One of my most favorite scenes of all time is from that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Toula brings Ian to meet her family, and within seconds, the entire room erupts into sheer pandemonium. Aunts are pinching cheeks, uncles are hugging hellos, grandmas are dancing, children are running around. There is singing and dancing and most importantly, there is food. Tons of food. It's being ladled from giant pots and served from humongous platters and people are talking and laughing and eating. Boy, are they eating!
And even though my family's not Greek, that scene pretty much summarizes every weekend of my childhood. I can't think of a single gathering that wasn't centered around food. And nothing triggered more chaos in my already boisterous family than food. Well, that and cricket, but that's a whole other blog post. Biryani with potatoes or without? Samosas in pastry or wonton wrappers? Haleem served with a fork or spoon? Korma with naan or rice? If there was even the slightest room for preference, you can bet every member of my family, from grandmother to toddler, mounted the best legal defense to convince you that their way was the right way.
Take this here Khoi Soi (pronounced Khao Suey or Khao Say). This delicious coconut curry noodle dish and its many toppings have been the cause of so many vehement "discussions" in my family, my grandmother actually made a rule that we weren't allowed to talk while eating it. Rumor has it the dish ended up in my family by way of an uncle that moved to Burma many years ago. He brought back with him a fondness for smuggled cigars, which my grandmother utterly disapproved of, and some version of this recipe, which went a long way in earning her forgiveness for the cigar indiscretion. Over time, my grandmother added a more Pakistani or "desi" twist to this recipe so it's definitely not the traditional recipe which generally uses red curry paste and fish sauce.
My grandmother always served the various components separately, in her delicate china serving bowls with the pink flowers around the rims. One giant bowl for the egg noodles, slippery with a light coating of oil. Another for the coconut curry, with the gorgeous pools of fiery chili oil, and a third for the diced chicken cooked with garlic and swimming in a spicy broth. Immediately after the main components, and spanning the remainder of her very long dining table, my grandmother set out small bowls filled with the various Khoi Soi toppings. Crispy shallots, diced garlic, diced cabbage, hard boiled eggs, chopped cilantro, and on and on and on. One time, my grandmother got a bit cheeky and filled a bowl with potato chips as one of the topping options and to this day, I think a bag of crushed Lay's is the finest topper.
It's been many years since my family got together for Khoi Soi. We've all moved away, started families of our own, and the culinary mastermind behind the potato chip topping is in heaven, watching Pakistani soap operas and cackling with her friends. But at least once a month, I make this dish for my family, and when serving it, I chatter particularly loudly, pinch their cheeks, and think about writing the manuscript for My Big Fat Pakistani Wedding.
1 pound fresh egg noodles (or in a pinch, 1 pound dried spaghetti)
1 batch coconut curry (recipe below)
1 batch of spicy chicken (recipe below)
Various toppings- hard boiled eggs, fried shallots, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, shredded cabbage, crushed peanuts, fresh limes, etc.
1 can coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 tbs. gram flour
2-3 tbs. water
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1/2 tsp. Turmeric
Pour coconut milk and chicken stock into a saucepan and heat to a gentle boil. In a separate bowl, mix gram flour and water until it forms a slurry. Pour half of the slurry into the heated coconut milk mixture, whisking continuously. Wait until the curry heats up and check thickness (it should be a soupy consistency lightly coat the back of a spoon). If it's too thin, add half of the remainder of slurry, whisking continuously. Check consistency again. Add turmeric and salt, to taste. In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot, remove from heat, quickly whisk in the paprika in to hot oil, and pour the oil on top of the curry carefully (it will splatter).
1 pound chicken breast
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1/2 tbsp. ginger paste
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and saute onion until translucent. Add ginger and garlic paste, mix and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, spices, and 1/2 cup of water. Mix until you have a loose curry paste. Add the chicken and mix thoroughly. Cover until chicken is cooked.
Follow the instructions on the package of fresh noodles (or if you're using dried spaghetti, boil the spaghetti). Add noodles to a bowl, top with curry, chicken, and assorted toppings. Devour.