Massaman Curry

What seems like a whole lifetime ago, I spent a month on an island in Thailand, mostly reading in the hammock outside the thatch hut I called home, and occasionally bumping down a dirt road on my scooter to see if the local dive shop needed a divemaster for the day.

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I’d spent the last eight months or so backpacking around Australia, New Zealand and Asia trading my scuba skills for room and board.  It was a pretty great deal:  not only did I get room and board but I got to make friends with clownfish, have up-close-and-personals with grey nurse sharks, [wrangle a bunch of seventeen-year-old first time divers in 6 foot swell], and feel the reverberation of hundreds of migrating humpback whales as they communicated to each other near where I dove.

It was on this little island, though, where I had the dive of a lifetime.  One of those underwater moments that literally brought me to tears.

As soon as I tipped backward over the side of the rambling re-purposed fishing vessel and into the turquoise water that day I saw a huge group of divers – tiny black figures suspended in pursuit of…something…I couldn’t quite make it out from where I swam.  I watched the group – likely more that fifty people – finning frantically behind a giant shadow.  Suddenly, the whole ensemble turned my way and, as they neared, the haze of distance lifted and there she was.

A whale shark – probably about thirty feet long with a mouth that could have fit me inside it horizontally – glided toward me.  Directly toward me.  As if in search of refuge from the gaggle of divers, all, now that I could see clearly, wielding cameras and so intent on capturing the moment that their fins kicked the masks off others’ faces, their hands flailing wildly.

My heart caught in my throat and my eyes welled as I realized the rarity of this moment:  whale sharks are an extremely vulnerable species declining in population across the globe.  There may be a day in my lifetime where divers no longer encounter these beautiful creatures.

She finned within feet of me before, with a flick of her tail, she turned to the side and – I swear – watched me as she swam past, close enough for me to reach out and touch.

I knew in that moment that this was perhaps the most significant, intense, and beautiful encounter of my diving career.  I would perhaps never top this.  I don’t think I ever want to.

Unless, maybe, I went diving under the ice in Antarctica and happened to come face to face with a leopard seal.  If I lived to tell the tale, that might topple this experience.  And I’d be able to cross a biggie off my bucket list.

Anyways.

The crew of the boat I worked on always had a giant pot of massaman curry ready for distribution to the happy, exhausted divers who tossed their fins aboard and climbed back up the stern of the boat and into the sunshine.  I thought, the other day as the cold wind blew outside the window of my suburban home and I picked up crayons off the floor – again – that I might re-create that feeling of elation when I surfaced that day, pulled my regulator out of my mouth and blurted, “I saw a whale shark!”

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Here’s what you need:

2 chicken breasts, chopped into large chunks

1-2 medium potatoes, cubed (I used sweet potatoes – they were great!)

1 14 oz. can of coconut milk

1 small red pepper, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 large onion, diced

1 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and diced finely

4-5 cloves garlic, diced finely

1/2 tsp. chili flakes (I used less for the baby’s sake)

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 bay leaves

1 tsp. turmeric

1/4 cup chopped unsalted cashews (plus some to garnish)

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. cumin seed

1/8 tsp. cardamon

1 tbsp. lime juice

2 tbsp. fish sauce

1 tbsp. brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:

Add the oil to a large frying pan, and saute onion, ginger and garlic.  Stir fry 1-2 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the stock and bay leaves, turmeric, cashews, coriander, cumin seed, cardamon, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.  Stir together and bring the mixture to a boil.

Next, add the chicken, coconut milk and potatoes.  Simmer 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken and potatoes are cooked.  Add the red pepper and tomatoes during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.

Taste, and add salt and pepper to achieve your desired flavour.

Serve over rice.

Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from http://thaifood.about.com/od/thaicurrydishes/r/Thai-Massaman-Chicken-Curry.htm

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