ORIGINS: Thai curry pastes were developed in the 13th century by royal cooks in the Sukhothai Kingdom, now part of modern-day Thailand. Chili, a key ingredient of kaeng phet (red curry), was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Thai Red Curry (Kaeng Phet, แกงเผ็ด)
- 1 tsp cooking oil 5 g
- 1 yellow onion 200 g
- 3 tbsp red curry paste 50 g
- 1 can coconut milk 400 mL or 300 g; see Notes
- 2 cups any combination of bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, eggplant 200 g; see Notes
- 1 package firm or extra-firm tofu 350–450 g
- 2 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar 25 g *optional
- 1/2 tbsp vegan fish sauce 7 g *optional
- steamed rice for serving
- fresh lemon or lime for serving
- Thai basil or sliced scallions for serving
- Prep the veggies: dice the onion and chop the other vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
- Pour oil into a wok or large skillet on medium heat.
- Add diced onion and saute for at least five minutes or until soft and translucent.
- Stir in the red curry paste and coconut milk. Saute for half a minute.
- Add the vegetables and tofu. Give everything a mix, bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and let simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Optional: mix in sugar and fish sauce.
- Turn off heat and serve over steamed rice, garnished with slices of lemon or lime and basil or scallion.
Bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, and eggplant are my favourite veggies to use in kaeng phet. Mushrooms are another good option. If you don’t have all of these, no worries, just use what you have. For example, here is a bowl of this red curry made with only carrots and tofu:
I’ve even tried adding alfalfa sprouts into this curry. The result wasn’t half bad!
I repeat this in every recipe that includes coconut milk, but let me say it again: buy full-fat coconut milk!! There’s no difference between “lite” or “low-fat” coconut milk and full-fat coconut milk except the amount of water used to dilute the coconut cream. So when you buy lite coconut milk (which here in Canada is usually the same price as full-fat), you’re just paying for more water. If you’re looking to cut down on calories, just use half full-fat and half water to achieve the same effect as lite coconut milk.
Fish sauce and sugar are traditional components of central Thai curries. They enhance the flavour of kaeng phet but aren’t necessary. Once I made this recipe and completely forgot to add either of them. And hey, it still tasted pretty good!
Where to Find Thai Red Curry Paste
Traditionally, Thai curry paste was pounded together from fresh ingredients. However, nowadays it’s much more convenient to use store-bought curry pastes instead of bringing out the ol’ pestle and mortar every time.
The curry paste I’m using is made by the brand Aroy-D. They produce red, green, and yellow curry pastes among others. I haven’t seen it at many mainstream grocery stores, but check out any shop in Chinatown and they will likely have at least one of those. (If you can’t find red curry paste, one of the others will work for this recipe as well. The flavour will be different but just as tasty!)
In fact, this red curry was inspired by the recipe printed on the label of my Aroy-D curry paste container. You can see the original recipe below:
Another curry paste that you may find to be more widely available in Canada is the Thai Kitchen brand. I haven’t personally tried this brand but I haven’t heard many good things about it (weird taste, bland). So I would try to locate the Aroy-D brand if you can. Other highly-rated brands are Mae Ploy or Maesri, but I haven’t been able to find those in stores, only on Amazon. I’m planning to order one of these once my Aroy-D runs out, just so I can let you know how it compares.
Kaeng Phet is Perfect for Meal Prep
After posting my Thai jungle curry recipe (which is coconut-free), I thought I may as well post a more well-known coconut milk-based curry. I make this one pretty often for weeknights because it’s just so easy. There’s just something about the creaminess and aroma of coconut milk that makes food taste so indulgent, even when the recipe itself is super simple.
I very very rarely meal prep and prefer to cook my meals fresh because most dishes just don’t taste as good when reheated. But whenever I make this, I gladly make one or two extra servings because it tastes just fine the next day after a quick microwave. (Sometimes to switch things up I stuff it into a tortilla for a curry burrito instead of eating with rice.)
Meal prepped red curry may look thickened the next day due to the coconut milk solidifying. Plus, if you store it together with rice (as I do), the rice will absorb some of the curry. But once you heat it back up and mix everything together, it will taste just fine.
Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information
Each bowl of Thai red curry (without rice) is 477 cal, costs $2.10, and releases 544 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Calculation for full recipe as written (3 servings):
Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.