Vegetarian Red Curry with Wheat Gluten

November 27, 2018

Thai food is a food I hate to love. Mostly because vegetarian Thai curries are incredibly challenging to find. Stop reading here if you are vegetarian and a lover of Thai food. I’ve ruined Thai curries for plenty of vegetarians and am not looking to add more people to the list.

But if you are like me and ask way too many questions, then you probably already discovered that most Thai curries use fish sauce. And most Thai restaurants use pre-made curry paste which contains fish sauce. On occasion, we’ve found a Thai restaurant that makes their paste from scratch and will omit the fish sauce for us but this is rare and those restaurants seem to have come and gone.

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Although I’m still on a near constant hunt for vegetarian friendly Thai restaurants, I’ve also learned to make a solid red curry paste at home thanks to Bowl by Lukas Volger.

Learning how to make a good curry paste recipe is in the category of “very useful kitchen basics to master.” Once you have a good curry paste recipe and a batch of the paste on hand, cooking the rest of the dish becomes very straightforward.

This red curry paste recipe can turn out very spicy depending on the chiles you use, which is perfectly acceptable in my book because it means I always end up with some curry paste to freeze for later. Translation: leftover curry paste for a second meal makes it worth getting out  the spice grinder and the food processor.

Once you’ve made the red curry paste, you can use it in a lot of different ways from a big vegetable curry served over rice or ramen or soba noodles or add a bit to scrambled eggs, a marinara sauce or soup base to kick it up a bit.

A hearty vegetable curry is my favorite. I generally pair up whatever vegetables I have in the fridge but focusing on combining vegetables which are a mix of colors and textures will help provide a good balance. I also generally limit it to 2-3 vegetables to avoid overwhelming the curry. Some of my favorite combinations are cubes of tofu or seitan with:

  • Broccoli, red bell pepper and mushrooms
  • Carrots, potatoes and kale 
  • Eggplant, broccoli and mushrooms  

Bonus points if you top the bowl off with a slices of a hard boiled egg, diced cherry tomatoes and a handful of toasted peanuts.

We usually buy a high quality seitan as an alternative to tofu as a protein and texture add for curries and stirfry. After making this seitan – or chickwheat shreds – from Avocado and Ales, I’m not sure we’ll go back to the storebought version. The homemade version was softer, more absorbent of the curry sauce and way more cost efficient than buying seitan.

Here’s the recipe for Lukas’ red curry paste from his book, Bowl, which is one of the most used cookbooks in my kitchen right now. The pictures are beautiful and the book is full of fresh, flavorful vegetarian recipes to make ramen, pho, bibimbap, dumplings and other one-dish meals.

Red Curry Paste

Servings: Makes about 1/2 a cup

The recipe list looks long but if you gather everything in one place before you start making the paste, it will be very quick. This recipe makes about 1/2 a cup. I usually use half of that to make a curry but you can adjust based on your spice preference. The paste will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or for up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried hot red chilies
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds*
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted*
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 medium shallots**
  • 1/2 ounce peeled galangal or ginger (about a thumb-sized knob)
  • 1/2 ounce peeled fresh turmeric*
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • *I substitute powdered coriander, cumin and turmeric in a pinch.
  • *I substitute 1 small yellow onion when I don't have shallots which seems to be always.

Instructions

  1. Trim the stems off of the chilies. Combine with the peppercorns, cloves and the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a spice mill or food processor until powder.
  2. If using a spice mill, transfer to a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and pulse until a paste forms.
  3. Add water by the tablespoon to get the mixture moving if necessary.

Notes

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Bowl by Lukas Volger (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016).

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Combee November 27, 2018 at 5:22 pm

I’ve often cooked with the commercial Maesri brand Thai red curry paste, usually found in small 3oz tins and available in lots of Asian markets. It is vegan and does a great job if you don’t have the time or ingredients to make your own.

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nithya November 28, 2018 at 8:05 am

Thanks! I haven’t seen that in our local store but will give it a try. It also has really great reviews on Amazon.

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