Friday, August 26, 2011

Cold comfort.

Thai curry salad, three ways. © Ryan Schierling
The salad days of summer are here, and it's been a lengthy and hot season this go around. This week, in fact, Austin broke a record for consecutive days over 100º F – seventy days straight – beating the old record set in 1925.  So what do you do when you are suffering through Thai curry withdrawals and it's just too bloody hot outside to eat it the traditional way?

Well, we made salad.

Oh, but we didn't just make one kind. No, we had to try three different kinds... 

It's been a month turbocharged with ideas, but we seem to have suffered from insufficient time for setting all those creative impulses into motion. So, when we committed to making salads Thai curry-style, we didn't mess around; we just made them all. The red, green and yellow standards that are familiar in our home, just a little... cooler.

I tend to associate "comfort food" with hot food. Something that warms the belly and coddles the senses, and this was admittedly a wide swing in the opposite direction of my huge crush on the hot, hot deliciousness that is Thai curry. But, no matter! Sometimes one's source of inspiration gets tantalizingly trumped by curiosity and an inventive tangent.

Now, we stayed as true to the traditional elements used in each of these curries when served hot, but adapted as necessary for the freshness and texture we expect of a salad. In lieu of jasmine rice we used a delicate rice vermicelli. We decided to limit it to three basic ingredients in addition to the vermicelli, a traditional curry sauce and the amazing fresh Thai basil we are blessed to have happily at hand in our herb garden. Our other criteria was that each salad had to have something with a little crunch and be able to feature a starch or protein nicely. We chose vegetables that are as good fresh as cooked, and passed on the tofu – just this once. (Curry and tofu are most excellent companions, though, so we will totally try this with fried tofu one day soon.)

Here's what we included this time around:

Rice vermicelli
Fresh green beans - sliced thinly on bias
Fresh green bell pepper - sliced thin
Grilled chicken thighs - cubed small
Thai basil - chiffonade

Rice vermicelli
Julienned bamboo shoots - drained (from a can)
Fresh red bell pepper - sliced thin
Roasted salted peanuts - roughly chopped
Thai basil - chiffonade

Rice vermicelli
Fresh carrots - julienned
Fresh scallions (green onions) - sliced white ends
Russet potatoes - diced to 1/2" or smaller and fried (or roasted)
Thai basil - chiffonade

The "dressing" for each was made the same way we make a simple hot curry. Starting with good quality curry paste sauteed in a little bit of oil, adding coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and a little bit of water until the flavors and consistency make you exhale a happy sigh as a taste-test hits the back of your throat. The flavors brighten up nicely with the addition of a sprig of fresh Thai basil in all it's anise-kissed glory.

And, since we have a taste for the spicy stuff... those are Thai bird chile slices pictured on top. Hey, as long as we're sweating on the outside, we might as well sweat a little on the inside too.


  1. Oh that looks absolutely delicious! I just ate, and now I'm hungry again.

  2. Thanks, Jonathan! We don't recommend trying to crank out all three on an average week night, but one is pretty easy and the curry "dressing" can be made ahead of time.


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