I still don’t know how we got this lucky, but the first time I tried Massaman curry was in Thailand, on a beach, made especially for us by a Thai woman who was too modest to call herself a Chef but too passionate not to offer to cook for us once we started talking about food.
We had been frequenting her tiny bar that had only three tables setup on the beach, every night around sunset. Slowly we got to know her and her husband and learned that they had just given up their restaurant in another part of the country and were running this tiny bar until they could figure out where to open up a new one.
Her husband was very proud and said that his wife was the best cook he’d ever met and that it was a hard transition for her to go from cooking every night to not cooking at all. When she offered to make for us her specialty, Massaman curry, on our very last night, we obviously said an enthusiastic ‘yes please!’
I had seen Massaman curry on menus, but hadn’t paid it much attention before this point. This is kind of lame, but one of the reasons I had overlooked it was because the main vegetable always seemed to be potatoes.
I’ve mentioned this before, but love potatoes, they’re my desert island food (assuming there would be coconuts, pineapples and papayas growing there too) but in Thailand, when there are so many fun foreign foods to try and most of your time is spent in a bathing suit, relaxing and sweating, potatoes lose some of their appeal.
It also doesn’t help that the potatoes replace the other veggies found in Thai curry including broccoli (with their flavour-absorbing afros), cabbage (with their flavour-absorbing layers) and other mysterious local veggies (like tiny, bitter eggplant) that are so exciting to discover. Potatoes with curry sauce on rice just never jumped out at me.
Massaman curry was the perfect food inspo to bring back home to Canada though. Considering the warming nature of the dish, it is naturally set up for cooler temperatures. The root veggies (including potatoes) and warming spices (star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom) make complete sense during a cold snap. It’s also a good way to use up the spices that only seem to get Holiday baking action.
I steered away from potatoes in my version and replaced them with turnips and carrots (mostly because I’m on a strange turnip kick, and turnips are from the cruciferous family and this is a great opportunity to celebrate them). But feel free to cut them with potatoes if you want to, just be aware if that means you will pick around all of the other veggies to get to the potatoes. You know who you are.
I also added savoy cabbage, another crucifer (cancer-crusher) but also beautiful and flavour-absorbant in its crinkly layers. You could make your own coconut milk if you wanted to, this Cashew/Coconut one would be rich, sweet and perfect for this dish (and super easy). We made a few other subtle adjustments too (dates instead of sugar, tamari and dulse instead of fish sauce) but nothing to throw the flavours off of their authentic path, promise.
The curry paste, once made, will keep in the fridge for a week or so, but I recommend that you freeze it right away, and then there’s no pressure to use it up. You’ll then have an easy head start to a deeply flavourful, warming meal waiting for you in your freezer (you could also add a tablespoon to a soup recipe like this Carrot and Jalapeño one, to add a punch of Thailand).
The night of this unforgettable meal, we showed up at sunset had a beer and then another and another. We could smell the rich aromas wafting over from this magical woman’s modest hot plate behind her bar. By the time it was ready the moon was high and we were just drunk enough to be really hungry, making it taste even better than we imagined.
My husband and I sometimes play that game ‘if you could be anywhere in the world right now, enjoying any meal, what would it be’ (you do this too, right?) This curry on that beach has been my answer all month long. Although, from experience, I can tell you, it tastes pretty good in chilly Canada with a tall glass of kombucha, too.
- 3 Shallots, peeled (or a small red onion)
- 4-6 Garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 Lemongrass, roughly chopped
- 1-2 Thai Chilis (optional, leave out to make nightshade-free or if you are sensitive to spice)
- 1 bunch of Cilantro, stems only (reserve the leaves for the curry)
- 1 inch of fresh Ginger
- 1 inch of fresh turmeric (1 tsp if using dried)
- 2 Dates, pitted
- 3 Tbsp Dulse
- 3 Tbsp Tamari
- 4 Tbsp melted Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- ½ tsp Peppercorns
- ¼ tsp Cardamom Seeds (or 4-5 whole pods)
- 3 Cloves
- 1 tsp Cinnamon, ground/grated
- ¼ tsp Nutmeg, ground/grated
- ½ tsp Cumin, ground (or 1 tsp whole)
- ½ tsp Coriander, ground (or 2 tsp whole)
- 1 Star Anise
- Water as needed to make the blender work (you might not need it)
- 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- ½ recipe of the above Massaman Curry Paste
- 4 c Coconut Milk (about 2 cans)
- 2-3 c Water
- 2 whole Star Anise
- 4-6 inch Cinnamon Stick, broken in half
- 8-10 Shallots, peeled
- 2-3 lbs Root Veggies (we used turnips and carrots, but anything would work) (beets would turn it pink though), cut into wedges/equal sized pieces
- 1 small Savoy Cabbage (or any cabbage), cut into wedges (with the root holding it together).
- 1 bunch Cilantro leaves (whose stems were used in the curry paste)
- 4 sprigs of Thai Basil
- 1-2 Fresh Limes
- Sea(weed) Salt or Tamari, as needed for final seasoning
- In a blender or food processor, blend ingredients until relatively smooth (you may have to pre-chop some of the ingredients depending on your appliance).
- Use right away, refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze until you're ready for it.
- For the Curry:
- In a large saucepan, melt the coconut oil and add the curry paste.
- Sauté on low heat until it becomes very fragrant and starts to dry out a bit (it might start to stick, that's ok as long as it doesn't get too dark and start to burn) (if it starts to darken, move to the next step).
- Add 2 cups of water, the coconut milk and whole shallots and bring to a simmer.
- Add the root vegetables, put a lid on top and let simmer on low until they become tender (5-10 minutes or longer, depending on the size of the veg and the level of heat).
- Take the lid off and add the thai basil sprigs and place the cabbage wedges over the top, squishing part way into the curry, and replace the lid.
- Simmer for another 5-ish minutes, or until the cabbage turns bright green (check on it) (also, this is a fleeting moment, it will eventually turn less vibrantly green as it sits in the curry, which is totally ok)
- The extra cup of water is in case you simmered too much liquid away and the curry sauce has become too thick.
- Take the lid off and sprinkle the fresh cilantro leaves over the top and squeeze on some fresh lime juice (or save these steps to do on each individual plate).
- Serve over freshly steamed rice, buckwheat, quinoa, or just serve as it is.