I attended culinary school in my early 20s, so much of it is a blur of gin and tonics and grilled cheese sandwiches and overdraft fees. Fortunately for my career’s sake, I do have a handful of clear memories, one of which is of learning to make a simple yet delicious Thai curry from a prepared curry paste.
Unlike many other recipe shortcuts which can include unsavory added ingredients, most Thai curry pastes are simply a mixture of foundational components, including, but not limited to, chilies, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, galalgal, shallots, kaffir lime, and spices. Their flavor is very concentrated, so simmering the paste in rich coconut milk makes the perfect base for a curry.
Follow my recipe here, or experiment with any combination you can dream up. Try a basic chicken curry with Masaman curry paste, potatoes, cauliflower, and green peas. Or try for a more authentic version using green curry paste and ingredients from an Asian market like bamboo shoots, long beans, straw mushrooms, Thai Eggplant, or lotus root. I have yet to make a batch of curry I that I didn’t like!
Shrimp, Red Lentil, and Sweet Potato Curry:
1/2 a white onion, small dice (about 3/4 C. of diced onion)
1 can of coconut milk (not light coconut milk)
1 – 2 Tbsp. red Thai curry paste (Mae Ploy brand is a great choice, and easy to find)
1 whole star anise
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks (about 3 C. chopped)
1 C. red lentils, rinsed thoroughly
1 C. water
1# pound raw shrimp*, peeled and deveined
zest of 1 lime
Add the onion, coconut milk, curry paste, and star anise to a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Once thoroughly mixed, add the sweet potatoes and stir to combine. Cover and let the sweet potatoes simmer in the coconut milk for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the water and the rinsed lentils to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and allow to come to a simmer again. Cook, covered, for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent sticking. Within 20 minutes the lentils and sweet potatoes should be falling apart. This is a great time to taste and see if you want to add more curry paste. If you choose to add more, just be sure to stir thoroughly to allow it to dissolve fully.
Lastly, stir in the raw shrimp and the lime zest. Stir to combine and then turn off the heat so the shrimp do not become tough. The shrimp will finish cooking in their hot curry bath in just 3 or 4 minutes.
Serve the curry on a bed of steamed rice or thin rice noodles.
*It can be hard to find good, ethical shrimp out in my neck of the woods. I’ve been buying wild harvested rockshrimp from Florida, which are sold frozen in 2# bags at my local Whole Foods (they are also peeled and still raw, which is a bonus). Here is a primer on buying shrimp, for those interested. Those on the west coast seem to have more options.