You can pick up jars of green and red Thai curry paste in supermarkets across Britain – but if you want to expand your Thai cooking repertoire, try these recipes.
Sweet and sour, spicy and herbaceous, vibrantly veg-forward and stickily hangover-quashing – Thai cooking is a melange of flavours and influences, indicating the country’s long history as a melting pot of different cultures.
Vegetables, seafood and aromatic herbs have been integral to Thai cooking for well over a millennium. But techniques such as stir-frying and steaming were carried on the wave of Chinese migration into Thailand around the 13th century. Chillies are believed to have arrived in Thailand in the 17th centuries via missionaries travelling from South America – while Buddhist monks from India are thought to have brought spices and curries to the region. There are even Thai desserts that share similarities with Portuguese puddings, thanks to trade between the two countries stretching back as far as the 16th century.
All of this means that whatever your personal palate – whether you like creamy coconut curries, spicy noodles, zingy salads, shimmering soups or addictive deep-fried appetisers – you’ll likely be able to find a Thai recipe you love. But as Thai food has exploded in popularity in the UK over the last couple of decades, a handful of recipes have become ubiquitous: namely, red and green curries and pad thai noodles.
There’s nothing wrong with the popularity of these dishes: they’re classics for a reason. But if you’re ready to expand your repertoire and make other Thai recipes at home, we have four recipes to share ahead.
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First up: a tangy cucumber salad recipe courtesy of the debut cookbook by Thailand-born Vilailuck ‘Pepper’ Teigen (yes, Chrissy Teigen’s mum). This simple side dish – a standby in Thai restaurants in the US – is bright, crunchy and refreshing, featuring red peppers, shallots and a generous dousing of a sweet-sharp vinegar dressing.
Alternatively, if you’re into Thai fishcakes (tod mun pla), we have two easy twists on the traditional recipe. The Thai sweetcorn patties were devised by Saiphin Moore, co-owner and chef at the Rosa’s Thai Café restaurant group. Food writer Sasha Gill’s Thai-style ocean cakes, meanwhile, are a delicious vegan starter: a base of artichoke and sunflower seeds is lent colour, flavour and texture by red curry paste, lime and panko breadcrumbs.
Finally, red and green curry fans should turn their attention to Dan Toombs’ yellow Thai curry. Milder than its more popular cousins, this turmeric-laced chicken dish is similar to a Thai massaman curry and the Indian korma. You may be able to get hold of readymade yellow Thai curry paste in your local supermarket – but if you have the time, it’s well worth following Toombs’ instructions below for making your own at home. World-class fakeaway incoming…
Saiphin Moore's tod mun khao pod (sweetcorn patties)
Saiphin says: “A few years ago a friend was planning to visit a temple in Thailand. She wanted to make fishcakes for the monks, not realizing that Thai monks don’t usually eat meat or fish, so we had to come up with a vegetarian dish for them – and these quick and easy sweetcorn patties were born.
“We played around for a few hours and ended up with this recipe. These corn cakes are crunchy, with a wonderful balance of peppery savour to balance the sweet burst of corn. They’re great served as a party finger food.”
- 260g canned sweetcorn, drained
- ½ tsp sea salt flakes
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp tempura flour
- 1 tbsp cornflour, plus extra as required
- 3 tbsp cold water
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (optional)
- sunflower oil, for deep-frying
- sweet chilli sauce, to serve
In a mixing bowl, combine the sweetcorn, salt, pepper, tempura flour, cornflour, measured water and egg. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more cornflour. Stir the lime leaves, if using, into the batter.
Fill a heavy-based saucepan or wok with oil to a depth of one-third and set the pan over a medium-high heat, to prepare for deep-frying.
When the oil is hot, carefully drop a tablespoonful of the batter at a time into the oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Deep-fry for about 1 minute, then turn over and fry for a further minute, until golden brown and cooked through.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat until the mixture is used up – the mixture will make about 6 patties. Serve the patties with sweet chilli sauce.
