Thai curries are really fun to make. Unless you’re super hardcore about it, most recipes use prepackaged curry pastes, which you can buy at any Asian market and almost any grocery store (Mae Ploy is good). Then basically, you just cook the paste a little bit, add a can of coconut milk and some meat and/or vegetables and adjust the seasonings with lime, sugar, and fish sauce (more on this in a second). That’s it.
Is it good for you? Not really, no. I mean, coconut is pretty high in saturated fat and most curries are very meat heavy. But as a once-in-a-while quick dinner, it’s no big deal.
This is the first time I’ve tried making a vegetable-heavy Thai curry and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I’m not normally the biggest fan of eggplant or bell peppers, but they both do a good job of soaking up the flavorful sauce and they have a nice texture in the finished dish. I added a few shrimp, but you could certainly leave them out.
Thai food relies on a good balance of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. In this dish, you control these variables with lime, brown sugar, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes (although the curry paste is quite spicy so you usually don’t need any). As Sarah points out, the fat in the coconut milk really helps carry the flavors. For this reason, I don’t really recommend light coconut milk, since it doesn’t make the curry sing the same way conventional coconut milk does. Regarding fish sauce: don’t worry about it. Yes, it’s made of fermented dried fish. So what? So is Worchestershire sauce. I like Squid brand, which is cheap and widely available.
Thai curries also benefit from herbage. Cilantro is a must if you don’t hate it, and Thai basil is nice. If you can’t get Thai basil, you can use regular basil.
Thai Curry with Eggplant and Shrimp
serves 4, with rice
- 1.5 pounds eggplant, preferably the long skinny ones that look like zucchini
- vegetable oil
- 1 large red or orange bell pepper, cut into postage stamp-sized chunks
- 4 large scallions, cut into 1″ chunks
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 can coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, plus more to taste
- 8 ounces shrimp, peeled
- juice of 1/2 lime, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce, plus more to taste (you’ll probably use 2 tablespoons)
- red pepper flakes as needed (optional)
- 1/4 cup each chopped Thai basil and cilantro
Cut the eggplant into 1″ chunks. In your largest nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until almost tender. This will take about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down if it looks like it’s browning too much but some color is totally fine.
Once the eggplant is nearly tender, remove it to a bowl and add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the red bell pepper, shallot, and scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and fragrant. Remove to the bowl with the eggplant and return the pan to the heat.
Open the can of coconut milk and spoon a few tablespoons of the thick cream (it rises to the top, just like in cow milk) into the hot pan. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste is deeply colored and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. If it looks like it’s going to burn, add the rest of the coconut milk.
Once everything is smelling nice, add the rest of the coconut milk (if you haven’t already), about 1/4 cup water, and the cooked vegetables back into the pan. Bring to a boil, then add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 1 minute. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and herbs, then taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. You will probably need quite a bit more than 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, but start there to make sure that you don’t oversalt it.
Serve with lots of jasmine rice and extra lime wedges and red pepper flakes.