This delicious Thai Curry recipe is both vegetarian and vegan. If you want a healthy dinner packed full of bright flavors and hearty vegetables, this is the recipe for you. This Thai Red Curry is a family favorite. If you have a can of coconut milk at the ready, this recipe will come together very quickly and will deliver a ton of flavor.
Why This Recipe Works
While I love cooking authentic Indian food, I truly enjoy cooking globally. I have been making this Thai curry for decades and it is a much-loved dish with my family.
If you love Thai red curry and want to make some at home, give this recipe a try. Making your own homemade red curry paste is simple and straightforward, and it tastes so much more delicious than the shelf stable paste you can buy at market.
Making your own Thai red curry paste is also a great way to ensure that your dish is preservative and additive free. While you can certainly use the store bought stuff in place of making your own, I highly recommend making your curry paste from scratch.
While below I share the recipe for making the red curry paste that is sufficient for four servings of the curry. I also scale this same curry paste recipe and make a big batch to freeze.
Thai Curry Ingredients
The authentic ingredients you will want to make this Thai red curry paste may not be familiar to you. Galangal, part of the ginger family, has a piquant and spicy flavor.
Kaffir lime leaves impart a bright citrusy flavor, and lemongrass is a quintessential Thai ingredient. If you are unable to find any of these items, feel free to reference the section on “possible substitutes” below.
Aside from those three Thai ingredients, everything else should be simple to find. Hot red chiles, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorn, soy sauce and coconut milk are pantry ingredients you should be able to find very easily.
Finally, this dish is garnished with Thai basil. While you can substitute Italian basil, Thai basil has a specific flavor profile that will elevate your dish to a truly authentic level. If you can find it in your market, I recommend you purchase it for this dish.
How to make Thai Red Curry Paste
1. Gather the following spices – 2 to 3 bird’s eye chilies, 2 dry red chillies, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns. The photo below is only to show you the spices.
2. Rinse, peel and roughly chop the following herbs – 1 inch galangal, 4 to 5 small garlic cloves (or 2 to 3 medium garlic cloves), 1 to 2 shallots, 3 to 4 medium kaffir lime leaves (chopped) and 2 lemongrass stalks.
3. Place the spices, herbs, shallots in a grinder jar, food processor or blender.
4. Add 1 teaspoon naturally fermented soya sauce, ½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional) and 2 tablespoons water or coconut milk. Also add ½ teaspoon salt or as per taste.
Note to make a large batch of this red curry paste, using water to blend will ensure a longer shelf life of the paste if you freeze it.
5. Begin to grind or blend the red curry paste ingredients. Scrape the sides and continue to grind to a fine or semi-fine paste.
6. I switched to another grinder jar as the first one was not doing a good job of grinding well. I am keeping this photo so that you can see the consistency of the curry paste.
How to make Thai Red Curry
Sautéing Curry Paste
1. In a pot or pan, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil or coconut oil. Keep flame to a low. Add all of the prepared thai red curry paste.
2. Sauté for a minute on a low flame stirring often. It will smell beautifully fragrant.
3. Add 2 to 2.25 cups of chopped veggies and white button mushrooms. Stir and mix everything. Here I have included the following veggies:
- ⅓ or ½ cup chopped carrots
- ⅓ cup chopped baby corn
- 1 cup chopped button mushrooms
- ¼ or ⅓ cup chopped capsicum (or any colored bell pepper)
- ¼ cup french beans
- 1 cup chopped cauliflower
- 10 to 12 Thai pea eggplant (turkey berry)
TIP: You can add your choice of vegetables, but keep in mind that certain veggies like zucchini and capsicum require much less cooking and might be better added nearer to the end of cooking. I usually add capsicum at this step. But if you prefer you can add it later.
4. Stir and mix everything.
5. Now add ½ cup thick coconut milk and mix again. Keep heat to a low.
6. Mix again. Keep heat to a low.
7. Now add about 1.5 cups water and mix again. Since salt was added in the Thai red curry paste, you may not need to add any more. Check the flavor after the dish is cooked.