Make it vegan
To make these patties suitable for vegans, leave out the egg.
Extract from Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Vegetarian Cookbook by Saiphin Moore (£20, Octopus Books), out now
Pepper Teigen's tangy cucumber salad
- 67g sugar
- 79ml distilled white vinegar
- flaky sea salt
- 3 Persian (mini) cucumbers, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 large shallot or ½ medium red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 2 small sweet red bell peppers, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 3 fresh bird’s eye chillies (very hot) or 1 serrano chilli (less hot), thinly sliced crosswise into rings
- handful of fresh coriander leaves (optional)
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, 1 tablespoon water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely.
In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, shallot, bell peppers, and chillies. Add the cooled syrup and toss. Refrigerate for up to an hour, or let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes before serving (don’t wait too long or the cucumber will lose its crunch).
Sprinkle with coriander leaves before serving, if desired.
Extract from The Pepper Thai Cookbook by Pepper Teigen (£22.50, Clarkson Potter), out 26 April
Sasha Gill's Thai-style ocean cakes
Sasha says: “While these do not have the distinctive, springy texture of traditional Thai fishcakes (tod mun pla), they taste remarkably briny, with a spicy kick. Remember to check the label when you buy your red curry paste to make sure it doesn’t contain any fish sauce or shrimp paste [in order to keep the dish vegan].”
Prep time: 20 minutes (plus soaking time)
Cooking time: 20 minutes
- 1 x 390g tin artichokes, drained
- 40g sunflower seeds, soaked in water for 1 hour
- 2 tbsp red curry paste
- 1 sheet nori, finely shredded
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- ½ tsp light soy sauce
- 2.5cm ginger, grated
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 30g panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- coriander sprigs, to garnish
For the flax egg (makes the equivalent of 1 egg):
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed (or ground chia seeds)
For the crispy coating:
- 125ml plant milk
- 75g plain flour
- 30g panko breadcrumbs
- 25g desiccated coconut
- salt and pepper, to taste
- vegetable oil, for frying
For the flax egg, mix the flax with 3 tablespoons water in a cup. Set aside until thick and viscous, about 5–10 minutes, before adding to your recipe.
Chop the artichokes finely and place them in a bowl. Drain the sunflower seeds and blitz in a food processor with the curry paste, nori, spring onions, soy sauce, ginger and lime juice. Add to the bowl, along with the flax egg, breadcrumbs and flour. Use a wooden spoon or a fork to combine everything thoroughly.
Now set up a breadcrumbing station: combine the plant milk and flour in one wide shallow bowl; and the breadcrumbs, coconut, salt and pepper in another.
Pour a little oil into a non-stick frying pan and set it over medium heat. Form the mixture into patties about 7.5cm in diameter. Take a patty, dip it into the flour and milk mixture, then into the breadcrumb mixture, pressing in the crumbs.
Fry until golden brown on each side, flipping it halfway – it should take 4–5 minutes in total. If you have a large pan, you should be able to fry up to three at a time.
Drain on paper towel, then garnish with coriander and serve with a side of cucumber relish (see below).
If you would prefer to bake these, preheat the oven to 190°C and line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone mat. Spray with oil and bake the patties for 15–17 minutes, flipping halfway – note that they will not brown when cooked this way.
Edited extract from Jackfruit And Blue Ginger: Asian Favourites, Made Vegan by Sasha Gill (£18.99, Murdoch Books), out now
Dan Toombs's yellow chicken curry
Dan says: “Many people liken this curry to an Indian restaurant-style chicken korma because it is yellow and made with coconut. It is normally a bit spicier than a chicken korma, but you can adjust the amount of chillies in your curry paste or use less paste if using a shop-bought one. Serve this with the rice of your choice.
