Thai green curry is the most famous Thai dish outside Thailand. It has a distinct green color that set it apart from Indian, Malaysian and Japanese curries which are mostly red or yellow. The green color is from the green chilies instead of red chilies used in other types of curry.
Why is it so? It is closely related to the types of ingredients used in green curry.You might guess correctly that the main ingredient is green chili, not red chili as most people might think.
You need a myriad of spices and some exotic ingredients to prepare an authentic green curry. This sounds complicated, but this post will give you some hints on what to do if you are unable to find certain ingredients. You will certainly get the authentic flavor if you use all the original ingredients, but it does not mean that using alternative ingredients will produce second-grade curry. Some ingredients can be omitted or substituted for cooking Thai green curry.
I divide the recipe into parts. The first part is about how to prepare the green curry paste, which is considered the heart and soul of the Thai green curry. It takes some time to prepare, but you can change the amount and type of spices for the curry paste, which means you have more control of the taste profile. The second part is about the actual cooking of the Thai green curry with the green curry paste you just made in the first part. I use chicken in this recipe but you can change it to any other meat, or use only vegetables.
I will point out the key ingredients that must be included in the recipe, and what can be replaced and omitted. The Thai green curry cooked in different households and regions in Thailand is different. This is similar to adobo in the Philippines, where different people vouch their recipes are the most authentic. The Thai green curry is considered authentic as long as it does not omit any essential ingredients and is cooked by following the standard method.
- 15g (about 1 tbsp) of chopped galangal
- 20g (about 1 stalk) of thinly sliced lemongrass
- 50g (about 6 tablespoons) of garlic
- 50g (about 5 tablespoons) of sliced shallots
- 3 pieces of green bird's eye chilies
- 10 pieces of seeded long green chilies
- 10 pieces of Thai basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon of kaffir lime zest
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of Thai paste
- ½ teaspoon of white pepper
- 5g (about 1 tablespoon) of coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon of cumin seed
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 120g of Thai green curry paste
- 400g of chicken breast meat cut into 1 cm thick pieces
- 320ml of coconut milk
- 8 pieces of bird's eye chilli
- 70g of eggplants
- 70g of kabocha squash
- 70g of king oyster or shiitake mushroom, torn or cut into small pieces
- 6 sprigs of Thai basil leaf, discard the stems
- 4 pieces of kaffir lime leaf
- 15g of palm sugar
- 2 teaspoon of fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- Chicken stock or water for cooking the curry
- Chop the galangal into small pieces and cut the lemongrass into thin slices,
- Cut the chilies and shallots into small pieces
- Put all the dry ingredients into an electric blender. Blend for ½ minute.
- Add the fish sauce and vegetable oil and blitz again until it becomes a very smooth curry paste.
- Cut the chicken breast meat into ½cm thick small pieces.
- Cut the eggplant into 3 cm long strips
- Stir fry the Thai green curry paste with some vegetable oil until it turns fragrant.
- Add the coconut milk to the curry paste and heat it up on medium heat until the oil starts to separate and form a layer of green oil on top.
- Reduce the heat. Continue cooking in the wok or transfer it to a pot. Keep stirring to prevent the curry from being scorched. Lower the heat if it splatters too much.
- Add the chicken meat and bird's eye chilies into the curry mixture. Add some water or chicken stock until the chicken is fully submerged.
- Once the meat is partially cooked, add the eggplant, kabocha squash and mushrooms. Simmer for about ten minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked. Add some water if the curry is too thick.
- Add the Thai basil leave after turning off the heat in order to keep it green.
Do everything right to prepare Thai green curry
The challenge of preparing Thai green curry is not about mastering the technique. It is about getting the long list of ingredients of which some are uncommon in some countries.
Many people head to the grocery shop to buy the ready-made Thai green curry paste. This is the easy way out, as there are some very good commercially made Thai green curry pastes available for sale. But if you want to enjoy the fresh flavor of green curry and control the spiciness of each ingredient, you must make the effort to prepare the fresh curry paste. The following explanation is helpful to let you understand the key ingredients that you must include, which are the alternate ingredients and the important aspects you should pay attention to when you prepare the Thai green curry paste.
Galangal is the main ingredients of Thai green curry, You cannot substitute it with other ingredients. It is also called ‘blue ginger’ in some Chinese-speaking countries in Asia, but the flavor is very different from the normal ‘yellow’ ginger that you are familiar with.
The useful part of lemongrass is the white section, the bulb of the lemongrass. Remove the upper section which is green and the outer layer of the lemongrass, much like removing the outer layer of an onion. The lemongrass should be thinly sliced before putting it into the blender as it takes some time to blend. This is also an essential ingredient for making Thai green curry.
3. Bird’s eye chili
This is a type of small chilies which is very hot. The Thai’s and many Asians can take very hot food. If you prefer a milder curry, reduce the amount of bird’s eye chilies in the recipe. This is not an essential ingredient, thus you can substitute it with other types of locally available chilli. (Note: The short green chilies in the image below are bird’s eye chilies).
4. Thai basil leaf
You can substitute it with other types of basil if this type is not available.
5. Kaffir lime
The flavor of kaffir lime is different from the normal lime and lemon. Try to get this ingredient for your curry. The kaffir lime zest can be substituted with several pieces of kaffir lime leaves widely available in many countries.
6. Coriander and cumin seeds
Both seeds can be substituted with the ground powder. The flavor is not significantly different as long as the ground spices are fresh.
7. The vegetable and meat
Eggplants, kabocha squash and green beans are the common vegetables used in Thai green curry. The meat can be any type of meat or seafood. The Thai green curry recipe is very flexible.
8. Palm sugar
Palm sugar has a distinct smoky aroma and a complex flavor. (The block of brown substance at the center of the image below is palm sugar) Substitute palm sugar with brown sugar if it is unavailable.
9. How much chilli paste is required?
The amount of chili paste in this recipe should produce a thick and spicy curry. You can reduce the amount of chili paste if you like a milder curry. However, the other ingredients in the paste will be reduced proportionately, which results in a curry of inferior flavor.
The best way to solve this dilemma is to cut down the amount of green chilli while preparing the chilli paste. You can add enough chilli paste to the curry without worrying about it becoming too spicy, and yet with getting the full flavor of galangal, lemongrass, shallots and others.
10. Stir fry the chilli paste
Stir-frying the chili paste helps release the aroma of the spices.
11. Cook until the coconut oil separates from the liquid.
This step needs a little more explanation. The aromatics such as onion and garlic are normally sauteed until fragrant in western cooking. In making curry the paste will go through a long sauteeing process of ten or more minutes until the oil separates from the spices. The oil will form a thin layer on top of the curry. The separation indicates that the flavor of the spices is fully developed.