c1920 Sarama Shrimp Curry with White Eggplants and Lotus Stems (แกงสะระหม่ากุ้งกับมะเขือขาว และ สายบัว พ.ศ. 2463; gaaeng saramaa goong gap makheuua khaao reuu saai buaa)

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sarama-shrimp-curry

A dish of complex flavors and an aromatic brightness, this Sarama curry features shrimp and the smaller Thai white eggplant, or crunchy lotus stems, in a golden, salty leading broth with clear tangy-sweet notes. The broth is silky and combines the nutty richness of coconut cream with the subtle sweetness of butter, cooked with a blend of dry spices that include coriander, cumin and turmeric. This spice blend evokes the penetrating aroma of curry powder, reflecting Muslim culinary influences.

Unlike spicy gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) curries, which typically deploy dried chilies in the paste, Sarama curry contains fresh chilies. A mix of both red and yellow chili varieties are utilized, fusing the vibrant, fruity piquancy of the fresh chilies with the warm, earthy aromas of the spices. The red chilies contribute a ripe tropical fruitiness while the yellow offer citrusy and floral notes, creating a light yet layered curry with nuanced heat and depth of flavor.

Roasted peanuts finish the curry, providing textural contrast as their earthy nuttiness balances the heat and the aromatic spices. The peanuts also echo the nutty tones of the coconut cream and ghee used to fry the past: The coconut cream has a rich and rounded silky nuttiness, while the ghee offers hints of a somewhat wild animal-richness, and the peanuts stand out with their legume-like nuttiness and crunch.

I found this dish in The Red Cover Cookbook, a rare 1920 publication affectionately dubbed Bpohk Daaeng by book collectors. Authored under the pen name Bpaa Ga Boot (ปากะบุตร์), this was the author’s second attempt at publishing a cookbook. The writer explains in the introduction that their first cookbook failed to recover printing costs; this was due to low interest among the public in purchasing cookbooks, as most opted to spend their money on the popular religious texts and schoolbooks of the era.

Determined to continue disseminating culinary knowledge and encouraged by friends who recognized the value of the first book, the author printed 500 additional copies of The Red Cover Cookbook, to be sold wholesale at the reduced price of 1 baht each, or retail for 1 baht and 25 satang. This second edition was printed on cheaper paper at the Tohng Uaa printing house (โรงพิมพ์ตงอั้ว) on Ratchawong Road in Chinatown.

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About Sarama

Sarama (สะระหม่า) is a style of traditional Thai classical music that was performed in the royal courts. The Sarama ensemble incorporates instruments like the Javanese oboe (pi chawa (ปี่ชวา)), and the barrel drum circle (wohng glaawng khaaek (วงกลองแขก)), both of which bear Javanese influences, which arose from the ancient Indian ensembles used in Hindu ceremonies, their music believed to be of divine creation. These Indian classical ensembles, called Pancha Duriyang (ปัญจดุริยางค์) and containing wind, percussion and metal instruments, became the common root of classical music across Southeast Asia. The Sarama is a blend of Javanese and Indian elements employed to create a unique court music style in Siam.

The Sarama ensemble demonstrates how Siamese classical music fused influences from nearby cultures to create a distinctive royal court style. Similar to its noble music, the Sarama curry suggests an elegant refinement that blends Thai and Islamic culinary traditions. While the exact origins are uncertain, the curry exemplifies the use of fresh chilies against dry spices, in a mixture suggestive of a curry-powder.

sarama-shrimp-curry
c1920 Sarama Shrimp Curry with White Eggplants (แกงสะระหม่ากุ้งกับมะเขือขาว หรือ สายบัว พ.ศ. 2463; gaaeng saramaa goong gap makheuua khaao reuu saai buaa)
This curry, originating from a rare 1920 cookbook, marries the elegance of Thai and Islamic flavors, offering a unique culinary experience.
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Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Thai Chinese, Thai-Muslim Cuisines
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 12 shrimp (กุ้ง)
  • white eggplant (มะเขือขาว) /or
  • lotus stems (ไหลบัว)
  • unsalted roasted shelled peanuts (ถั่วลิสงคั่ว) crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter (เนย) /or
  • clarified butter (ghee) (เนยกี)
  • 1 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (หางกะทิ)
  • 5 dried bay leaves (ใบกระวาน) roasted

For the curry paste:

  • 1/2 cup fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง) about 4 chilies
  • 1/2 cup fresh yellow chili (phrik leuang) (พริกเหลือง) about 6 chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoons galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) roasted and ground
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) (S3) roasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (ผงขมิ้น)

Seasoning: (season to salty, sour, sweet)

  • 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
  • 1/2 part tamarind paste (น้ำมะขามเปียก)
  • 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)

Garnish with:

  • unsalted roasted shelled peanuts (ถั่วลิสงคั่ว)

Instructions
 

  • Clean, peel and de-vein the shrimp for the curry. Set aside.
  • Slice the eggplants into bite-size pieces. If using lotus stems, cut them into 1 1/2” (4 cm) segments with a pointed tip.

Prepare the curry paste:

  • An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
  • Roast and grind the spices, starting with the white peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. The spices are ground separately and kept separate until they are used in the dish.
  • De-seed the fresh red long chili and yellow chilies.
  • Pound the curry paste, starting with the chilies and salt.
  • Gradually add the other ingredients, from the driest to the wet. Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma. After pounding the chilies, add the lemongrass and galangal.
  • Add the shallots and garlic.
  • Add the dried spices, and pound to a smooth paste. Start with the ground white peppercorns (S1).
  • Add the roasted and ground coriander seeds (S2).
  • Add the roasted and ground cumin seeds (S3).
  • Add the turmeric powder.
  • Add the fermented shrimp paste (kapi) and keep pounding until a rounded aroma is achieved.
  • Remove the curry paste and set it aside. Wash the mortar and pestle with about one cup of plain water and reserve the liquids.

Cook the curry:

  • In a brass wok, heat the coconut cream with clarified butter until it thickens, and oil appears.
  • Add the bay leaves.
  • Add the curry paste.
  • Fry the paste until it loses its rawness.
  • As you fry, continue to add the dry spices multiple times. Use your sense of smell to determine the amount.
  • Stop the frying with plain water and the liquids collected from cleaning the mortar and pestle.
  • This is important: At this stage, in order to separate the oil particles created during the paste frying process from the rest of the broth, mix gently to avoid re-emulsification of the oil.

Diluting the curry:

  • Dilute the curry with coconut milk or chicken stock to your liking.
  • Add the shrimp, and cook until the shrimp are 70% cooked.
  • Add the eggplants or the lotus stems.

Seasoning:

  • Season to a salty leading with a sour-sweet floor flavor profile – and taste before seasoning! Start by seasoning the salty element using fish sauce.
  • When you are satisfied with the saltiness, add tamarind paste and palm sugar at the ratio indicated.

Plate and serve:

  • Put the curry into a serving bowl, garnish with crushed peanuts and serve!
Keyword spicy curry (แกงเผ็ด)
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