Traditional Thai cooking is a celebration of fresh and fragrant ingredients. The most captivating dish in the Thai cuisine are the curries – Red, Green and Yellow for their complex distinctive flavours. I love Thai food as the spices used are so similar to Indian curries.
All curries start with a curry paste. Most curry pastes available in the supermarkets have shrimp paste, but in this recipe we will be using a ‘make your own’ vegan Thai red curry paste. After trying this ‘made from scratch’ curry paste, you’ll never buy packaged paste again. You also do not need to drive to your local Asian grocery store to buy a plethora of ingredients before you can enjoy this awesome curry. I will be showing how you can substitute most ingredients with spices easily available in your kitchen.
Fiery red chillies are blended with pungent onion and garlic, lime and coriander add plenty of zing that is balanced by the coconut milk. Hot, sour, sweet and salty – perfect harmony of contrasting flavours – that makes an authentic Thai Red Curry.
If you make the paste in advance, this beautiful red curry can be prepared in 15-20 minutes and can easily be made as a weeknight dinner.
In the list below, I have given both the traditional ingredient and the substitutes I use.
What you will need
For the paste
- 2 shallots or 1/4 cup chopped onion (prefer red onion to get the red colour)
- 1-2 stalk of fresh lemongrass or 3 tbsp bottled lemongrass
- 4 cloves of garlic
- Thumb size ginger (substitute for galangal)
- 1-2 red chillies (bird’s eye or cayenne), de-seeded to reduce the heat
- 1 tsp cumin(jeera) powder
- 3/4 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper(kali mirch) powder (substitute for white pepper)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 red chilli powder (optional if the heat from fresh chillies is enough)
- 2 tbsp soya sauce
- 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp lemon zest (optional)
For the curry
- 1 can of coconut cream/milk (220-300 ml)
- Vegetables of your choice (broccoli, snow peas, capsicums, beans, baby corns, zucchini taste good in thai curries)
- handful of basil leaves (recommended but optional)
How to make the paste
- Blitz all the ingredients given under ‘For the paste’ in a blender or food processor to make a smooth paste. You can add 1-2 tbsp of coconut milk if you find it difficult to blend.
Your home-made red curry paste is ready. The paste will have a dark colour and a very strong smell and taste. It can be frozen or stored in fridge for a week in an airtight jar for later use.
- I usually add deghi mirch as it is not hot but lends a bright red colour to the curry.
- To get the zest, grate/peel the yellow outer skin.
- If you have never bought/used fresh lemongrass before, buy ones which are firm and yellowish-green at the bottom and bright green at the top.
- To prepare lemongrass, cut the bulb at the bottom and the top green part of the stalk(1/3 from top), reserve this green part for the curry. Next remove the tough outer layers and discard. Only the inner pale yellow soft part is edible. Slice this soft part. You can also refer to How to prepare lemongrass.
How to make the curry
- Chop the vegetables into big chunks – I used broccoli, green beans, zucchini, capsicums, onions and snowpeas.
- You can steam or boil the baby corns and green beans to make them tender but do not overcook.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add the vegetables one by one and stir-fry lightly at medium heat. Start with firm vegetables first. I usually add capsicums first, followed by zucchini, then broccoli, green beans and snow peas as last.
- It is very important that you do not overcook the vegetables. They should remain crisp and not lose their colour. If the broccoli and snow peas turn yellowish green, you have over cooked them.
- Add some salt. Take the vegetables out in a plate.
- In the same pan, add 1 tsp oil. When hot, add the curry paste and cook for 2-3 minutes on medium heat while stirring.
- When fragrant, add the coconut milk. I prefer coconut cream as it given thicker consistency to the cuury.
- Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
- You can add the reserved green part of the lemongrass and stalks of basil now to let the flavours infuse.
- Do a taste-test. If too sour, add more sugar. If too spicy, add more coconut milk. If too salty, add some lemon juice.
- Add all the vegetables and mix well.
- Finish by adding fresh basil leaves. Remove from the heat.