What ever happened to North American Chinese food restaurants? In the small town where I was raised, there were two: Yong's and Ming's. The town next to us had three. The town after that had four. When I was a kid, that's what you did. You ordered Chinese food on Friday night, sometimes on Saturdays, and always on Christmas Eve. If you got bored, you could switch it up and order from the Pizza Hut or KFC, but Chinese was definitely the classier of the three. Some time between high school and University, Chinese food restaurants were replaced by Thai restaurants. Did people become afraid of the media hyped MSG or did the movie The Beach inspire a North American travel movement to Thailand, sparking the love and then later need for just one more bite of pad thai, red curry, or a vegetarian spring roll?
It's not like I miss those Chinese food restaurants. Vegetarian options are slim, that bright red sauce that accompanies the chicken balls weirds me out, my feet always swell after I've eaten my fair share of chow mein, eventually becoming exhausted and nauseous, and 15 minutes later, hungry again. Malls!
That's where the Chinese restaurants have gone. It just dawned on me. Last month, I sat down in the food court at the Seattle Outlet Mall, piling a plate full of steamed garlic broccoli into my mouth from a fast food Chinese restaurant, because it was that or the questionable looking Greek cuisine, with that guy who was giving me the eyes. Mystery solved, they still exist.
I am pretty happy about the shift from Chinese food to Thai. If you were to circle my house, walking up Aloha, down 15th, down Pine, and then back up Broadway, a total of 3 miles, you would pass 8 Thai restaurants, and they all deliver. Brent does not share the same passion for Thai. He prefers pizza. I will always eat pizza, no doubt, but I will almost always prefer Thai. After spending 6 months in South East Asia, my love and fondness for Thai inspired flavors grew. I felt so healthy and good while I was there, and it probably had to do with the fact that I was on vacation, the sun was shining, and I was eating my weight in fruit salad, daily, but my body really agrees with rice and vegetables. Unfortunately Brent cannot ingest enough calories from rice to maintain his weight. We returned from South East Asia, me looking and feeling the best I ever did, and him, emaciated and malnourished. A true comparison of how different people thrive on different diets.
Brent is in California this week for work, and whenever he is gone, I always use it as an opportunity to make rice. Although, I did accidentally make enough rice to last the rest of the month, so surprise Brent, we're having rice tonight! Last weekend, I drove out to the flower farm and filled my car with plants. Also, something that I do when Brent is gone, stress-shop. I stopped at a local farmers market on the way home, because of all days, that was the day that both highways were closed and it took me 1 1/2 hours to get home instead of 20 minutes, so obviously the only way to survive the trip home was to buy a huge bag of produce, including cherries, and eat almost all of it. Seriously, not a good idea. The only things that were left in the bag when I got home there was the most adorable looking eggplants I have ever seen. I wasn't sure what to do with them, other than taken pictures, so a serious brainstorming session was in order.
I though about making some Baba Ganoush. But then I realized that there was no way that I could eat 2 cups of Baba Ganoush before it went bad. I thought about eggplant Parmesan, but these eggplants are so tiny and delicate, they would probably get buried and smothered in all that cheese and sauce, which really doesn't seem like an issue now that I'm saying it out loud. I decided on a creamy coconut curry with all sorts of good things like red pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas and spices. I used some young tender eggplant with very soft skin. If you use the larger purple eggplant with tougher skin, you will need to cook them longer. Eggplant is very porous, therefore absorbing all of the fragrant spices from this dish. This curry is fragrant and creamy, yet very mild. It is not spicy, nor overwhelming with flavors. A very good introduction to curries for someone with a milder palate. It's a perfect summer curry, not too heavy or hearty, making you feel all slumpy and ready to hibernate. This curry is light and crisp. I paired mine with a light beer, sipped it on the porch while I enjoyed the fact that is was 9pm and still bright out.
EGGPLANT AND CHICKPEA COCONUT CURRY
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 lb eggplant, chopped
3 small shallots, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp ginger, diced
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 can chick peas
1 can coconut milk
1 tomato, cut into eighths
1/2 red pepper, sliced
1 tsp salt
4 servings of rice
In a large wok or frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium. Fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds until you start to hear them pop. Turn the heat to low and add the eggplant, shallots, garlic and ginger. Fry until the eggplant starts to soften.
In a small bowl add the chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric and 2 tbsp of water. Mix into a slurry. Add to the eggplant, along with the chickpeas. Fry for a few minutes, until fragrant.
Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, red pepper, and season with salt. Simmer uncovered until the eggplant is soft.
While the curry is simmering, cook 4 servings of rice.