The other day, I attempted to make gaeng hung lay for the first time, and it didn't turn out well.
This Burmese-influenced curry from northern Thailand tastes very different from the better known red and green Thai curries.
Depending upon the recipe, spices such as cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, mace and turmeric are involved.
I've read that one can replace hung lay curry paste with red curry paste, which is easy to get in Los Angeles. And a spice seller at Or Tor Kor, the big market near the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok, pulled out yellow curry paste when I asked for hung lay seasonings. In either case, the flavor would not be the same.
Fortunately, I didn't have to substitute, because I had the real thing--hung lay spices and curry paste from Chiang Mai. And I followed a Chiang Mai recipe.
The curry didn't fail. It just didn't taste right. It was so spicy-hot that it annihilated the subtle spice flavors that make this dish interesting.
The rest of the dinner was fine. Green beans with red curry paste were more sweet than hot. A crisp, sweet and spicy Thai cucumber relish was a great success.
And the wine was perfect. It was Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose, a sparkling rose made from Pinot Noir grapes. This convinced me that sparkling wines are ideal with Thai food.
Here is the recipe for the relish. Serve it the day you make it, because it doesn't keep well. The cucumber becomes mushy if refrigerated overnight.
THAI SWEET AND SOUR RELISH
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 small serrano chile, thinly sliced
2 small shallots
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Combine the vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and the chile and stir to blend.
Peel the cucumber and cut it in quarters lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/8-inch-thick slices.
Cut the shallots in half lengthwise, then crosswise in thin slices.
Combine the cucumber, shallots, tomatoes and cilantro in a bowl. Add the dressing and stir. Cover and marinate at room temperature 2 hours. Stir before serving.
Makes 1 1/2 cups, about 4 servings.