March 19, 2010

Thai red curry…balanced sweet,sour,hot and salty!


Did I mention in my previous post that I really like italian food? I did…and it’s true, I really like italian food. I know I was cautious with my words and I specifically wrote that “I really like” it…I hate that in english the word “love” is often overused: I love you, I love my dog, I love weekends, I love ice-cream! in the end, saying that you love something is the same as that you like it. So, I saved my “I love” in relation to food, for thai cuisine. I love Thai food! I can definitely admit to that!

There’s something about thai food that just gets you hooked on it…the fresh and flavourful ingredients, the pungent aromas, the perfectly balanced combinations. I think it is amazing how all dishes have an equilibrium in all four flavours: sweet, sour, hot and salty. Plus, the extra of how healthy this food is…you can share 6 dishes amongst 2 and half an hour after finishing your meal, feeling light in your stomach again!

Thailand smells of food, there are always street vendors specialised on particular dishes with their carts on the street, the smells of kaffir lime, lemongrass, strir-fried shallots, coriander, ginger, coconut, curries, spices fill up the air. It definitely is more than just food for nourishment, it awakens your senses, it satisfies your soul!


Sadly, I believe that outside of Thailand, it is quite difficult to recreate all those dishes, to stir the same emotions, or so has been my experience. But, a decent curry is an approachable dish to bring back memories, to have a little piece of Thailand. The ingredients are not so difficult to find, at least for the sauce…so you can adapt it to your liking with combinations of vegetables, poultry, meat or fish that will go with it. Here I’ve made a simple red curry (the basics I learned from a chef who worked in Thailand and from David Thompson’sThai Food” bible) and I’ve accompanied it with beef, lychees, courgettes, aubergines, onion and red pepper. I liked the colour and flavour combination…maybe David Thompson would tell me that I got it all wrong, but I think it feels close to some curries I’ve tried over there. I hope you try it and enjoy it and please…serve it with jasmine rice! (that’s a must!).

Beef & lychees thai red curry

(enough for 4 hungry people as main dish)

For the curry:

2 cans (400g each) of coconut milk

~40g sunflower oil (or any neutral oil)

4 kaffir lime leaves (fresh ideally, otherwise frozen)

3 or 4 small lemongrass stalks, bruised

~60g of thai red curry paste

~45g of palm sugar

10g of tomato concentrate (optional, it’s just for colour)

~30g tamarind paste (could substitute for lime juice, about 15 ml)

fish sauce (to taste)

To serve with the curry :

400g beef (a lean tender cut) sliced in finger-size pieces

140g courgette (about half a smallish one)

80g red pepper

150g aubergine

half an onion

about 8 lychees (fresh or canned)

sunflower or any other neutral oil for stir-frying

pinch of salt

For the boiled jasmine rice:

150g jasmine rice (1 measure)

~220g water (11/4 measure)

If possible, plan ahead to place the coconut milk cans for at least half an hour in the fridge before you start to prepare the curry. That way, the thick cream will set on the top and the watery milk will sit underneath.


Into a pan that will fit the curry sauce, spoon out the thick cream from both cans and reserve aside the watery bit.

Incorporate the kaffir lime leaves and the bruised lemongrass, to release the aromas…


Add the bit of oil. We want the coconut cream to separate, to “fry” the paste in, but since canned milk has been homogenised, it is difficult to separate, so we add oil to help in the separation and to replicate how fresh cream splits.


Bring all to a boil and keep it at medium heat until the cream looks split (it will take around 10-15 minutes)


Just a note, it’s best if you keep it covered in the process, as it will splatter!


Now, add the paste in…a quick note: I think this curry is “mild” for my taste, but Linguini when he tried it thought it was rather hot. We evidently have different perceptions of heat. So, if you are not into hot food, add less than the specified amount the first time. Though, the flavour will be much milder in the end after adding the sugar and the tamarind than if you try it before.

We want to “fry” the paste, not boil it, that’s why we’ve split the cream. This affects the final taste, so do not skip the splitting part, even if you think it doesn’t look appealing. The paste, depending on it’s ingredients, should cook for about 5-10 minutes to release it’s aromas. With 5 my paste was ready (if you can get hold of a fresh paste, please do so!). While the paste fries, keep stirring to prevent it from burning. This is how it will look, it’s ok!


Optionally you can add concentrate tomato puree for colour. I like to do so…


Now you should season the mix. First, add the palm sugar…


I break it up in the mortar so it incorporates and dissolves better


Then, add the salty “fish sauce” (it basically substitutes sugar and imparts flavour…far from the fishy smell you get when on it’s own). Add very little to start with, you can correct at the end if more is needed to balance the curry.


