Well, I’m home from a month abroad, and although the title of this post might suggest I was in Vietnam, I wasn’t (try Russia and the Ukraine instead). I ate my way through a mountain’s worth of varenyky and a sea of borscht (not to mention a heck of a lot of sour cream, cottage cheese and chicken kiev), so you would think that I would do a blog post on how to make varenyky. Maybe one day. As for now, I don’t even want to look at another varenyky. I came home craving green. Anything green. Anything with iron and fibre and other good things. In short: vegetables.
I am engrossed in a novel called “The Beauty of Humanity Movement” and its set in Vietnam. One of its main characters is an old man who makes the best pho in Hanoi. Every time I pick it up, I find myself craving pho – which is a bit disturbing, considering I do not eat pork or beef. So, to satiate my desire for something Vietnamese, I decided to try this recipe which has always piqued my curiosity. Jungle curry is completely vegetarian and – apparently – cooked to perfection by Buddhist monks in south Vietnam. It’s also apparently more popular as a breakfast food (then again, so is Pho) but I’ll stick to my muesli and yoghurt in the morning.
The recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up in a bargain bin at Home Sense called “Low Fat Thai Cooking.” It uses snake beans – also known as long beans – which are widely available in Asian grocery stores, as well as No Frills or FreshCo (but the ones I saw at FreshCo looked nowhere near as fresh and green as the ones I got from Big Land Farms). I have always been curious to try cooking with snake beans, so this provided an excuse. The recipe, as a whole, is pretty straightforward, and apart from galangal and lemongrass, it doesn’t call for anything too out-of-the-ordinary. (Galangal is a rhizome similar to ginger – it even looks similar – and you can buy it at an Asian grocery. They say you can substitute ginger in a pinch, but I don’t think the flavour of ginger is ideal). I made a number of alterations to the recipe in order to make it even lower fat and I was very happy with the results. It’s a great vegan and gluten free meal – but be warned, it is hot!
Recipe (serves 4)
Peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 large onion, sliced into thin wedges
2 lemongrass stalks, cut in half lengthways and bruised (the book said to chop them, but I don’t like eating lemongrass – it’s really tough – so I leave it in tact in order to pull it out after cooking)
3 Thai (bird) chilies, seeded and chopped finely
1 inch of galangal, peeled and grated
3 carrots, halved lengthways and then sliced
250 grams of snake beans – or the equivalent of a generous handful
8 Chinese leek hearts, cut into match stick sizes (optional)
grated rind of 1 lime
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 tbsp muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tsp ground turmeric
4 ounces of sliced bamboo shoots (canned is fine)
6-8 baby bok choy, touch part of stems cut off
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
Heat the peanut oil and then stir in the onions, lemongrass, chilies and galangal and toss until the onion is brown. Add the carrots, leek hearts and snake beans and lime rind and stir-fry for a few more minutes, and then add the soy sauce and vinegar, stirring to combine. Add the pepper, sugar and turmeric, then the bamboo. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer about 10 minutes, until the carrots and snake beans are tender. In the last 2 minutes, add the bok choy and continue to toss until the leaves are wilted and tender. Season with salt, and then stir in the mint and cilantro leaves. Serve the curry over rice noodles or rice.