Chilies and shrimp
The first thing Pranee Khruasanit Halverson did (after she enveloped me in a warm and fuzzy Thai hug, of course) when I entered her kitchen was make me a drink. In this instance it was bale fruit tea, simply the dried fruit boiled in water. “Americans like to use this in potpourri,” she says, laughing. Bale fruit tea–a natural laxative, it turns out–is a popular herbal tea in Thailand.
Dried bale fruit is sold in packets at Asian grocery stores
That was just the beginning of Pranee’s Thai hospitality.
Effervescent in personality and in possession of a big heart, Pranee is the owner of I Love Thai Cooking, and teaches Thai cooking classes around the Puget Sound and also leads culinary tours to Thailand. She invited me over to show me how to cook some of her favorite dishes that her grandmother taught her so long ago in their home on the paradise island of Phuket off the southwestern coast of Thailand.
Before we began, Pranee pointed to a black and white photo encased in a simple wooden frame perched on her dining table. “I took out her photo so that she can be with us while we cook,” she said with a smile. Hence, her grandmother Kimsua Khruasanit sat regally in her chair, frozen in time, as her spirit guided our culinary capers.
Kimsua Khruasanit a.k.a. Ama Sua (photo courtesy of Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen)
After we sipped on the aromatic and slightly astringent bale fruit tea, we soon got to work. While I minced garlic, Pranee glided around the kitchen pulling ingredients together–lemongrass, lime leaves, bean sprouts, tofu–and started recounting stories about her grandmother in her musical sing-song voice.
When Pranee was growing up, her grandmother lived with her and her parents, as is common among Asian families. Pranee called her “Ama Sua” (pronounced ah mah, it means grandmother) and learned many culinary skills from her. In fact, Pranee eventually became her right-hand woman in the kitchen. “She was in an accident and lost one rib,” explained Pranee, and she was unable to stand for long periods of time and had to sit down while cooking.
Pranee’s Ama Sua has since passed away but she lived to the ripe old age of 85. “She cooked very healthy food,” noted Pranee who also benefited. In Phuket, their diet comprised lots of fresh vegetables and herbs and seafood. “We ate more seafood because it was cheaper than meat,” Pranee explained. “In Phuket there was no land for cattle and cows.” Her grandma improvised a lot in the kitchen and used up whatever ingredients were available. “She was also very good with the budget,” Pranee continued. Somehow or another, her Ama Sua always managed to stretch the tight household budget making it go a long way, and never failed to serve tasty, nutritious meals right to the very end of the month.
Needless to say, Pranee is grateful to her grandma for passing on many culinary gems to her. During my afternoon with Pranee, she was kind enough to share several recipes and tips. I’ll in turn share them with you over several blog posts. Here’s the first one.
Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry (Keang Kue Sapparod)
You can make red curry paste from scratch however it is rather time consuming and the ingredient list rather lengthy. Pranee special orders her curry paste from a supplier in Thailand. (Side note: Pranee said she asked her supplier to make it 70 percent less spicy than normal and yet my mouth still felt like it was ablaze when I sampled this dish!) For the rest of us, Mae Ploy brand curry paste is a superb choice (and not a fire hazard for the taste buds). Try this recipe with chicken or pork too. I’m going to use duck and lychees instead of shrimp and pineapple next time!
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4-6 servings
1 cup coconut milk, divided (Pranee recommends Mae Ploy or Aroy-D which my mum swears by too)
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2/3 cup canned pineapple chunks, drained of juice
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
15 medium shrimp (about 1 pound)
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layer discarded, then sliced on the diagonal into thin ovals
Ground peanuts to garnish (optional)
In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons coconut milk and red curry paste. Stir until well combined. Add 2 more tablespoons coconut milk.
Boil until coconut oil separates from the mixture and rises to the surface. (You can also add vegetable oil to stimulate this process which may be slowed down by pasteurization/preservatives). About 3 minutes.
Add another 3 tablespoons coconut milk and 1/2 cup water. Add pineapple chunks and remaining coconut milk. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
Reduce to medium heat. Add shrimp, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until pink.
Add kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Give everything in the pan one thorough mix and take off the heat. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.