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Column Wed May 20 2009
Several months ago I was lucky enough to attend a preview of Beer! from the Neo-Futurists at Metropolitan Brewing. Not only did we get to see a hilarious performance that involved a puppet named Puke, learn the basics of the brewing process, but we also got to sample some of the tasty beer that was made on site. And it was tasty. Flywheel Bright Lager was my favorite and I anxiously awaited the beer to be sold in bottles so I could buy it and try it in my home.
As I was milling around and meeting some of the other beer-loving attendees, I got to meet one young man who found out that I occasionally write this column and he provided me with a challenge which I whole-heartedly took up. "I would love a green curry vegetable dish that used beer." I instantly began sniffing my Flywheel and imagining it mixed with flavors like ginger and lemongrass and coconut milk and I was pretty sure I had a winner. The slight bitterness from the hops concerned me but I figured there was only one way to find out.
But first I had to find a green curry paste that I liked. I looked at store shelves, because I assumed that making a curry would be too complicated, and I really didn't like what I saw. So I turned to the internet and the library to find recipes that I thought might work out. After viewing over 40 recipes to get down the basics, I realized that it was all a matter of proportion, and what would work for this dish would be thoroughly dependent on the flavor profile of the beer. And I knew the only way I would find something that worked for me would be to just whip something together and see how it came out.
Because I'm a lazy urban dweller, I knew there was no way that I was going to get a mortar and pestle out to create the paste the way the "authentic" recipes suggested, since I have a food processor at my disposal. And since I'm always happy to let a machine do more of the work, I was happy to let the processor do the chopping instead of myself. So if you're happy to evenly chop everything before throwing it into the processor, feel free to throw all the ingredients in at the same time. Otherwise, following the order I suggest will help you create a paste with a smoother texture.
And the good thing about this dish, is that the vegetables can be substituted in at your whim. The list of vegetables I provided is just a suggestion. Seasonal vegetables are always the best to use, so I suggest adding vegetables in order from longest cooking to slowest cooking.
As I cooked, I excitedly tasted vegetables were cooking in the beer--and became nervous and dismayed by the results. I could still taste the faint undertones of what made me think that Flywheel would be good in a curry, but those flavors were obscured by the bitterness of the beer. But I was too far along to stop. I forged ahead, adding the coconut milk and a squeeze of lime juice in the hopes that would work out. I stirred and tasted again and was shocked that magically, the bitter flavors were gone. Completely. And what was left was a slightly complex curry with a roll of flavors--from the bright green of the cilantro, the zippy lemongrass, spiciness from the pepper, and then a mellowing from the coconut milk and beer combination. It was amazing and delightful, and I did a dance for joy. I can't promise that you will also do a dance for joy, but I hope you at least enjoy this dish if you try it.
Green Curry Paste
2 stalks of lemongrass
1 2" piece of ginger
1/2 bunch of cilantro
4-7 jalapeños or serrano chiles (or a mix of the two)
1 small yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic
zest from 1 lime
1 tablespoon of coriander seed or 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
3 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons more oil if needed
Cut the bottom off the lemongrass and the top of the stalks that dried and fibrous. Remove the outer leaf or two. Chop the cilantro into 1/2" sections if you need a perfectly smooth paste, or into pieces that are 2" long if you don't. Toss these into the food processor, cover, and turn it on. Peel the ginger and slice it fairly thin. Add this to the food processor and let it keep spinning. Wash the cilantro and shake it dry. Remove any leaves that are yellow or brown and wilted. Tear the bunch into 2 or 3 sections and add them to the mix, stems and leaves together.
Let the processor rest while you slice the peppers. Hold the stem and place the tip of the pepper onto the cutting board. Place your knife just outside the stem and slice down with the knife parallel to the pepper. Continue around the pepper and what you should end up with is a stem that has the seeds attached but the slices should be fairly seed free. (The seeds contain most of the heat. I found that 4 jalapeños and 2 serrano chiles provided the right amount of medium heat. If you don't like heat at all you can leave out the serrano, if you really like heat, you can either add in the seeds or you can use only serrano peppers. Cut the peppers into 3-4 sections and add them to the processor with the cilantro and let it blend. Slice the ends off the onion and peel it. Cut the onion into 8 wedges and cut the wedges in half. Peel the garlic cloves and chop them into quarters. Add them to the processor and let it puree until you have a fairly smooth paste. Once it starts to look about right, add in the remaining ingredients and let it puree for another few minutes. Slowly add in the oil.
Place your skillet over medium heat and let it warm up. Add the contents of the food processor and spread out the paste. You may want to place a splatter screen or lid over the skillet to prevent burns as the soy sauce and other liquids evaporate during the first few minutes of cooking. Stir it occasionally for a few minutes. If you find that the paste starts to stick, add in more oil a tablespoon at a time and continue to stir frequently. Keep stirring but be careful to keep your face away from the skillet because the smell of the pepper can be overpowering. Once it smells very fragrant, remove it from the heat and let the skillet cool before refrigerating the paste. If kept in an airtight jar, the paste should keep for about 2-3 weeks.
Flywheel Green Curry
3 tablespoons of green curry paste (more if you like a powerful flavor)
1 12 ounce bottle of Flywheel Bright Lager from Metropolitan Brewing Company
1 large sweet potato (peeled, and chopped into small cubes about 1/2")
1 large handful of green beans with stems removed, cut in half
8 ounces of sliced button mushrooms
8 ounces of fresh spinach leaves, washed thoroughly and chopped in half
juice from 1 lime
1 can of coconut milk
Place a skillet over medium heat and add the curry paste and beer. Add in the cubes of sweet potato, cover with a lid, and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the potato from sticking. Once you can easily pierce a potato with a fork, remove the lid. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add in the remaining vegetables and let them cook for 5-7 minutes while stirring occasionally. Once the liquid has reduced significantly and while the beans are still bright green, reduce the heat to medium-low and add in the lime juice and the coconut milk and stir to combine. You don't want the coconut milk to boil, just cook for a minute or two. Taste and add salt if desired. Serve in bowls with cooked jasmine rice.
Makes 4 servings.
Cooking with beer is great fun, but can be complicated since you have to work with the flavors present in the beer and pay attention to how they change as they're heated. You can substitute another beer for the Flywheel in this recipe if you wish.