Vegan Thai massaman curry is a mild, nutty, and slightly sweet dish from Thailand. Unlike other Thai dishes, massaman uses spices that are more commonly found in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, and marries them perfectly with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, and coconut milk.
But… before I go any further, I have to tell you that Transylvania is awesome! Really, really, awesome!
We moved here a few days ago, and while it’s been as much of a culture shock as when we first moved to Thailand (which we soon got over), it’s nevertheless wonderful. And so tranquil.
On our first day, we made friends with Ionel, the priest, who seems to be very friendly and helpful. And speaks a little English (far more than we speak Romanian… for now).
On our third day, we met our neighbours, Iacob and Emilia, and their son, Petru, and grandson, Darius (at least, we assume that’s who they were!). We were invited into their home, and plied with yums and beer.
They speak no English… but understood a little Italian – or rather, Italian words which sound similar to Romanian ones. But it didn’t matter – smiles and kind words, no matter what the language, are universally understood.
By the way, check out these awesome tomatoes which we bought from the farmer’s market in Cluj (about a two hour drive from here). They taste as amazing as they look.
This morning, around 8h, I went into the veggie garden (which is huge) to do some weeding, and there was Iacob, making stakes for the beans and tomatoes! A short while later, Emilia came over, and started to help with the weeding. They are amazing people, and they completely put me to shame. Even more amazing, when you consider that they are 71 & 68, respectively!
I am so grateful for their help, especially as I haven’t yet got myself into a routine, and just don’t seem to have enough time at the moment to do everything.
I apologise for the rubbish videography! See the orchard? We’ve been advised to keep the gate to it shut, to keep the bears out!
Anyway, back to the curry…
Vegan Thai massaman curry
As with my som tam ma muang, this massaman curry recipe was taught to me by my friend, Aye (owner and chef of Chiang Mai’s Anchan restaurant). It was always my favourite, and I’d order it whenever it was on the menu, so I was over the moon when he taught me how to make it for myself.
I generally use both soy chunks and extra firm tofu in this curry but there’s nothing to stop you using one or the other, or seitan. If you don’t want to use any of those, simply add some more veggies – maybe a selection of different mushrooms, or Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) when they’re in season. Even chickpeas or beans!
As long as they are reasonably substantial, and not too strongly-flavoured, pretty much any veg can be used.
Also known as mussaman, matsuman, and mussulman (the latter being an old word for Muslim), massaman curry is said to have originated at the Ayutthaya court in Central Thailand during the early 1600s, and is attributed to Ahmad Qomi, a Persian merchant and high-ranking Thai court official, who became founder of the powerful Thai political nobility, the Bunnag family.
Another school of thought attributes massaman curry to influences from Thailand’s neighbour, Malaysia – its own cuisine being heavily influenced by that of India, due in no small part, to the Indian population there.
It’s entirely possible that both theories are correct, as Persian (Iranian) cuisine seems to share several dishes with that of India. For example, pilau, so beloved of British Indian Restaurant fans, is called polow (pronounced, ‘polov’) in Iran. Murgh (chicken) in India is morgh in Iran.
Interestingly, pilau – or variations thereof – is found across the world, from the Balkans to South Asia to East Africa. In Britain it’s known as pilaf, and in Italy of course, we have risotto, which is a similar dish, just made with different rice.
I really need to blog a risotto! And a pilau/pilaf.
Whatever its actual origins, massaman curry is a veritable feast for the senses: in true Thai style, the flavours cycle from hot to sour to salty, and then to sweet. It can be made as spicy or mild as you like – you have complete control over its heat, due to using curry paste and coconut milk (which also adds to its overall sweetness).
The spices used in massaman curry are unusual for Thai food, and again, allude to its Indian, Malay, or Persian origins. Cumin, cloves, nutmeg flower and ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise are all spices which would have been traded with Thailand in the 17th century by Muslim merchants from India and the Middle East. I for one, am very grateful to them.
You will be too!
These spices, when mixed with fragrant Thai herbs, plus coconut and a little palm sugar, results in a rich, creamy, warming curry, eminently suitable for chilli-wimps such as myself!
Vegan Thai Massaman Curry
- easy to make
- ready in just 40 minutes
- mildly spicy
- slightly sweet
- full of goodness
- packed with protein
- utterly delicious!
Served with rice, this massaman curry makes an ideal weekday dinner – or save it for the weekend, as part of a more elaborate multi-dish meal.
Vegan Thai Massaman Curry
- 3-4 tbsp massaman curry paste note 1
- 500 ml water
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot diced
- 1 large tomato cut into chunks
- 150 g mushrooms halved (note 2)
- 1 large red pepper de-seeded and cut into chunks
- 100 g dried soy chunks (or soy curls), soaked in water for 10-15 mins
- 200 g extra-firm tofu drained, pressed, and cut into cubes
- 300 g cooked potatoes cut into bite-sized chunks
- 4 tbsp crushed peanuts
- 400 ml canned coconut milk
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste or home-made tamarind sauce (note 3)
- ½-1 tsp sea salt to taste
- 1½ tsp palm sugar
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 1 whole star anise
- Add 3 tbsp massaman curry paste to a hot wok over a medium-high heat. How much paste you use is entirely up to you. Stir-fry for 2 mins. (No additional oil needed.)
- Stir the water into the paste to make a thin sauce.
- Add all of the veggies (except the potato), plus the soy chunks and tofu. Give them a stir, and cook until just tender, adding more water if necessary. (note 5)
- Add the potatoes and the crushed peanuts. Stir well. Cook for 5 mins.
- Stir in the coconut milk, then add a little salt, palm sugar, and tamarind. Taste, and adjust the last three as necessary - you're aiming for a balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet (bearing in mind that massaman curry should be a little on the sweet side, and not overly hot).
- Add the star anise and cardamom, turn the heat down, and simmer for 5 mins.
- Remove the anise and cardamom, and serve with rice.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the ‘fridge for 2-3 days.
- For the nutritional values, I’ve assumed that you’ll be using 4 tbsp of curry paste, so if you’re keeping an eye on your intake, you’ll need to adjust the numbers according to how much you actually use.
- It’s best to use Asian mushrooms (e.g. straw or eryngii) but if you can’t get them, really fresh closed cup ones will also work.
- Store-bought tamarind sauce tends to be thin and on the watery side, so it's much better to make your own paste. To do this, take a block of tamarind, and soak in hot water for 10 minutes. Then squish it all together. Remove the bits of skin and any seeds, and what you'll have left is a lovely and thick sauce.
- Blocks of tamarind are also much cheaper than pre-made paste/sauce. If you really don't want to make it yourself, use store-bought tamarind paste... but a little less than the recipe calls for, as it tends to be quite concentrated.
- If you do need to add more water, you may want to add a bit more massaman curry paste. Have a taste, and decide.
- If you don’t want to make your own, you can use store-bought massaman curry paste but do check the ingredients list because some contain fish sauce (nam pla), dried shrimp (goong haeng), or fermented shrimp paste (kapi).
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tbsp = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml