Not too far from where I live is the Thai Temple. It sits on the river next to a small park full of picnic tables. Every Sunday, this place turns into my Disneyland. The covered walkway fills with tables where little tiny Thai ladies serve up food so good it gets me visibly emotional. All of it is fresh and homemade; there’s beef salad with Thai basil and hot chilis and all kinds of seasonal curries. My favorite by far is the pumpkin curry they have in the fall. You would think this post would be about me recreating my favorite dish, but I wouldn’t even try. I’m good, but that stuff is magic. After grabbing a few containers containers of cheap, delicious food you sit in the breeze chowing down and watching the river flow by. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Something about Thai food is so heartwarming to me. Not just the literal, melt-your-face-off chilis, either. When I’m down or need a little pick-me-up, I find myself craving beef salad, curry, or peanut sauce. I think it’s tied to all the wonderful memories I have of it growing up. Our neighbors hired a Thai nanny, Mrs. Greene (we called her Miss Nit), and she is one of the warmest, most loving people I have ever known. She would make big batches of food for the weekend neighborhood gatherings. She made everything from chicken salad to barbecue, always with a side of perfect sticky rice, and she would make green papaya salad so good I remember people coming out of the woodwork to gather in our neighbor’s kitchen and chow down. Undoubtedly, she is one of the greatest cooks I have ever met. More than that, she is a genuinely kind woman who goes above and beyond to care for people and loves a good, fat baby.
Today I needed the comfort of my chilis and Thai basil. I bought a big pile of veggies with the intention of making ratatouille and I thought to myself, well who the hell says I can’t make that curry? It’s my kitchen, I do what I want. That’s the fun part about really learning the flavor profiles of certain types of food. Once you get the hang of it, you can just make shit up. Be free of recipes, my friends!
I paired it with turkey meatballs. Turkey is a great choice for meatballs because it’s low-cal* and doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own. It takes on whatever flavors you add without fighting them, and can be a vehicle for all kinds of fun experiments. Today, I put it over coconut rice which was…. an interesting experience to make, to say the least. More on that later.
*Note: I know. Nothing I ever make concerns calories. I shoved a whole damn stick of butter in chickens just a few days ago. Hey, if its tasty and just so happens to be better for the waistline, we’re okay with that, right?
For the meatballs:
- 2 lbs ground turkey
- 2 large eggs
- 2 bunches green onions, finely chopped white and light green parts only (save the dark green tops to garnish like the fancy bitch you are)
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce (ok, this stuff smells godawful. I know. It’s like tequila. Just do it and for the love of God don’t sniff it first.)
- 2 carrots, grated
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup gluten-free panko
- 1-2 teaspoons asian chili paste (or sriracha)
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 heavy pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
For the veggie curry:
- 1 eggplant
- 1 yellow squash
- 1 zuchinni
- 2 bell peppers (whatever colors you like)
- 1 bottle Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce
- Thai basil (if you don’t have it, regular basil is fine too)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
For the coconut rice:
- 2 cups jasmine rice
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 1/2 cups water
- Kosher salt, to taste
For the meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Place ALL your ingredients in a large bowl. Revel in how easy this recipe is. There’s barely any chopping!
- Using your hands (because a spoon won’t get this mixed enough don’t be a weenie), thoroughly mix your ingredients.
- Form the mixture into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 F.
For the veggie curry:
- Cut all the veggies into 1/4 inch slices.
- Pour the sauce into the bottom of a large baking dish. I usually would make my own sauce, but the Trader Joe’s one is damn good and ain’t nobody got time for that today. We do the best we can, people. It’s about flavor, not necessarily working hard.
- Arrange the veggies on top of the sauce. Make it look sexy.
- Chiffonade the basil. This is a technique that looks fancy and is WAY easier than you’d think. Just roll all the basil up like a happy lil burrito and slice thin. Sprinkle on top of your maddeningly gorgeous vegetables just sitting there cuddling all cute.
- Sprinkle the top with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
For the coconut rice:
I could write an ode to my rice cooker. If you know me well, you know how deeply emotionally attached I am to that thing. It’s been with me through everything, from traveling dorm-room to dorm-room saving one deathly hungover friend at a time to every bowl of fried rice my broke ass made senior year. To say we are close is an understatement.
Anyways. Coconut rice is fuckin’ weird to make. Usually the fool-proof perfect rice, which I have made no doubt 100,000 times, is equal parts rice and water. I thought, why not just replace some of that water with coconut milk? Wrong Rachel. The rice cooker is perfect because it automatically shuts off when the moisture reaches a certain level, which is when the rice is usually perfectly cooked. This time, the rice cooker kept turning off before the rice was actually done, because it had gotten too dry. I ended up adding, little by little, a whole extra CUP AND A HALF of water to this before it finally cooked right. When it did, it was absolutely delicious, but it was strange.
- On the meatballs: Ok. You don’t have to say it. These meatballs turned out a weird-ass color. I know. Not inedible or completely off-putting but… strange. Next time, I would sear these in a pan first and then shorten the oven time. The problem with turkey is that it can get dry very easily, so you have to be careful. I would also soak the breadcrumbs in 1/2 cup coconut milk beforehand to make them even more moist and tasty. Currently kicking myself for not thinking of that until now. Those damned missed opportunities are in italics in my ingredients list. Secondly, I think they needed an extra pinch of salt.
- On the curry vegetables: These were beautiful and they made my kitchen smell like heaven. The only thing I wished is that I had more sauce, because it was delicious poured over the top of the whole dish. I would add another bottle of that tasty sauce. Crushed peanuts would also be delicious on top…
All in all, I was very happy with this dish. Do I wish the meatballs were more browned? Duh. Other than that, though, it was pretty damn good. I took it in for lunch and a woman I work with came up from the downstairs office to say “Who has that lunch, what IS that? It smells great!!” If that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is.