If you’re looking for a satisfying meatless meal, you can’t beat Thai food.
Seasoned with an exciting balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet, Thai cuisine is so colorful, flavorful and fragrant that meat is unnecessary. The best part is that the Thai curry pastes available at most grocery stores make cooking Thai a snap.
To be clear, the curries of Thailand will not call for any of that curry powder in your spice collection. Curry powder is a Western convenience, meant to replicate the spicing of an Indian meal. Thai curry pastes are a completely different kind of seasoning.
To start, they are moist. The green curry paste we will use in today’s recipe is made by pounding fresh green chiles with other pungent plants. A Thai cook would use a large stone mortar to pound the ingredients to a perfect texture, but we can buy pre-made paste. Green curry paste has almost no dried spices in the mix, only ingredients that include galangal (a relative of ginger), shallots, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel and leaves, and cilantro roots, with some white peppercorns thrown in.
Red curry is made from dried red chiles. It’s one of at least 12 kinds of curry paste available, each with its own balance of flavors.
Many curry pastes contain dried shrimp or fish sauce, so if you are vegetarian, read the label. The Thai Kitchen brand that most grocery stores carry is vegetarian.
The genius of curry paste is that it puts many hard-to-come-by ingredients into a convenient jar, which eliminates trimming, toasting, slicing and crushing them yourself. The pastes last a long time in the refrigerator, although their heat and flavor will fade over time.
All you need for a delicious Thai curry is coconut milk, curry paste and some soy sauce, lime juice and sugar to complete the hot-sour-salty-sweet combination. It’s an easy way to cook because you simmer your food in the sauce, all in one step.
For this dish, I simply simmer extra-firm tofu, mushrooms and peppers in the sauce, then add snap peas for the last few minutes to keep them snappy. Fresh Thai basil is best, but if you can only get regular basil, so be it. Black rice looks beautiful on the plate, but white rice is good, too.
Once you make this, you’ll see how easy it is to prepare, and you can easily sub in whatever vegetable you have on hand or prefer.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan” and “Plant-Based Meats.” Find her at robinasbell.com.