Think of this curry recipe as a framework. You can tailor the template to make coconut curry with 5 minutes of preparation. Learn to customize the recipe to your taste buds and use seasonal vegetables.
I have an “authentic” recipe for Thai green curry with chicken and sweet potatoes that calls for lemongrass and Thai green curry paste without a word of English.
Let’s get real. I don’t make that kind of Thai green curry more than once or twice a year because it is a lot of work. While it’s indulgent, aromatic, and beyond-belief tasty, that green curry recipe is for special occasions when I have abundant time and friends are coming for dinner.
The reality is I make coconut curry once a week. But I make an easy curry using shortcuts, such as whatever curry paste I can find at the grocery store or even store-bought curry sauce (more on this later). Let’s dive into my coconut curry “recipe” and figure out how you can customize the curry template for your tastebuds so you can add this tasty dish to your weeknight dinner rotation.
Why Make Coconut Curry
You’ll love coconut curry because it’s easy to cook. It’s warm and satisfying for cold winter nights. Or even hot summer evenings if you serve the curry at room temperature (after all, it doesn’t ever get very cold in Thailand). This makes curry a dish you can serve year-round.
Curry is a wonderful one-dish meal where you can cook an abundance of vegetables, protein (tofu or meat), and fat (coconut cream) in one pot and serve it with rice or noodles if desired.
There are 2 extra reasons that I reliably cook curries during the week.
- Curry freezes well, and it tastes great the next day. So, doubling the amount I cook means I have leftovers for lunch, and I don’t have to cook the next evening.
- Curry is packed with flavor, which makes it a wonderful dish to flavor tofu and vegetables. Cooking tofu means I can reduce my meat consumption and spend less time on dealing with raw meat (cutting it, cleaning my knife and cutting board carefully, etc.).
This doesn’t mean curry is only for vegans and vegetarians. After all, I add chicken bone broth to my curry to make it extra luxurious. You can add cubed chicken breast and strips of beef.
Regardless of whether you’re vegetarian and a meat-eater who wants to eat less meat without becoming vegan, curry is a fantastic food for busy people who don’t have a lot of time to cook.
Let’s dive into what ingredients you need for coconut curry and how to improvise when cooking Thai curry.
What Ingredients Do You Need For Thai Coconut Curry?
Curry Paste vs. Curry Sauce
The difference between curry paste and curry sauce is that curry paste is typically the concentrated spices and herbs blended to make curry. Curry paste contains:
- kaffir lime leaf
- other aromatics
These ingredients are blended to make a thick paste. You still need to add coconut milk, oil, and other flavorings (fish sauce) to make a curry that you can buy at a Thai restaurant.
Curry sauce is closer to the finished dish. It is made with water, curry paste, oil, coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar. Curry sauce is usually in liquid form and sold in a jar or a foil package. It is premixed and advertised as ready to heat and eat.
Where to Buy Curry Paste and Curry Sauce
Most large grocery stores, such as Safeway, sell curry paste and curry sauce. I buy whatever is available wherever I am shopping.
If the grocery store has both, I usually like to buy curry paste because I can control everything in my curry. It is a tiny bit more work to add coconut milk and adjust the spiciness to my taste preferences.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then you should buy curry paste because curry sauce usually contains fish sauce.
If I’m shopping at Target and Trader Joe’s, they usually only sell curry sauce. That’s OK. I often add extra coconut milk and soy sauce to curry sauce and treat it like curry paste.
How to Add Meat to Coconut Curry
Chicken, beef, and pork are the most common meat to add to Thai curry. You can slice or cube your meat and add as much as you want. I find white and dark chicken meat work well. For pork, I prefer leaner cuts like pork shoulder or loin. For beef, I like leaner cuts like sirloin strips for Thai curry.
How to Add Tofu to Coconut Curry
I love tofu in my coconut curry because tofu doesn’t need much preparation. You don’t need to sear tofu like with chicken and beef (though you could sear it to add more flavor). Curry is super flavorful so it’s a perfect dish to cook tofu in for people who find tofu too bland.
You can use regular brick tofu. I prefer firm or extra-firm tofu to make sure it doesn’t fall apart in the curry. You can use defrosted brick tofu which will have a sponge-like texture that can absorb curry into its pockets. If you’re short on time, you can also add regular tofu cut into cubes to your curry.
I don’t bother to press tofu because the curry sauce is wet. But you can press tofu if you want. I just buy firm or extra firm tofu where a machine already pressed it 🙂
Tofu sponge is perfect with curry because it absorbs the curry sauce and delivers juicy pockets of curry with every bite you take.
How to Add Vegetables to Coconut Curry
The key to cooking vegetables in Thai coconut curry is making sure you chop the vegetables into approximately the same sizes to ensure even cooking.
The timing of when you add the vegetables is important. Sturdy vegetables that need longer to cook like eggplant and potatoes should be added when you add meat into the curry sauce. Vegetables that are tender and cook faster run the risk of getting mushy. They should be added after the meat and hardy veggies have cooked through.
You can add fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables. Let’s look at what kinds of veggies go best with curry.