If you prefer a thicker consistency in the curry then add less water. You can also use homemade vegetable stock instead of water.
TIP: When thinking about salting dishes like soups or curries that will evaporate while cooking, be sure to abstain from adding additional salt until the desired consistency is achieved. This is because while water will evaporate, but the salt will not. If you season for your desired flavor before the water is allowed to dissipate, you will risk over-salting the dish.
Making Thai Curry
8. Cover the pan with its lid and increase the heat to medium-low. Simmer the curry till the vegetables are cooked through and tender.
9. Check the curry occasionally while the veggies are cooking. If water dries up, you can always add more.
10. When the vegetables are cooked and tender, then reduce the flame to a low and add ½ cup thick coconut milk. You can opt to keep the vegetables slightly al dente if you prefer.
At this step, you can also add ¼ teaspoon palm sugar or unrefined cane sugar. The addition of sugar is optional and can be skipped. For a slightly more sweet taste, you can increase the amount of sugar.
11. Mix very well and let the entire curry come to a boil on a low or medium-low flame. Lastly, add 1 tablespoon chopped or torn thai basil leaves.
Mix and switch off the heat. Check the taste of curry, and if necessary, add some salt.
Serving Suggestions and Leftovers
Serve the Thai red curry hot with lemongrass rice, plain steamed basmati rice or jasmine rice. Basil leaves are a beautiful garnish, if you so desire.
Store any leftover curry in the refrigerator for a day. Reheat in a skillet or pan adding some water if the curry has thickened.
Possible Substitutes for Thai ingredients
While it is suggested that you use all of the authentic Thai ingredients in the recipe, I understand that sometimes you may not have access to everything. Living in Goa and making this recipe was my first hand experience with not being able to purchase some of my favorite Thai ingredients.
These are the substitutes I recommend, but please note that the flavors of the Thai red curry will be affected. While the resulting curry will still taste delicious, it will not be authentic.
- Galangal: use fresh ginger
- Kaffir lime leaves: substitute lime leaves or zest of lemon
- Thai chilies: substitute fresh or dried red chilies
- Shallots: use small onions or pearl onions instead
- Thai basil: Italian basil leaves can be used
- Lemon grass: unfortunately, there really is no comparable substitute to lemongrass. At best, you could use zest of lemon, but you will miss out on lemongrass’s distinctive floral flavor.
If too many ingredients are missing from your market, you can also opt to use store bought Thai red curry paste. I recommend using 3 to 4 Tablespoons in place of the homemade recipe.
This dish is traditionally served with aromatic rice. I love serving it with Basmati or Jasmine rice. For a fun fusion, I love serving it with roti or paratha (Indian flatbreads).
I do not recommend that you make this dish without coconut milk. Not only does the fat from the coconut milk create the beautiful, velvety texture of the curry, but it also imparts a lot of flavors.
While soy does impart a particular flavor profile, there are some possible substitutes. First up you could use tamari, which is a gluten free soy sauce preparation. If soy is completely off limits, you could use an equivalent amount of coconut aminos or ½ teaspoon tamarind pulp.
I have made many curries and haven’t experienced curdling when using coconut milk. I would recommend making sure the coconut milk you have on hand is fresh. You can also try adding a teaspoon or so of cornstarch while you’re adding the milk.
Since the paste is made with water, it will last for about 2 days in the refrigerator. You can make a big batch of this paste and freeze it as well. However, if you make the paste with coconut milk, it won’t last long and you have to use it immediately.
Alternatively, you can sauté the paste in some oil, then place it in a jar and cover it with oil to prevent spoilage. Making the paste this way should buy you some additional stability. I would still recommend using it within 2 weeks, if keeping in the fridge.
Galangal is a root from the ginger family, however, their flavors are quite different. While ginger has a sweet heat, galangal is a bit more sharp and peppery.
In Thai cooking, galangal is used frequently. If you don’t have access to galangal, I recommend substituting equal parts turmeric and ginger. The curry will not be an authentic Thai curry, but will still be delicious.
