Imagine insisting maroon is the only shade of red. You would be correct that maroon is in fact a shade of red, but objectively wrong that it is the only one.
Lately I’ve been ruminating over the myriad Thai curries there are available, yet the varieties people know outside of the country are limited to one-dimensional primary and secondary colour labels. These perfunctory characterisations assume there is no further information, that the expansive curry repertoire is limited to red, yellow, green.
This is an incorrect assumption, and so I am planning to spend more time discussing Thai curries on this site. I’ll begin with gaeng kua kling, a dish that is emblematic of aahaan paak dtai, or Southern Thai cuisine. This fiery dish is a dry curry, meaning the curry paste is fried with its ingredients and there is no souplike element.
A striking aspect of prik gaeng kua kling, or gaeng kua curry paste, is it utilises a combination of both fresh and dried red bird’s eye chilies. This is unique because most other red curry pastes use only dried chillies. This curry paste also contains turmeric, which is also indicative of Southern Thai food. A further hallmark of gaeng kua kling is the generous quantity of shredded kaffir lime leaves added during cooking.
With regards to cooking this curry, it’s important to remember it isn’t meant to be cooked like a powerfully seared stir-fry. Low and slow is the game in order for the curry paste ingredients to have time to mingle and meld.
Someone said to me recently, “if your mouth isn’t on fire then it isn’t gaeng kua kling.” My recipe leaves these cheeks blazing, but would still be considered mild by some!
Vegan Kua Kling Curry
You will end up with more curry paste than you need, but it will keep for a few weeks in the fridge. You should eat gaeng kua kling with plenty of jasmine rice and heaps of fresh vegetables.
Kua Kling Curry Paste Ingredients
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 10 dried bird’s eye chillies, soaked for 15 minutes in warm water
- 75 grams thinly sliced lemongrass (bottom half only)
- 6 grams (2 teaspoons) finely diced galangal
- 5 grams (2 generous teaspoons) turmeric, sliced thinly
- 25 grams (3 tablespoons) minced garlic
- 25 grams (¼ cup) sliced shallots
- 1 teaspoon minced kaffir lime zest
- 20 fresh red bird’s eye chillies
- 4 grams (1 teaspoon) black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon vegan shrimp paste or Thai yellow bean sauce
Kua Kling Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 175 grams firm tofu, crumbled or mashed
- 115 grams chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
- 80 grams kua kling curry paste (above)
- 1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon thinly sliced (shredded) kaffir lime leaf
- 1 tablespoon fresh green peppercorn (optional)
- 1 long red chilli, thinly sliced lengthways (optional)
- Extra soy/vegan fish sauce, to taste
- First make the curry paste. Beginning with the salt and soaked bird’s eye chilies, use a pestle and mortar to pound the chillies into a smooth paste. Then add the lemongrass and repeat. Move down the ingredients list, pounding each ingredient until smooth before adding the next.
- Heat a pan to medium and add the oil. Fry the tofu and mushroom for a few minutes before adding the curry paste. Stir fry slowly, incorporating the curry paste with the tofu and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for about ten minutes.
- Season with soy sauce and sugar, stirring until mixed through. Add the kaffir lime leaves, fresh green peppercorns, and sliced long red pepper. Cook for a couple more minutes. Taste and season as you go – you may need more salt and/or soy sauce, depending on whether or not you used vegan shrimp paste in your curry paste (and on the various degrees of salt that ingredient could have if you did).
- Serve warm or at room temperature with jasmine rice and fresh vegetables like sator bean (stink bean), cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, and pennywort leaf. While unusual in Thailand, carrot is also a great accompaniment.
- Author: Kip Dorrell
- Serves 2-3, with rice and raw vegetables
- Cuisine: Southern Thai