I had a hot sour salty sweet craving. But all the cookbooks are in boxes, so when I reached for them my arm came up empty.
This is what I made, half remembering a curry I once had on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, in an Australian-owned Southeast Asian-themed place whose closing left a hole in my hungry heart that has not been filled, since.
Let's call this curry Southeast Asian, though I can't explain away the Persian lime. Fresh lime leaves would be more authentic. But those dry limes - they're a killer secret ingredient, providing a sourness but also an interesting, textural bitterness. Find some, if you can.
This was really good.
2 beef short ribs, each sawn crossways
3 large shallots, peeled but intact
1 large piece of ginger (the size of two thumbs), peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks lemon grass, hearts slit in half
1 tablespoon chopped hot chile
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup tamarind water - derived from soaking 2 oz/60 grams of pulp in hot water, and pushing it through mesh strainer, or 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1 can coconut milk
1 dried Persian lime, or 3 fresh lemon or lime leaves; failing that, 6 slices fresh lemon or lime
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 small heads bok choy, washed, leaves separated
Brown the short ribs over high heat in a pot that can take a lid, later. (If the ribs are fatty, no need to use oil). Lower the heat and add the shallots, thin slices of ginger, lemon grass, chile, fish sauce, sugar and many revolutions of the pepper mill. Add the tamarind water, coconut milk, more water to cover, if necessary, and the lime.
Stir and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for an hour, covered.
Add the cut up sweet potato, cook another hour, and uncover, turning up the heat to reduce the cooking liquid to a thick, soupy gravy.
Meanwhile, put the the bok choy in a separate pan over medium-high heat and cover, leaving until the leaves have wilted and the thick stems are barely tender. Add a little water if the pan is too dry. Add the cooked leaves to the finishing beef curry, pressing them gently to submerge in the rich sauce. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve in bowls, and provide spoons for the addictive gravy.