All About that Paste (...no trouble)

Monday, October 27, 2014

These are some of the herbs and spices you need to cook rendang. 
Many curries and Asian dishes come down to one thing: it is all about the paste.

For Chinese, Malay and especially Thai, it really is all about the paste. 

In modern times, convenient pre-mixes have become big business to cater for busy housewives. We have to use the phrase "make it from scratch" to indicate authentic or good food (but not always the case). But traditionally in Asian homes, pastes were made from fresh ingredients.  

If you know how to, it is just about the spices and herbs.

No trouble, as my Mama would say.

Some examples:
Spices: Cumin, coriander, white peppercorn, fennel etc
Herbs: lemon grass, chillies, turmeric, onions, ginger etc

Blend it. Pound it, if you are old school. After all, the flavours are released better when crushed, rather than cut.

If you do it "from scratch," the flavours are fresher. Especially when it comes to spices. In our humid weather, spices do not keep well. Any herbs (i.e. garlic - you should know) will begin to lose flavour the moment you break up the herb.

And if you persist in making the paste yourself, your understanding of cooking will grow. This may be the single most important point to argue for "from scratch" cooking.

The pastes will no longer be a mystery.
You grow to understand know what each spice or herb does.
Texture, flavour, taste.

If you use packet pre-mixes, like using GPS, you will never bother about trying to figure out what is going on. You will remain ignorant. Pre-made blends are indeed "Cooking for Dummies" - except that unlike the book series, they don't make you any wiser. 

Curry paste for rendang
If you are staying overseas, I can understand the need to use pre-mixes. But here in Singapore, we have an abundance of herbs, spices and sauces. Fresh, cheap and just round the corner. 

I am not saying that you should throw away all your pre-mixes. Just start with say, chicken curry. Your confidence will grow and soon enough, you will see the point of making your own pastes.

It is all about that paste, no trouble, if you know how. And you increasingly will as you get started.

As I write this, a catchy but rather cheeky song (All about the Bass, no treble) , which appeared randomly in Spotify came to mind. The younger readers will probably have heard it. 

Anyway, this rather lame parody (disclaimer!) may help you to remember that making fresh paste is really no trouble... 
...

I'm all about that paste, 'bout that paste, no trouble (4x)

Yeah, it's pretty clear, I love to cook in-situ.
Blend, stir and shake it
Like a cook's suppose to do
'Cause it has all the fresh flavours that all diners crave
And all the right spice in all the right place

I see the food magazine workin' that Photoshop
We know that food ain't real
C'mon now, make it stop
If you got cumin, onion, just mix them up
'Cause every taste of it is perfect
when you do it from scratch

Yeah, my mama she told me I don't need to pay the price
For packet mixes that are just spices in disguise
You know I won't be no cook-it-quick Dancing Chef mix-it-all
But if short-cuts is what you're into, then go ahead and move along

Because you know that
I'm all about that paste, 'bout that paste, no trouble (4x)

I'm bringing spices back
Go ahead and tell the food companies that
No I'm just cooking, whats wrong with that
But I'm here to tell ya
'Cause every taste of it is perfect when you do it from scratch

Because you know that
I'm all about that paste, 'bout that paste, no trouble (4x)

(This is a silly post just for the smiles. Like my daughters will say, "It is really lame Daddy!" But really, food is all about the paste, no trouble...)

You can watch this video for a very good rendition of this song by Kate Davis:



Green curry paste

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