Thai Red Curry


Ingredients: bean sprouts, red bell pepper, tofu, bamboo shoot, carrot, scallion, red curry paste, coconut milk, nam pla (fish sauce), palm sugar, peanut oil, salt.
Served with: white rice, green chili, cilantro, peanut, sriracha (hot sauce).

This dish is fairly similar to Pad Thai, but instead of broad rice noodles, it features rich coconut broth, making it perfect to serve with plain rice. Contrary to what the name might suggest, a Thai curry involves no curry powder and tastes nothing like Indian food. The word “curry” can simply mean “gravy,” particularly in the UK, and that’s how it’s being used here.

Although there are scores of flavors happening in Thai curry, making it at home is really simple thanks to prepackaged Thai curry paste. You can buy this in almost any supermarket. Typically it comes in red, green, and yellow varieties. Red and green are very similar, differing primarily by the type of chili pepper each paste uses. Yellow curry paste uses a much milder chili, plus fresh turmeric. The ingredients common to all 3 are garlic, shallots, galangal (a type of ginger), lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime peel/leaves, and fermented shrimp paste.

To prepare the gravy, I began by frying a spoonful of the curry paste in a saucer, then scooping out and adding the thick upper layer from a can of coconut milk. That’s right; you actually want the coconut milk to be separated in the can. Do not shake it! This is a step I didn’t understand until recently, because most recipes online do not adequately explain the process (or are simply Doing It Wrong). What needs to happen is for the coconut milk to “split,” meaning its natural oil separates from the pulp. When properly split, the surface of coconut-based gravy is dotted with lovely bright-red (or green or yellow) pools. If the coconut milk is not sufficiently split, the resulting gravy is creamier but tastes a bit like mayonnaise, which I don’t care for.

So, after I cooked the curry paste and thick coconut cream for a few minutes, I added rest of the coconut milk (the thin part), plus a heavy dose of nam pla (fish sauce). I also added a spoonful of palm sugar, and a big squeeze of lime juice. With that simmering, I prepared the veggies. Almost any kind are acceptable. Here, I used up the remainder of what I had used for Pad Thai the week before. This included bean sprouts, red bell pepper, bamboo shoots, sliced carrot, and scallions. I also included some crispy fried tofu cubes.

The curry came out very nice. It was salty and sweet, light but creamy, with a bit of sourness from the lime juice. I served it with white rice, crushed peanuts, chopped green chilies, cilantro, and sriracha (my favorite garlicky hot sauce).

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