Thai curry can refer to any dish in Thai cuisine that is made with various types of curry paste, and it can also be referring to the pastes themselves. In the United States, it can usually be found on store shelves courtesy of the Thai Kitchen brand, which offers a variety of veganized products for those of us who prefer a little more cruelty-free spice in our lives. Curry is a generic term that refers to dishes, most commonly Asian in origin and design, that usually contains turmeric, hot chilies or chili powder, cumin, coriander (cilantro), and any number of other spices that differ from region to region. In South Thailand, curries tend to contain a lot of coconut milk, while in the Northeast, they often use more lime juice and less coconut milk.
Most Thai curries contain chili peppers, garlic, and coconut milk, as well as galengal or “blue ginger”, a plant which is similar to ginger in aesthetics, but not in taste. Thai curries can be highly influenced by Laotian and Chinese cuisines, as well as general South Asian cuisine. Read on to learn about the various types of Thai curry, and check out some recipes!
1. Sweet Green Curry
Hailing from Central Thailand, green curry is common known as the hottest of the curries, but it is also very sweet as it uses large amounts of lime juice and coconut milk. It can usually consist of eggplant and green chillies in a green curry sauce. The sauce is made from green chilies, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, shallots, blue ginger, krachai (a milder cousin of ginger), garlic, and turmeric.
2. Red Curry
Also known as “spicy curry”, this is another fiery dish from Central Thailand. Red curry gets its color from copious amounts of red chilies, which are crushed with garlic, shallots, blue ginger, and lemongrass. This forms the base red curry paste for the dish, which is mixed with coconut milk to form the curry sauce. A variety of “meat” and vegetables can be simmered in the sauce, including pumpkin, eggplant, and tofu.
3. Yellow Curry
Yellow curry can come in many different varieties in Thailand. The most common form of Thai yellow curry is especially rich as it contains coconut cream, and is typically served with mixed vegetables. Other yellow-colored curries include gold curry — which is a spicier version of the basic yellow curry, elephant curry — which is highly spicy and without coconut milk, and orange curry — which is very sour and also without coconut milk.
All of the yellow curry varieties are made with plenty of turmeric. Usually they can also include cumin, yellow mustard seeds, nutmeg, and kaffir lime leaves and juice.
4. Massaman Curry
Massaman curry is derived from Indian curry, and is often eaten in Central and Southern Thailand. Massaman curry paste is made using red chilies, blue ginger, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves are then added to create the sauce, finishing off with peanuts and potatoes.
5. Panang Curry
Panang curry came to Thailand from Laos, and is usually eaten in Central Thailand. It is milder and more subtly flavored than other, spicier Thai curries. It is made from dried chilies, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, lemongrass, cilantro, cumin, garlic, blue ginger, shallots, and some form of paste. Sometimes it can also contain peanuts.
While most Thai curries have specific origin in one region or another of Thailand or Laos, they have spread throughout the island, and most of them can be found in any part of modern-day Thailand, or in Thai restaurants in the West.
Veganized Thai Red Curry Paste Recipe
- 17 to 20 2-inch long dried red chilies
- 4 teaspoons of coriander seeds
- 2 fresh lemongrass stalks with one or two outer leaves discarded
- 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
- 4 teaspoons of chopped and peeled fresh or thawed frozen greater galangal
- 6 4-inch long kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro roots or stems
- 5 small, chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic
- 15 to 20 1-inch long serrano chilies, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Special equipment: Large (2-cup) mortar & pestle (granite works best) or mini food processor
- Cut dried chilies into 1/4-inch pieces and then soak in warm water until softened (around 20 minutes), then drain in a sieve
- While chilies soak, toast coriander in a dry, small, heavy skillet over moderate heat, shaking skillet, until fragrant (3-4 minutes), then cool. Thinly slice lower 6 inches of lemongrass stalks and finely chop.
- Finely grind coriander and peppercorns with mortar & pestle or food processor for around 2 minutes, then toss with lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, shallot, cilantro, garlic, fresh chilies, and soaked dry chilies in a bowl.
- Pound mixture in 3 batches until a fairly smooth paste is formed, 8 to 10 minutes per batch, and transfer to clean bowl.
- If using food processor, add around 1 1/2 tablespoons of water per batch
- Return all paste to mortar, then add salt and pound (or pulse) for about one minute until combined well
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