Remember, curry is flexible. Add the vegetables you love. Veggies in season are usually the cheapest and tastiest. Experiment to discover the combinations you love.
Fresh & Frozen Vegetables
Making curry is an amazing way to cook a medley of fresh and frozen vegetables that seem like they don’t make sense together. If the vegetables in your fridge and freezer look sad, like they are desperately asking you to eat them, consider throwing them into a coconut curry!
Here are my favorite fresh and frozen vegetables to add to Thai coconut curry.
- Tender vegetables
- Green beans
- Bell peppers/capsicum
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
- Hardy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
I love stocking up on canned veggies knowing that I can make Thai coconut curry when I’m low on fresh vegetables and still want a home-cooked meal.
Here are my favorite canned vegetables to add to Thai coconut curry.
- Baby corn
- Water chestnuts
- Straw mushrooms
- Bamboo shoots
How to Add Seafood to Coconut Curry
Shrimp and prawns are classics in coconut curry. You can also add sliced fish fillet. White fish like catfish, halibut, pollack, tilapia, and cod are great options. Because fish is delicate and cooks quickly, you will want to add the fish or shrimp after the vegetables have cooked through to avoid overcooking the fish in the curry.
How to Cook Thai Coconut Curry
Here is the general process of cooking Thai coconut curry. Although you will find a precise example in the recipe below, it helps to understand the overall process so you can improvise and modify it based on your special combination of ingredients.
- If cooking aromatics: Brown the garlic, ginger, and onions with oil over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until golden.
- If using curry paste: Mix curry paste, coconut milk, and oil over medium heat until you form a curry sauce.
If using curry sauce: Heat the curry sauce over medium heat until boiling.
- If cooking meat: Add the meat to the curry sauce. Meat needs more time to cook to make sure it is fully cooked through.
If cooking tofu: Add the cubed tofu to the curry sauce. This gives the tofu time to soak up the flavorful curry sauce.
If cooking hardy or canned vegetables: Add the hardy and canned vegetables with the meat and/or tofu to make sure they cook long enough to get tender.
- If cooking tender vegetables: Add the tender vegetables after cooking the meat, tofu, and/or hardy vegetables.
- If cooking seafood: Add the seafood after all the meat and vegetables are cooked through and tender.
- If garnishing: Remove the curry from heat once it is cooked through and add your garnishes.
Serve your Thai coconut curry with jasmine rice, rice noodles, coconut milk-flavored rice, or cauliflower rice.
Thai coconut curry freezes well so make extra and store leftovers in stackable plastic containers in the freezer. Defrost for a quick weeknight meal.
Tips For Flavor
- If you want extra flavorful meat, you can sear the meat over medium heat before heating the curry sauce. Remove the meat once it is done searing and make the curry sauce. Then mix the meat into the curry sauce after adding the coconut milk.
- You can garnish your curry to add extra flavor. Ideas for garnishes include:
- Thai basil leaves
- Fresh Thai chili sliced into coins (be careful, this is very spicy!!)
- I add fresh onion, garlic, and ginger before adding the curry sauce because they are usually already prepped and I think they add more flavor.
- I like to use coconut cream and not liquidy coconut milk that has less fat and less flavor.
- Find coconut cream at the Asian grocery store. I like the brands Savoy, Aroy-D, Chaokoh, and Kara.
- If you’re shopping at conventional grocery stores, I like Trader Joe’s coconut cream. It’s thick and the real deal.
- If you’re unsure, look for the label “coconut cream” and not “coconut milk”. Most importantly, avoid coconut milk with the label “lite” or “low fat” at all costs! You might as well buy coconut water to add to your curry at that point. It will be disappointing.
- If your curry sauce is too thick and you need some water to steam the vegetables because they’re not cooking through, add some broth for extra flavor. I like chicken bone broth for this purpose. You can also use beef broth. Vegetable broth is a good vegan option.
Thai Coconut Curry
- Chopping Board
- Soup Pot
- can opener
- Gather the ingredients.
- If using aromatics, brown the sliced onions, garlic, and ginger over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of oil until golden, about 2 minutes.
- Mix the curry sauce and the coconut cream over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, about 3 minutes.
- Add the tofu to the curry sauce. If adding meat or hardy vegetables, follow the Thai coconut curry cooking process. Bring these proteins and hardy vegetables to boil to ensure they are thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining vegetables to the curry sauce and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Mix the vegetables and tofu to ensure the curry is evenly combined. Check that all the ingredients are cooked, especially if adding meat. Now is the time to add seafood if you want it in your curry. Once everything is fully cooked through, turn off the heat and serve.
- Enjoy your Thai coconut curry with rice and garnishes!
- If you’re using curry paste instead of curry sauce, you may want to add extra flavorings, including:
- fish sauce
- soy sauce
- You can substitute the vegetables for other veggies in your fridge and pantry. Check out this vegetable list for suggestions.
- You can cook meat and/or seafood in addition to tofu. Follow the Thai coconut curry cooking process to learn what order to add these proteins in to avoid overcooking.