Also known as Thai or makrut limes, kaffir limes are a citrus that is indigenous to Southeast Asia and Southern China. Both its rind and leaves will emit a strong citrusy aroma. The leaves are very popular in Thai cooking, but in a pinch you can substitute lime zest for the kaffir lime leaves.
Many online retailers will sell a dried version of the leaves if you are unable to find them in your market.
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This delicious Thai Red Curry recipe is both vegetarian and vegan. It is packed full of bright flavors and hearty vegetables. If you have a can of coconut milk at the ready, this recipe will come together very quickly and will deliver a ton of flavor.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 40 mins
For red curry paste
For the thai red curry
Making thai red curry paste
Take the spices and set aside– bird’s eye chilies, dry red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black peppercorns.
Also rinse, peel and roughly chop the following herbs – galangal, garlic cloves, shallots (chopped), kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass stalks.
Take the spices, herbs, shallots in a grinder jar.
Add soy sauce, lemon zest (optional) and 2 tablespoon water or coconut milk. Also add salt.
While grinding, scrape the sides and continue to grind. Grind to a fine or semi-fine paste.
In a pot or pan, heat the toasted sesame oil or coconut oil. Keep heat to a low. Add the prepared thai red curry paste.
Sauté for a minute on a low flame stirring often.
Add the chopped veggies including white button mushrooms. You can add your choice of vegetables. Stir and mix everything.
Now add ½ cup thick coconut milk. Mix again. Keep heat to a low.
Next add water. Mix again. Since salt was added in the thai curry paste, it need not be added. But do check the taste of the curry later and if required you can add more salt.
For a thicker consistency in the curry, add less water.
Cover the pan with its lid. Increase the heat to medium or a medium-low. Simmer the curry till the vegetables are cooked and tender. Keep them slightly al dente if you prefer.
In between do check when the veggies are cooking. If water dries up, you can add more water.
Making thai red curry
When the vegetables are cooked and tender, then reduce the heat to a low and add ½ cup thick coconut milk. At this step you can also add ¼ teaspoon palm sugar or raw sugar. Addition of sugar is optional and can be skipped. For a bit more sweet taste, increase the amount of sugar.
Mix very well and let the entire curry come to a gentle boil on a low or medium-low heat. Lastly, add 1 tablespoon chopped or torn thai basil leaves. Mix and switch off the heat. Check the taste of curry and if required you can add some salt.
Serve the thai red curry hot with lemongrass rice or plain steamed basmati rice or jasmine rice. You can garnish it with basil leaves while serving.
Substitutes for the Thai herbs
- Galangal: use ginger instead
- Kaffir lime leaves: add lime leaves or zest of lemon instead
- Thai chilies: substitute fresh red chilies or dry red chilies
- Shallots: use small onions or pearl onions instead
- Thai basil: Italian basil leaves can be used
- Lemon grass: There is no substitute. But at the most, you could just do away with the zest of lemon.
- If using ready store brought thai red curry paste, then add 3 to 4 tablespoons of it.
- For a spicy Thai curry, increase the number of bird’s eye chillies or use dried red chillies that are spicy and hot.
- Swap coriander seeds with 1 teaspoon ground coriander. Similarly, use 1 teaspoon ground cumin instead of cumin seeds.
- You can use coconut cream, but add water as needed to get the consistency you prefer.
- The recipe can be easily scaled to small portion of the curry or a big batch.
- The Thai curry paste recipe is also scalable. Make a large portion and freeze it.
Thai Curry Recipe (Thai Red Curry)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 252 Calories from Fat 180
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 12g75%
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Vitamin A 2186IU44%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 2mg10%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin B12 1µg17%
Vitamin C 62mg75%
Vitamin D 1µg7%
Vitamin E 1mg7%
Vitamin K 14µg13%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 49µg12%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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This Thai Curry recipe post from the archives (first published in Feb 2011) has been republished and updated on 15 June 2021.