Curry in the Rockaways

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Thai Rock on Jamaica Bay
Thai Rock in Rockaway, Queens, with views of Jamaica Bay.

There’s a section of New York City that I’ve been fortunate to get to know, thanks to my pal Riva, who loves to surf.

In Rockaway, Queens — which is accessible by subway — you can spend the day at the beach, ride some challenging waves, and then top it off with some delicious food and wine (if you know where to go). Rockaway is a gritty but resilient place. A few years, Superstorm Sandy nearly decimated the place. But it’s bounded back, thanks in large part to the surfer community, which came together post-hurricane to keep the neighborhood afloat. The longtime locals have a lot of stories to tell, that’s for sure, and I’m sure there’s grumbling about the demographic change that’s underfoot. But much like the tides turn, so too is Rockaway….and that’s a good thing.

14435698409_472fe45454On a recent evening, Riva and I left Manhattan by ferry (a soon-to-be discontinued service) — and arrived at B108th in Rockaway right as the sun was going down. We headed to Thai Rock, on a pier overlooking Jamaica Bay. An evening chill descended as it became dark…fortunately, the restaurant had blankets on hand (comfy!), which they handed out to patrons like ourselves, sitting in the outdoor section over the water.

The impressive menu has a number of curry options — I ordered the Pineapple Curry with Shrimp, which came with a nice amount of spice. I liked how they used whole cherry tomatoes, fresh chunks of pineapple, and a bit of basil, bell pepper and mushroom. Delicious!

Truth be told, I had been a bit skeptical about what I’d find in Rockaway, in terms of Thai cuisine. But not only was the meal authentic…so was the feel of the place. It brought back memories of being on an island in the Gulf of Thailand, at a restaurant on a spindly pier. So what if that was New York traffic on the Cross Bay Bridge zipping by — this still felt like a bit of Thailand, in an unexpected place. A big thank you to Riva for introducing me to Thai Rock…and Rockaway!

Below, my entree of Pineapple Curry with Shrimp. Pineapple curry with shrimp

Making Easy & Simple Curry: A Photo Essay

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fab 4

The Fab Four: Palm sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and sambal oelek.

My favorite go-to dish is Easy & Simple Curry, which I have made — at this point — probably hundreds of times.

The ingredients are fairly uncomplicated — loads of fresh ginger and garlic sauteed in coconut oil, plus whatever veggies you have in stock (or in the garden!) and any protein you like. I generally make it with shrimp or chicken. To give it a hint of Thai, I use a bit of coconut milk. But the real flavor machines in this dish are pictured above…I refer to them as the Fab Four: Palm sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and sambal oelek.

Substitute alert: If you can’t find palm sugar, which is made from the sap of blossoms of palm trees, you could use agave nectar or brown sugar or just plain sugar (in that order of preference). If you can’t find fish sauce, then don’t attempt this dish. If you can’t find oyster sauce, it’s actually less of a deal killer than no fish sauce — but oyster sauce lends a delicious richness to the final product (and besides which, it’s easy to find, so just buy it). If you can’t find sambal oelek, you could use its more popular cousin, sriracha (which is made by the same company, Huy Fong). But please note that sambal oelek is much better for cooking, whereas sriracha is meant to be a condiment.

While I generally use Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce, in part because of its pretty bottle, I recently decided to try an organic version, which is the all-natural Wok Mei oyster sauce pictured above. Jury is still out, and I must experiment some more before proffering my final opinion. (Spoiler alert: I think I still prefer Lee Kum Kee.)

In any event, whichever versions you use, the Fab Four give this dish its beautiful sweet, spicy and salty notes…which make it a very streamlined version of a proper Thai curry.

To make Easy & Simple curry, chop up 5 cloves of garlic and 2-inch piece of ginger, and sautee in coconut oil. Add your fish sauce, oyster sauce, sambal oelek and palm sugar so it looks deliciously thick and dark:

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Next, it’s time to add about 1/3 of a cup of coconut milk (feel free to add a bit more…). If you use canned coconut milk, you can always freeze what you don’t use..

Adding Coconut

Next it’s time to add your bell pepper, which in these photos has been elegantly julienned by the hubs, who is much better at that sort of thing than I am. I usually add my protein (chicken or shrimp) at the same time, as bell pepper takes awhile to steam. Allow to cook for several minutes, stirring frequently.

Adding bell pepper

When you’ve got everything looking pretty good and cooked through, it’s time to add your bok choy…give it a quick stir, then take off the heat.

