So when we collectively decided that Thai food would be the theme of the 2012 New Year’s Eve extravaganza, I knew where to turn for reference: my friend Nancie McDermott’s book, Quick & Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes. I met Nancie a few years ago at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier—we bonded over juleps and Southern food, but having spent three years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, Nancie’s as comfortable with spicy curry and galangal as she is with grits and custard pie. (And Nancie was generous enough to offer a signed copy of Quick & Easy Thai for one lucky Good. Food. Stories. reader—see below for details on how to win a copy!)
It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I rarely make real Thai food at home. We all have our lazy comfort food crutches, and even though I crave a bowl of red curry as much as I do spaghetti carbonara, I’ve always relied on the good graces of Wondee Siam to make it for me (a trip to Wondee is also an excuse for catching up with friends, if that softens the blow at all.)
But with Nancie’s book as inspiration, I realized what a dope I’ve been for not doing more Thai cooking at home. Fresh red curry paste, a simple blend of easy-to-find chilies and spices, will be a staple in my refrigerator from here on out, and ingredients like peanuts, ginger, garlic, and cilantro are already in my pantry on the regular. What was stopping me?
The New Year’s menu featured a host of dishes: some were traditional, like pad Thai, spicy cashew and cilantro salad, and chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce that disappeared from the platter in a matter of minutes. Others were modern adaptations, like a salad of shredded raw spinach and minced limes, shallots, coconut, chilies, and ginger in a sweet-salty-spicy dressing that paid tribute to my favorite lettuce-wrapped Thai snack, miang kum.
But there’s always one dish at the party that gets people talking, and this year it was the panaeng curry meatballs. (Panaeng is often spelled panang or penang on Thai and Malaysian menus.) Simmering in a slow cooker all day, unleashing whiffs of their rich coconutty fragrance, I caught a few guests sneaking peeks under the lid before the meatballs were ready for their dinner debut. But who could blame them? Being a good Italian girl, I couldn’t leave well enough alone with a plain seasoned meatball and amped up the aromatics in the meat mixture considerably. Any meatball can be transformed this way with your favorite flavor blend: sub in some garam masala for an Indian meatball, some cinnamon and cayenne for a Lebanese version.
A few of the ingredients in the recipe below, like fresh lime leaves and palm sugar, might be difficult to find if you don’t have access to an Asian supermarket—I stock up on these essentials at Kalustyan’s in Manhattan, but I’ve offered up alternatives, just as Nancie does for all the recipes in her cookbook. Even if you’re not cooking for 100 people, as I was, make the full recipe and freeze the meatballs; chances are you’ll appreciate them later for a quick meal.
The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Hector, Commenter #8, for winning the book, and many thanks to all who entered!
Thai Curry Meatballs
adapted from Quick & Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes Makes about 100 appetizer-size meatballs
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1-inch piece of fresh or frozen galangal or ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh or frozen lemongrass (about 3-4 stalks)
- 1 tablespoon red curry paste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 13.5-oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/4 cup red curry paste or panaeng curry paste
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1 dozen fresh or frozen wild lime leaves or basil leaves, cut into ribbons
- 1/2 to 1 cup water
Make the meatballs:
If making the meatballs in advance, preheat the oven to 400˚ and line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir the panko, cilantro, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, curry paste, and egg together in a large mixing bowl until the egg is beaten and the ingredients are well incorporated. Add the beef
Roll into small balls (about 1 inch round) and place on the prepared baking sheets. You can space them fairly closely, though don’t allow them to touch.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until just cooked through and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes.
At this point, you can transfer the meatballs to a clean, waxed paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for 1 hour. The frozen meatballs can be stored in a freezer-safe zip-top bag for up to 3 months and reheated in the sauce.
If making the meatballs to eat immediately, follow the instructions above for mixing and rolling the meatballs, but you can simmer them directly in the sauce instead of baking them, if desired.
Make the sauce:
Heat the coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the coconut milk thickens slightly and starts to release its fragrance.
Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes more, making sure the paste dissolves into the heated coconut milk.
Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the coconut milk to a simmer. Add the fish sauce, sugar, and lime leaves, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the meatballs and cook, stirring, for about 8-10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Add the water as needed if the sauce starts to thicken too much.
Serve as an appetizer or with rice or noodles as desired.