When I first went to Thailand in the 1980s, I found out that curries there aren't at all like the heavy, busy ones I knew from Thai restaurants in the U.S. In Thailand, curries are far more diverse; there are scores of regional versions. And there are classic curries like the ones in the following recipes — sour curry, tart with tamarind; coconut milk — enriched yellow curry, and green curry blazing with fresh chiles; fiery red curry that's sometimes cooked dry, almost like a stir-fry.
Thai curries might be hot, but they are balanced, with sweet, tangy, pungent, and aromatic notes. They're also more spare because they're not meant to be one-pot meals. Rather, they're the sauce that flavors rice. But what a sauce it is. The Thai call curries kaeng, which refers to foods that start with a paste, a smooth-ground, fragrant mixture of chiles, rhizomes, shrimp paste, herbs, and spices. The ingredients might seem disparate, but when you make one of the curries in these recipes, you discover that, through careful cooking, they come together into something delicious.
It's not really difficult to make curries from scratch, but it takes patience. In Thai Buddhism, there's a word, sati. It means mindfulness. That's what making a curry takes.
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