Adding bok choy

Serve your Easy & Simple curry over jasmine rice…delicious! Finished product and full recipe is below. If you try it, email me a photo (in the unlikely event you’re a random stranger, please email to colleen.site.mail@gmail.com) and I will gladly feature on this blog.

Easy & simple curry

Easy & Simple Curry

2 tbsp oil (I use coconut oil, but you can use any veggie oil)
5-6 cloves garlic (diced)
2-inch piece of ginger (diced)
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp Sambal Oelek
3/4 tbsb palm sugar
1/3 cup coconut milk (feel free to use a bit more)
3/4 lb shrimp OR 2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
bunch of bok choy, chopped
jasmine rice
(serves 2 people)
Heat the oil and add ginger and garlic, stirring for a minute or so. Add fish sauce, oyster sauce, sambal oelek and palm sugar; stir well. Pour in coconut milk. Bring to boil. Drop in pieces of shrimp or chicken. Add bell pepper. Allow to cook through, stirring frequently. Add bok choy at very end. Serve over jasmine rice. Delicious!

Curry in the Hamptons

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Boa chalkboard

The chalkboard with nightly specials at BOA Thai in Southampton.

Thanks to our recent home purchase, we are now official residents of the Hamptons, something that makes us eligible for beach parking (yay!) and — less exciting — a self-hauler permit at the local trash facility.

My new residency also means I must get up to speed on the ages-old question: “Where’s the best place to eat Thai?”… a question I was asked time and time again in the city. Truth be told, I wind up cooking Thai at home a LOT — in part because I never find great options for dining out. Sure, there’s always a lot of take-out places with delicious food, but do they have enough ambiance for a special occasion? Are they trendy? Usually not, and I’m not sure why. We certainly have enough charming French bistros and cute Italian trattorias…why not more cool Thai eateries?

I’m still looking in the Hamptons for the ultimate Thai experience — and it’s hard to come by. As far as I can tell, there’s a significant lack of options. I suppose the Hamptons isn’t the most diverse place in the world…but with the cosmopolitan crowd that comes here, you’d think someone would demand more fine Asian cuisine options. Someone who wields more power than me, at least.

We did recently find a pretty nice option in Southampton called BOA Thai, which we checked out after a Friday night of PechaKucha at the nearby Parrish Art Musem. The nightly special on the chalkboard, a crispy Roasted Duck Curry, called my name.  Long ago, I tried making this very same dish, which is actually a fusion dish (the crispy duck is Chinese, the curry is Thai)…it was difficult to make but divine. We ordered a dish,  along with larb, the traditional Thai minced meat salad. A photo of both is below…

Hamptons curry

We definitely enjoyed the meal, and the Thai wait staff couldn’t have been nicer. For a summer Friday evening, the place wasn’t super crowded…which is refreshing. As a recent Trip Advisor reviewer said, BOA Thai is not the chicest restaurant in the Hamptons, but it IS good. That about captures it. We’ll be back.

Below, the menu covers at BOA Thai.

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San Francisco Curry

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San Francisco Curry

On a recent vacation to San Francisco, we arrived into the city late after a day in Sonoma, followed by a wander through Muir Woods.

Not wanting to stray far from our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, we headed to the Curry Leaf in Russian Hill, a casual place that promised to provide “genuine and authentic Indian and Pakistani cuisine” at reasonable rates. It did, indeed. We tried a few staples (see above), and since it was BYOB, the hubs ran across the street to buy a bottle of beer. We chatted up the friendly owner, who would up sending us over some complimentary desserts. Curry love!

Check out Curry Leaf for an easy meal, the next time you’re in the city by the bay. It’s not full-service, but the restaurant is cuter than most to-go places, and the food is delicious and fragrant. Curry Leaf, 943 Columbus Ave., San Francisco.

Camp Curry

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Camp curry

When you’re sparingly packing a few items to bring with you, on a ferry, to a remote island — what should you bring?

A curry, of course!

Ahead of a recent camping trip to Fire Island with a group of eight, I made my Easy Indian Chicken Curry (who doesn’t like a hot spicy meal, while in the wild?) and poured it into a disposable aluminum pan. It turned out — the pan was a stroke of genius. When we reached the island, we were easily able to heat up the curry at the campsite by starting a fire in a grill, and setting the entire pan on top of the grill. Perfect! Thanks to a quick-witted pal named Carolyn, we also had pre-made heat-and-serve rice (which she buys at Target – see here.)

