Thai-Style Curry with Any Vegetable
Thai-Style Curry is a regular meal in our house - I have a small bucket of curry paste in the fridge and a constant stash of coconut milk in the pantry, so it's an easy go-to on weeknights. If you've never made curry before, it'll surprise you how quickly you can put it together. Put some rice on, then prepare the sauce and let it simmer while the rice cooks and the whole meal finishes up at the same time.
It's so versatile - you can toss veggies into the sauce to cook, roast tougher veggies in the oven at the same time, or add leftovers from the fridge and just warm them up a bit. In the version pictured above, I cut and peeled a kohlrabi root and separated and chopped the leaves. I added the diced root to the sauce first, then stirred in the leaves towards the end with some cubed tofu and leftover peas and corn from the fridge. The best part about this dish - it's easy to make vegan, vegetarian, and/or gluten-free, depending on the ingredients you choose to add. Top it with lots of fresh herbs and it's impressive enough for a dinner party too!
A note on the curry sauce:
In an ideal world, you'd have a good selection of aromatics for the sauce, like garlic, ginger and onions. Any allium would be delicious, really, from scallions to leeks - and wrinkly old ones are totally cool. If you're cooking from a bare-bones pantry, then whatever you have is fine - the curry paste should have a lot of different aromatics already included. Then the sauce can be flavored with your choice of random condiments you have in your pantry. Want it sweeter? Add a spoonful of honey, maple syrup, agave or sugar. Want some salty umami flavor? I always add a splash of soy sauce or fish sauce. Then finish it off with something acidic for brightness, whether from lime juice, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or whatever you have around.
A note on the curry ingredients:
Curries will welcome basically any vegetable and many cooked leftovers. Wrinkly root veggies? Roast them up. Wilted greens? Toss them in. If you have plain roasted vegetables, add them. If you have cooked meat, like chicken breast or sausage, that can go in too. You can also lightly cook fish, shrimp, or chicken in the sauce as it simmers, but avoid any raw cuts that require a long time to get tender. Tofu can just be simmered for a bit at the end, and of course - you can always top with a fried egg.
Here's a basic overview on how to add various ingredients you might have around:
- Alliums: mince, then add to the pan at the beginning, after the curry paste, but before the coconut milk
- Root Veggies: boil or roast separately until tender, then add once the sauce is done
- Lighter Leaves: stir in just before serving to wilt, or add on top as a garnish
- Fresh Leafy Herbs: add on top as a garnish
- Heartier Greens: add a few minutes before the end of cooking, stir in and let wilt and simmer with the sauce for a few minutes.
- Veggies That Are Actually Fruits: depending on the item, you could use them raw or roasted. Tomatoes, summer squash or peppers could be diced and added raw about towards the end, pre-cook eggplant or winter squash before adding
- Stalks, Stems, and Flowers: cut into bite-sized pieces and cook in the sauce
- Legumes: stir in cooked legumes towards the end of cooking
- Other Veggies: saute mushrooms until tender, corn could be fresh or cooked and added towards the end
- Meats: add quick-cooking meats like shrimp, fish, or diced chicken to the sauce and let simmer until cooked through. Brown ground meat separately and add once cooked. Any cooked leftovers can be added towards the end and warmed.
The Rough Recipe
This quantity, with 2 cans of coconut milk, usually feeds 4 to 6 people with a starch like steamed rice. You can always cut the recipe in half, or store any leftovers in the fridge - it saves and reheats well. Timing will depend on what you choose to put in the curry, but the sauce itself can be made in about 15-20 minutes - just about the right amount of time to make your rice.
You'll need the following:
For the curry sauce:
- 1/4 cup of neutral oil, like vegetable or canola
- 1/3 cup or so of the curry paste of your choice - we use Maesri brand at our restaurant and the green one is my favorite
- 2 cans of coconut milk - unsweetened and full fat, ideally
- 1/2 a cup or so of minced aromatics - maybe a few cloves of garlic, some fresh ginger, any kind of onion, scallion or shallot
- About a tablespoon each of the condiments of your choice - something for sweetness (like honey), umami (like soy sauce), and acidity (like lime juice) (see more options above)
For the curry ingredients (see above for a long list - I usually go for something like the following, but feel free to riff. Garnishes are always optional.)
- a pound of root veggies, diced and roasted, or 2 cups of cut fresh quick-cooking vegetables, or a combo
- 1 tightly packed cup of chopped greens or leaves
- 1 cup of diced tofu, shrimp, or chicken, or the same of cooked meat
- a big handful of chopped fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, or mint for garnish (if you don't have any in the house, you could drizzle on some Herb Oil, like I did in the photo above)
- something crunchy, like chopped peanuts or cashews, for garnish
To make the curry sauce, add the oil to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the curry paste and stir-fry for a few minutes so the paste is thoroughly incorporated into the oil, then add your minced aromatics/alliums. Stir-fry everything until well-mixed, then cook for a few more minutes until everything is softened and fragrant. Add the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. You can cool and set aside some of the sauce at this point if you're planning to eat it later.
If eating right away, you'll want to cook the sauce for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors percolate, then start adding your ingredients. Veggies that need more cooking should go first, light veggies like kale ribbons or bok choy that need less time should go after. Chicken can go in earlier, fish towards the end so it doesn't overcook. Tofu basically just needs to get warmed through. Simmer lightly until everything is tender, then serve over cooked rice or noodles, top with fresh herbs or a fried egg or both. You can even add stock or water to make this more of a soup. Save leftovers and eat it again - it'll last in the fridge for up to a week in my experience. Enjoy!