prepared curry paste, and then the onions, bell peppers, carrots, and green beans. Coconut milk goes in next, and then, you'll want to turn up the heat so the mixture "really starts to simmer." After that, Nguyen recommends adding in the ingredients you'll want to fish out before eating—Thai chile peppers, whole lime leaves, and ginger slices. Place the chicken thighs in the mixture (Nguyen also adds lemongrass pieces at this point), and be sure to avoid seasoning too soon. Nguyen says that if you add the fish sauce too soon, for instance, the dish could turn out too salty. Instead, she adds it right before the dish is done, along with the palm sugar and some black pepper. Serve the finished dish with coconut jasmine rice, basil and lime leaves, and a sprinkle of roasted peanuts.

Lemongrass Beef Skewers with Ginger and Shallots

For the beef skewers, Nguyen mixes the curry paste with her mom's marinating sauce, which includes oyster sauce, Shaoxing rice wine (you can substitute sherry wine, she says) and honey. She's using flank steak for the recipe, which she recommends freezing for 15 to 30 minutes so it's easier to cut. After thinly slicing it, you'll want to marinate the pieces for a few hours, and then get them on skewers—don't forget to soak the wooden skewers before you cook, so they don't catch on fire.

Place the skewers on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a wire rack set inside, brush them with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place them under the broiler on high and cook for four to five minutes per side. Grab some cilantro for garnish and serve.

Sautéed Balinese-Inspired Cauliflower with Green Beans

Next up is a vegan dish, sautéed Balinese-inspired cauliflower with green beans. After heating a pan with some water in it (plus a little bit of salt), Nguyen adds the cauliflower and green beans, placing a lid on top so they steam. Then, she drains off the water and adds some coconut oil, seasoning with salt and black pepper. Once the vegetables have started to brown, a few spoonfuls of the curry paste go into the pan, along with more coconut oil.

Next, the thinly sliced shallots and Thai chile go in—after that, the pan goes under the broiler for four to five minutes. Nguyen plates the dish and finishes the skewers by garnishing with lime leaf, fried shallots, and some freshly squeezed lime juice. She drizzles on a bit of chili crisp as well.

Turmeric and Dill Fish and Noodles

Nguyen says this last dish is one of her favorites that they serve at the restaurant. She starts out by making nuoc cham from scratch, and then cuts Alaskan cod fillets into two-inch squares, coating them with a mixture of turmeric and salt. They go into a heated pan with grapeseed oil in it, and once they're done, Nguyen plates them on top of rice noodles. More grapeseed oil goes into the pan, and she adds in a spoonful of the curry paste, along with the scallions and dill, cooking until they're "not totally wilted," but cooked. The cooked herbs go on top of the fish, and then, you finish the dish off with more fresh herbs—Nguyen uses mint, cilantro, rau ram (also called Vietnamese coriander, she says), tía tô, and dill—as well as roasted peanuts and some Thai chile too, if you'd like. Finish it off with a drizzle of nuoc cham and you're ready to go.

Come back Monday, December 7 for next week's episode of Chefs at Home featuring chef Yoshi Okai.

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