Because we all brought our appetites, we had this meal paired with some delicious steaks and red wine….a nice way to rough it.

Below, the tarp where we set up our picnic tables and devoured our meals. 

Camp Curry

Hello, Lover (Proper Greeting for Brazilian Curry)

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Brazilian curry

The co-workers and myself recently had lunch at BarBossa, a Brazilian joint in NoLita, and lo and behold – there was a curry on the menu! Shrimp & Avocado Tomato Curry, pictured above. Probably not representative of Brazilian cuisine….but it was nevertheless delicious. I have not thought of adding avocado to a curry before, so thank you, BarBossa, for the inspiration.

Winds of Change

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After years of living in small Manhattan apartments, the hubs and I have expanded our horizons.

We recently bought a place in a beachy destination not far from the city. We’ll be spending the majority of our time here (though I’ll still be commuting a few days of week to my office in NoHo).

It’s taken several trips and two u-Hauls to get all of our stuff (most of it from storage) out here, and we’ve still got plenty of boxes to unpack.

But I’ve already made a curry here — Easy & Simple Curry — here’s a pic (above) from the other evening. Nothing like a homemade curry to make a place feel like home!

For our VERY first meal here, though…we ordered Chinese take-out. It was fairly unremarkable, except for the prescient fortune cookie:

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Finally! Numbing Spices

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Untitled

I don’t claim to know anything about Chinese cuisine, which is why it’s taken me so long to know the awesomeness that is Szechuan peppercorns.

I first was exposed to these delicious pink berries while ordering take-out lunch at Heavenly Bamboo, near my former office in Midtown Manhattan. I’d gobble down the “chicken with chili pepper” dish, not knowing what spice was making my lips delightfully numb. A year or so later, while dining with friends at Yunnan Kitchen, I discovered it was something aptly called “numbing spices.” More research revealed that it was specifically Szechuan peppercorn, which is not actually a pepper but a dried berry (pictured above) of a tree related to the prickly ash. When combined with chile peppers, Szechuan peppercorns produce a hot tingling effect in your mouth — making you reach for more even as you lose feeling in your lips and tongue!

I still did nothing in particular with this information until stumbling across this recipe in the New York Times, Cumin Lamb Stir-Fry, which calls for Szechuan peppercorns. Truth be told, the recipe isn’t the greatest….when I tried making it, I was disappointed in the lack of punch (next time: add MORE Szechuan peppercorns and chile peppers). But I’m glad the recipe prompted me to search out Szechuan peppercorns, which I discovered at my trusty Kalustyan’s on Lexington (at 28th). I’ll need to experiment more before posting a recipe. But in the meanwhile, if you haven’t already…search out restaurants that serve dishes with Szechuan peppercorns, and give them a try. You’ll be hooked!

A Brand New Glorious Day

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New growth!

It’s been a long cold winter. Ask any New Yorker. Ask anyone on the East Coast. Ask….well, pretty much anyone, anywhere.

On top of the heavy snowfalls, crippling ice storms and polar vortexes (vorti?), we’ve also had to deal with super-dry conditions inside our homes. My radiator? It’s been on full blast for much of the recent cold months. There is nothing like the comforting “hiss” of a radiator on a cold wintry evening. But that same heat also steals moisture from the air (just ask my skin) — and, as it turns out, really kills my plants pretty quickly.

I’m usually mindful about turning the radiator off when I leave our apartment….but recently, I apparently forgot, a few times in a row. I also simultaneously forgot to water my beloved kaffir lime tree. The result? All the leaves curled up and withered. Even worse, when I moved the plant, the dead leaves fell to the floor, leaving nothing but bare pitiful branches. Disaster!

I watered the dead-looking plant, turned off the radiator and left it for a few days. Could it possibly make a comeback?

The answer: Yes. Lo and behold, I returned home one evening to see the tiny start of new leaves on the bare branches, little green things that bore the promise of life. Within a few days, it looked like the photo at the top of this post. And by last week, the plant was well on its way (see photo directly below). Today, as temperatures hover in the 70s in New York, my kaffir lime tree is sitting on the fire escape, enjoying a new lease on life. Aren’t we all!

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My kaffir lime tree and its fresh leaves, enjoying balmy weather in NYC.

Enjoying the fire escape!

Curry & Peas

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Peas & curry

I’ve never thought to add plain old green peas to my curries, but after having this delicious Penang Curry from Thai Angel in Soho, I am going to give it a shot.