I’ve been to southern Thailand only once — Phuket, to be precise — and khua kling was not among the dishes I was able to try. I’ve got better exposure with northern Thai cuisine having taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai where I learned to make curry paste from scratch by grinding fresh herbs, spices and seasonings with a mortar and pestle.
It was tempting to use northern Thai curry in cooking this dish but I do know that curry in southern Thailand is not the same as curry up north. Southern Thai food is spicier. But we couldn’t even manage the “mildly spicy” food in Chiang Mai so it’s doubtful that we would be able to tolerate the heat of southern Thai dry curry had I cooked it the authentic way.
So, I modified. After all, the dry curry was going to be our dinner and what’s the point of cooking an authentic southern Thai dry curry if we wouldn’t be able to eat it? The curry paste used here is simply a mixture of coconut cream, store bought curry powder and chili flakes. Not exactly authentic southern Thai curry but, I tell you, the result is beautiful.
The rest of the ingredients are what an authentic khua kling requires. Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and prik chee fah. The latter is a thin and pointy Thai chili that grows upward and can reach a length of six inches. It is not as hot as bird’s eye chili.
Only the lower portion of lemongrass stalk is used. The stalk has to be peeled and the outer layers discarded as they are too fibrous to eat. The chili is sliced rather thinly. The ribs of the kaffir lime leaves are pulled off and discarded before the leaves are sliced as thinly as I could manage.
When you have your curry paste, herbs and spices ready, things happen rather fast. Dry meat curry cooks in about ten minutes. Cook it longer and the meat might scorch.
When homemade curry paste is used, the usual procedure is too saute the paste first before adding the meat. Since my curry paste was a hurried up and rather lazy affair, I started by partially browning the ground beef (with no oil) before adding the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chili. I cooked everything over medium heat, stirring often, until the meat had lost all traces of pinkness.
The curry paste was poured in and the cooking continued with plenty of stirring until the meat had soaked up the coconut cream in the curry paste and had absorbed the color of the curry powder and chili flakes.
Thai-style dry beef curry
- 500 grams coarsely ground beef
- 2 stalks lemongrass - (lower portion only) thinly sliced after discarding outer layers
- 10 pairs kaffir lime leaves - ribs removed and leaves thinly sliced
- 2 red chilies - (preferably the prik chee fah variety) thinly sliced
- fish sauce
- ¼ cup coconut cream
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- Set a wok or frying pan on the stove over medium heat and spread the ground beef. Leave for half a minute.
- Stir to break up clumps.
- Add half of the kaffir lime leaves, all the lemongrass and one chili.
- Pour in a tablespoon of fish sauce.
- Cook, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink.
- Pour in the curry paste.
- Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often.
- Before the mixture turns dry, taste and add more fish sauce as needed.
- Cook, stirring, until the mixture is dry.
- Transfer the dry curry to a serving plate or bowl, sprinkle in the remaining kaffir lime leaves and chili, and serve.