Easy Thai Peanut Curry
Paula keeps suggesting that I post a recipe for Thai coconut milk curry… she doesn’t care what kind—yellow, red, green, panaeng, whatever. But I’ve rejected this idea every time, with the (lame perfectionist food blogger) excuse that I’d want to make my own curry paste first.
You know, so I could seem extra impressive with my authentic made-from-scratch curry paste, never revealing that I usually just use the Mae Ploy brand (which is delicious by the way).
Maybe someday I will post a recipe or two for homemade curry paste (after all, I used to make some about once a year and then freeze it for future use!).
But besides my laziness, there’s another problem with that kind of blog post. I start imagining the response: “That’s nice that (she’s a graduate student so) she has time to make her own curry paste, but who else has time for that?! I’m going to stick to my storebought brand!” Or worse yet, “That looks like way too much work and way too many ingredients; I’m going to stick to never making Thai curry!”
Lucky for all of you hypothetical pessimists, I came up with a way to make a quick, easy, peanutty version of a yellow Thai curry without needing any curry paste at all.
Oddly enough I had my moment of epiphany when flipping through an Indian cookbook that suggested blending together fresh ginger and garlic into a paste—as many Indian curries begin—but with a little of the coconut milk that would later go into the curry, to make for easier blending.
I hate trying to force my blender to work away at dry, tough ingredients without enough liquids—like, say, when making curry paste… But I’d also rather not add water if it’s going to water down the flavors. Blending up the aromatics with coconut milk seemed like the perfect solution, especially once it occurred to me to toss in some onion, too. Not only does this save me from chopping the ginger, garlic, and onion, it purees the onion smooth so no onion-texture-haters (like Paula) could take issue with the final curry sauce.
(And as a healthy bonus: you can then skip the oil and fry the ginger, garlic, and onion in the coconut milk they were blended in.)
I added only a few ground spices (cumin, coriander, and turmeric) to the simmering aromatics in the pan, and ended up with a nice, instant Thai yellow curry base, just from a few basic ingredients.
To build up the flavor a little, I blended a few spoonfuls of peanut butter into the rest of the can of coconut milk and then added that mixture to the pot along with some vegetable broth.
The coconut milk and the peanut butter together make the curry rich and creamy. Paula asked me at least three times if it was really vegan. (It is! And no curry paste means no way for shrimp paste or fish sauce to sneak in…)
Despite its rich flavor and texture, this curry is still incredibly mild—perfect for spicy food skeptics—but of course you can spice things up by adding more chili peppers than I did, or by including the seeds.
I wanted to keep this recipe as easy and approachable as possible, without the incredibly long ingredient list you might typically see for Thai curries, but on my second time making this, I also tossed in some lime zest—as a kind of lemongrass substitute—and I think it took the curry sauce to a delicious new level, with just a hint of sour lime to balance out the peanut butter.
You can add any vegetables you like (or tofu, or chicken, or shrimp…). This time I used potatoes, bell pepper, bamboo shoot, green beans, and zucchini.
I love using the kind of takenoko (bamboo shoots) that are often available in Japanese markets. While you could also buy the sliced rectangular bamboo shoots in a can, I prefer the fresh (well, pre-cooked and shrink-wrapped) Japanese takenoko version, since they taste fresher to me, and they’re not that much more expensive.
That type of bamboo shoot reminds me fondly of all the countless Thai curries I enjoyed at (two particular) restaurants in Japan. It also reminds me of the Thai curries I used to make for myself when I lived there, with the most expensive cans of coconut milk from the international food store, and the most expensive containers of Mae Ploy curry paste ever. If only I’d come up with this recipe back then—I could have done without the curry paste!
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Easy Thai Peanut Curry
Active and Total time: 35 minutes.
~ 1 clove garlic, peeled
~ 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
~ ½ onion, very roughly chopped
~ 1 can coconut milk (1⅔ cup), divided
~ 1 tsp. ground cumin
~ 1 tsp. ground coriander
~ ½ tsp. ground turmeric
~ 3 Tbsp. peanut butter
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ any protein or vegetables you want to add to your curry (added here: 2 small yukon gold potatoes, ½ red bell pepper, 1 takenoko bamboo shoot*, 1 zucchini, 1 handful of green beans)
~ salt, to taste
~ 1 (or more!) red bird’s eye chili peppers, seeds removed, or ground chili powder, to taste
~ 2 strips lime zest
~ 2 pieces dried galangal
~ ½ tsp. brown sugar
~ juice of ½ lime
~ fresh cilantro, to garnish
~ cooked jasmine rice, to serve
Special equipment needed:
How to make it:
1. Combine the garlic, ginger, onion, chili peppers and lime zest (if using), and ⅓-½ cup of the coconut milk in the blender and puree until smooth, adding another spoonful or two of coconut milk if needed for easier blending.
2. Pour the mixture into a large saucepan or stockpot and stir in the cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Place over medium heat, while stirring, for 5 minutes, then let it continue to simmer—and dry out to become a little more paste-like—for an additional 5 minutes (lower the heat if necessary to prevent it from burning).
3. Meanwhile, pour the rest of the can of coconut milk into the blender, add the peanut butter, and blend until well-combined and frothy. Once the mixture from step #2 has been cooking for 10 minutes, add the peanut butter/coconut milk mixture and the vegetable broth to the pot. Toss in the pieces of dried galangal (if using). Bring to a strong simmer.
4. Since the vegetables each have different cooking times, you can prepare them while the curry is simmering, if not in advance. Add the potato first: if peeled and diced in very small cubes it should take only 18-20 minutes. Then add everything else based on when the potato will be done: add thinly sliced bell pepper with about 15 minutes left of cooking; add bamboo shoot slices with 10-12 minutes left; add zucchini slices with 6-7 minutes left; add green beans with 4-5 minutes left.
* To prepare pre-cooked, shrink-wrapped takenoko (bamboo shoot), use a vegetable peeler to remove any bad spots, then slice into rounds, and cut the rounds into half-moons or strips. If you notice some white, gritty rice residue inside the bamboo shoot, just rinse it off with water.
5. Check the ingredients for doneness. Remove and discard the dried galangal slices (which will likely be floating). Season with salt (and optionally brown sugar and fresh lime juice). Garnish with cilantro and serve warm, with jasmine rice.
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