Now the sour note. Add the tamarind concentrate or if you cannot find it lime juice is a reasonable substitute.

Finally, add the watery-milk you had reserved. I often leave a bit out to get a thicker curry. In this case I left 50g out, but it’s personal preference on how runny you want your sauce.

Taste and adjust seasonings and your curry sauce…is ready!!!


You can keep this sauce for well over a week in the fridge and use add it to freshly stir-fried ingredients whenever you want your curry. It will form a layer of the solidified oil on top, that also helps in conservation. Just be sure to take both oil and cream when you use it.

Now for the stir-fry…Aren’t these beautiful? I think the colour combination is pretty nice, plus the tastes go well together.


First, cut all your vegetables into bite-size pieces. The pepper I cut in 2 cm wide strips lengthwise and then each strip on triangles. The onion in julienne and the courgette and aubergines in half lengthwise and then each half in 6ths or 8ths and then into the length we want


Heat up your wok over high heat and drop a spoonful of oil and stir-fry the vegetables in batches so they don’t overcrowd the wok and cook instead of frying and set aside


Last stir fry the meat, also in two batches, so it browns well.


Set all these aside and in the same wok heat up the amount of sauce you want. I used a little more than half of the original recipe.

Add your veg, meat and lychees and it’s done!


Just serve with some fresh coriander over and jasmine rice!


For the rice, place it in the pot where you’ll be cooking it, it should be a size adjusted to the amount you’ll be making, my pan for 150g of rice is 18 cm in diameter, not very big.

Wash it in fresh cold water and rinse. You’ll see it’s really cloudy. Repeat 2 or 3 times more, until it’s almost running clear.

Strain and place again in the pan. Add the water and a bit of salt (usually no salt is added, as the curry itself should be seasoned just right, but I still like to add a little).

Bring to a boil covered. When it is boiling, bring the heat right down to a minimum ( in my induction where 11 is the maximum, I put it on 3!). You want it to cook very slow. Set your timer to 9 or 10 minutes.

You can peek when 9 minutes have passed (I used to be obsessed that you should never open it up or you’d lose the vapor…ehem, it’s ok!). If it already has absorbed all the water, turn off but keep covered for 5 minutes more. If your rice is harder and you try it and it’s very hard, add a bit more water and add extra minutes, but it probably will be about right.


Ahhh, the aroma of jasmine rice fills up the kitchen!…Enjoy both!



Anonymous said...

there are no words to describe the smell of thai curries or even the plain jasmine rice...(even though i am a sticky rice lover). I do remember the first time i went to BKK with my sister: her greedy eyes! well, i am planning my thai trip for next june. If u give my ur adress, i will send u a Nittaya Red curry, much better than the one available around Europe (aroy-d). There is a restaurant in Madrid, who does the red curry with "carilleras", try it.. yummy!

Colette said...

It is a deal! Definately aroy-d is an average curry paste...but it's all I can get hold off here, unless I get the ingredients to make the paste myself. So, yes, a nittaya red curry will be very much appreciated!:-) Which restaurant? DIVERXO?It's been ages since I first went,I have to go again!

Anonymous said...

not in Diverxo, i guess there´s some red curry there, but i meant Sudestada

Colette said...

True, I read about a curry with carrillera in Diverxo...I thought Sudestada had closed!!!!I'll take a look. Thanks for the update!

Anonymous said...

Love curry! we were recently in thailand, and had a delicious green curry duck!

Colette said...

I'd pay to teleport myself and have a meal in Thailand right now! You can change this curry recipe into a green curry recipe, just change the paste into a green one and...use less paste!green curry is usually much hotter than red. Last time I had a green curry my eyes were crying...and I like hot food!!!What a coincidence, some friends of mine just came back from Thailand ;-)!

Anonymous said...

Great curry!! I did it the other day and it was delicious. Do you know if you can freeze the sauce?

Colette said...

Glad you liked it!:) certainly, the sauce freezes very well, so no problem to make ahead a thaw before use! Together with the satay peanut sauce i often have some frozen!

Julia said...

So Good, love the combination of sweet sour lemon lime lychee goodness, made it about 12 time now, definitely a favourite.

Colette said...

Wow!! 12 times! You probably beat me! I am so happy to hear that you have liked it so much! The truth is that thai combinations rock! If you like thai and are looking for more reliable recipes..take a look at She Simmers, Leela has a wonderful blog with super tasty recipes that work!

Unknown said...

Just made this tonight. I could t get the coconut milk to split but the end result was incredible. One of the better curries I've made in a long time. Thanks. A keep.

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