Cozy warm and coconut-creamy, this Thai curry is a dish to fend off the chilly drab of January. Heavy on veg and lighter on protein, it fits that new year’s resolution to eat more healthfully. A comforting bowl to tuck into while you’re catching up on all the work you put off in December, it’s simple to make and easy to eat.
But what I love most about this fantastically flavorful dish, rich red warmth blanketing soft sweet potato and the protein of your choice, is the fresh boost it gives to my post-holiday taste buds. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glad not to encounter ham again until Easter.
Making Thai curry at home is ridiculously easy, thanks to the ultra-dense flavor miracle of Thai curry paste. Buy a good-quality one for a few dollars, and with it you can make creamy curry dishes that will slay any Thai takeout you might buy.
While Indian curries are usually flavored with dried spices, the base for Thai curries is a thick paste of fresh herbs and aromatics, including garlic, shallot, lemongrass, galanga (a ginger relative), shrimp paste and kaffir lime. Chiles in Thai curry paste may be dried or fresh, and depending on the style of curry paste, additional spices such as coriander, turmeric and cumin may be added.
You’ll only use a tablespoon or two at a time, so a 14-ounce tub will last you a while. Fortunately it keeps forever in the fridge.
Stock up at an Asian market on coconut milk and a bottle of fish sauce (essentially the soy sauce of Thai cuisine), and your pantry will be ready for Thai curry on demand. My fish sauce pictured here isn’t the best – if you can find it, Red Boat has no sugar or other additives.
For curry paste, Mae Ploy (pictured here) is a good one with no MSG; the curry paste comes in a plastic bag stuffed inside the tub.
This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson, who makes her curry with frozen prawns. The advantage of prawns or shrimp is that they require no prep and, even frozen, cook almost as soon as they hit the sauce. But you can make your curry with chicken, or tofu, or your preferred protein. Here I’m using fresh fish, which cooks almost as quickly as shrimp.
Heat onion and curry paste in a little oil. If you were making this dish with chicken, you would add it here.
Add a can each of chicken broth and coconut milk.
Add the vegetables to simmer. Nigella uses a mix of butternut squash and sweet potato, but I’ve also happily paired the sweet potato with zucchini, crookneck squash and sweet red peppers. The sauce flavor dominates, so you can be flexible with the veg.
After the vegetables are tender, add the fish or shrimp. Either one takes only a minute or two to cook through.
Finish with fresh lime juice and, if your fish sauce doesn’t have any added, a spoonful of sugar.
Top with chopped cilantro, peanuts or toasted coconut.
Happy 2016, friends! I’m grateful to begin another year with you.
Thai Red Curry with Sweet Potatoes
Warm and spicy, a bowl of creamy Thai curry is a simple, comforting meal in a bowl, and an easy way to eat your veggies too. Keep a container of red curry paste in your fridge – it lasts forever – and this will become a favorite go-to meal. Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s red prawn curry.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/2 cup sliced onion or green onions
- 2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste (Mae Ploy is a good one with no MSG), or to taste
- 1 can coconut milk (14-ounce/400 ml)
- 2 cups (475 ml) chicken broth (skip this if you want a thicker curry)
- 4 teaspoons fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 4 cups)
- 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or zucchini, red pepper, or other veg)
- 1 pound firm white fish, rinsed and cubed, or shrimp (uncooked fresh or frozen)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- Heat cooking oil in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet. Add onion and cook for a minute, then add curry paste and stir to let it heat in the oil.
- Add coconut milk, chicken broth (if using) and fish sauce. Bring to a boil.
- Add vegetables and simmer on low, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
- Add fish (or shrimp) to the pot and heat again to a boil. Cook for a minute or so until seafood is cooked through. Add lime juice and sugar (optional).
- Serve in bowls over rice or wide rice noodles, garnished with chopped cilantro.
- Fish sauce often has sugar added; if yours does not (eg Red Boat), a little sugar in the sauce is nice for balance.
- Nigella adds fresh mango cubes (or canned pineapple) at the end.
- Using chicken instead of seafood: add diced chicken in the beginning with the onion.
- This recipe makes a big pot; if you make a half-recipe you can freeze the remaining coconut milk for future use. Just remember to shake/stir the can well before using to incorporate the thick cream at the top.
- Leftovers are just as good, and unlike sauces with regular dairy, you can freeze this without any reheating issues.
Here’s the link to a printable version.