“With this recipe I wanted to introduce another way you can prepare your curries without adding oil. At many good restaurants they use a method of cooking called ‘cracking the coconut milk’. By cooking a little coconut milk in your pan to start with, the natural coconut oil splits from the coconut milk. This is plenty of oil to fry with. Use the best-quality coconut milk you can find. If this method doesn’t appeal to you, just add two tablespoons of oil to the wok/pan and carry on with the recipe.”
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
- 10 small waxy new potatoes, quartered
- 600ml thick coconut milk
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 batch of yellow curry paste (see recipe below or shop-bought to taste)
- 1 tbsp palm sugar
- 1 tbsp shop-bought tamarind paste
- 600g skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 carrot, cut into thin rounds
- 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
- 10 baby plum tomatoes, halved (optional)
- 4 tbsp fried garlic
- chopped chillies (optional)
- chopped coriander leaves (optional)
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and cook the quartered potatoes until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a wok or large frying pan over a medium–high heat and add 200ml of the coconut milk. Watch it as it comes to a simmer. The coconut milk should split and you should see the coconut oil. If it doesn’t, that isn’t a problem; the oil is still there.
Add the curry paste and fry for about 30 seconds to cook off the rawness. Stir in the palm sugar and tamarind paste and then add the chicken. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously until the chicken is about 80% cooked through.
Add the curry powder, carrot and the remaining coconut milk and simmer to thicken for about 5 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce, tasting and adjusting the flavours as necessary.
Stir in the cooked potatoes and tomatoes (if using) and serve hot, garnished with fried garlic and chopped chillies and coriander if you like.
Yellow curry paste
Dan says: “The traditional way of making curry pastes is to pound fresh ingredients with a pestle and mortar. This slowly releases the natural oils and flavours from each ingredient. The flavours are more intense and you will be rewarded for all your hard work when you take your first bite of whatever it is you’re making.
“I usually use fresh turmeric because it releases more moisture and I prefer the flavour. You could use dried ground turmeric if you like. A word of warning: if using fresh turmeric, it colours everything it comes in contact with!”
Makes approx. 250ml
Prep time: 40– 60 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins
- 1 ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 1 ½ tsp cardamom seeds
- ½ tsp green cardamom seeds (optional)
- 1 ½ tsp white pepper
- 12 dried red bird’s eye chillies, soaked in water for 30 minutes and then cut into small pieces
- 12 garlic cloves
- 1 thumb-sized piece of galangal, thinly sliced
- 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and thinly sliced, or 1–1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 3 lime leaves, stalks removed and finely chopped
- 3 medium shallots, halved
- 10 thick coriander stalks (about 1 generous tbsp)
- 2 tbsp sliced lemongrass (½ lemongrass stalk)
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
Heat a pan over a medium–high heat and toast the whole spices until warm to the touch and fragrant but not yet smoking. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and pound to a fine powder.
Add the white pepper and pound, then add the dried red chillies and start pounding into a paste.
Continue with the garlic, adding each new ingredient, up to and including the lemongrass, until you have a smooth, buttery curry paste. This will take between 40 and 60 minutes. (For a quicker, less traditional method, see below.)
Once you have a fragrant and smooth paste, add the shrimp paste and continue pounding to incorporate. Check for seasoning. The paste will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks and freezes very well for up to 2 months.
Alternatively, you can simply blend the fresh ingredients for a good-quality curry paste that will work perfectly well. You won’t get the same intensity of flavours as the previous method but it’s still worth making a homemade paste this way. You might find that you need to add a little extra liquid when using this method – either a little water or some extra lime juice will work well.
Edited extract from The Curry Guy Thai: Recreate Over 100 Classic Thai Takeaway And Restaurant Dishes At Home by Dan Toombs (£15, Quadrille), out now
Photography: © 2021 Jenny Huang; Louise Hagger; Sasha Gill; Kris Kirkham
The Pepper Thai Cookbook copyright © 2021 by Vilailuck Teigen with Garrett Snyder. Clarkson Potter is an imprint of Random House