Ever since January marked the unravelling of a dissertation-FMP-degreeshow-graduation-Pentagram-LIFE spool, I’ve been mashing together a panoply of announcements and happenings into one post per month, which creates this sort of illusory quality>quantity justification to ease my mind.
But even as I turn my attention to the next thing—whether it’s as immediate as laundry or longterm as job applications—Wandercrush hasn’t become an obsolete obligation because it’s morphed into much more than what it began as. Well, it’s become much less if measuring by post frequency, useful cooking science tips, and etymological digressions…but I’ve also become much less occupied with SEO-stalking, feverish commenting, and other functions of the blogosphere that seemed to define my experience two years ago.
Navigating the precarious, post-graduation line between creative free-for-all and corporate tedium, Wandercrush has become some sort of amorphous tool to keep me both grounded and in the clouds; if my lifestyle leaves a vanishingly narrow window of time for the personal and joyful pursuit of cooking, photography, writing, and gathering around food, then I’d like to re-evaluate my priorities, not this blog.
In the next segment of life spoolage, there is major uncertainty about how to treat the expiration of my student visa in October. There is so much I want to do, so many scattered friends to visit around the world. There’s the option to start over again in a new city, but there’re also things here that I’ve never before considered particularly desirable—stability and community. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart” (Proverbs 19:21), but it’s paradoxically empowering to know full well that I have no ultimate control. So while I can’t guarantee to post x amount of times per month, I’ll be here in this little corner of the internet/Peckham, standing shakily but determinedly between chapters.
And while I can’t say where I’ll be in a few months, there’s always a portal via food—just last month I was dreaming of Thailand, and one of the best curries I’d ever put in my mouth. After having a peek at flight prices and doing some mental math, I settled on borrowing a hefty mortar and pestle (my friends are evidently more settled and stable!) to try my hand/biceps at Massaman Curry.
Though there is dispute about the exact origins of this dish, it’s definitively less ‘Thai-style’ and more reminiscent of Persian and Indian curries—if you browse the spice list, many were likely introduced through Muslim (perhaps an etymological hint) traders. In my decision not to vegify it, I acquired some late-summer lamb neck fillet from my local butcher who, in his excited explanation of which cut would be best, disappeared into the back of the shop and emerged bearing half the carcass to demonstrate.
We took the meal outdoors, descending into our embarrassingly overgrown garden and joined swiftly by some surprise guests. All in all, it wasn’t too far off from the jungles of Thailand. It just about brought me back to Ayutthaya.
Massaman Curry Paste (พริกแกงมัสมั่น)
(yields enough for one recipe, but very double-able!)
- 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 3 shallots, unpeeled
- 7 small dried red chilis
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1-inch galangal or ginger
- 2-inch cinnamon bark
- 1 t peppercorns
- 3 cardamom pods
- 5 cloves
- 1 T coriander seeds
- 1 t cumin seeds
- 1 T salt
- ½ t grated nutmeg
Roast garlic and shallots with skin on, until skin is charred and flesh is soft—about 5-10 minutes. When cooled, discard skins and set aside.
For the remaining whole spices (cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cumin), roast separately in the dry pan until each is fragrant—this takes some extra time, but ensures that nothing is under/over-roasted. When cooled, remove the seeds from the cardamom pods, discarding the casing.
Start by pounding the dry spices until pulverised, then add in the lemongrass, chilis, galangal, nutmeg, and salt to continue pounding—this could take up to half an hour of steady bicep action. Finally, add in the garlic and shallots to pound until everything is well-incorporated into a smooth paste. This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or the freezer for a month.
Lamb Massaman Curry (แกงมัสมั่น)
- 3 T curry paste
- 1 can coconut milk, cream and milk separated
- 750g lamb, neck fillet
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 carrots, chopped roughly
- 500g waxy new potatoes, halved
- 5 shallots, peeled and whole
- handful peanuts, shelled and roasted
- 1 T palm sugar (sub unrefined sugar, adjust to taste)
- 2 T fish sauce (adjust to taste)
- 2 T tamarind paste (adjust to taste)
- handful fresh coriander/cilantro leaves
- roasted peanuts, crushed
- cooked brown rice
- runner beans, raw
Start with the fresh curry paste in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly for a minute until very fragrant. Add the pieces of meat and brown on all sides. Stream in the thick coconut cream from the top of the can, simmering for a few minutes until separated and oily. Top up with the rest of the coconut milk and additional water to cover the meat. After it comes to a boil, lower the heat and add in a bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Allow to simmer for 1–2 hours, until the lamb is meltingly tender.
Add in the potatoes, carrots, peanuts, and shallots. Top up with more water if necessary and simmer uncovered for about 30-45 minutes until the potatoes are tender but not overcooked, stirring occasionally until thick and reduced.
Mix in fish sauce, palm sugar, and tamarind juice towards the end of cooking, adjusting sweet/salty/sour flavour balance to taste. Sprinkle of fresh coriander leaves and crushed, roasted peanuts. Serve over brown rice and with raw crunchy green beans.
*Wandercrush photographs will be compatible with retina displays from this post onwards!