Malaysian Red Curry
Curry is a dish shared across numerous world cuisines. In Malaysia where I’m from, we have our own version that is incessantly aromatic and flavorful, consisting of a fragrant curry sauce with strong coconut flavors and a generous dose of spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric and lemongrass. At any Malay, Indian or Straits Chinese eatery in Malaysia, you’ll find this curry ladled onto rice, served as the star of a spread of dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (And yes, you can have it for all three.)
Red curry is emblematic of Malaysia’s cuisine, influenced by centuries of cultural and racial mixing. Red curries start off with a rich, aromatic spice paste, made with alliums and dried spices pounded with a pestle and mortar into pulp, then sautéed and fried until fragrant. Protein—often chicken—and vegetables are nestled into the curry with a generous pouring of coconut milk. The dish is simmered on the stovetop until it emits a bright fragrance. It is a marriage of cumin and coconut milk, turmeric and lemongrass, and other spices that were commonly traded in the region.
On a personal level, red curry is partially responsible for my marriage. When I left Malaysia for America, I took with me the ingredients for red curry in my luggage swaddled in inches of newspaper, part of my father’s ploy to foil U.S. Customs officials. So when I decided to cook a signature dish for my now-husband, it was naturally this precious red curry that I made in my tiny New York City dorm kitchen. (Admittedly, I was looking for the cheap thrill of watching the spice kick in; I later learned he was a pepper-eating enthusiast.)
Red curry, as such, is truly special to me. When I was formulating Homiah’s product line, red curry jumped out as a personal must-have and reminder of the power of food to bridge cultures and tie people together.
- Protein: While chicken is the protein of choice for most red curries found in Malaysia, it isn’t a rule set in stone. If you’re looking for a meatless alternative, seitan, tempeh, firm tofu, or hardy mushrooms would make a great substitute.
- Vegetables: Potatoes and onions are commonly used in classic Malaysian red curry, but pretty much all vegetables can be used. You can make it your own with the addition of carrots, peas, cauliflower, kale, or sliced onions. You can also choose to omit the protein altogether and substitute with vegetables.
- Sautéing the spice paste: The key cooking step of any Malaysian curry is to sauté the spice paste for about 5 minutes. Similar to the Indian technique of blooming spices in hot oil, called tadka or chaunk, this process serves to bring out the aroma of the alliums and spices, intensifying their flavor. You’ll know you’ve reached the right stage when you see a glossy layer of oil begin to separate from the spices and when your kitchen is imbued with an intoxicating curry-perfume. If you feel you are missing the oil separation, don’t sweat -- simply exposing the spices to heat for a few minutes is enough to move on to the next steps.
Malaysian Red Curry
- 1 Homiah Malaysian Red Curry Kit (there are 2 kits per pouch)
- 1 lb boneless diced chicken thigh, seitan, or tofu
- 1/2 cup potatoes and/or carrots, diced
- 3/4 cup (125ml) coconut milk
- Optional: 10–12 curry leaves
- Pour the Homiah Malaysian Red Curry Kit into a medium saucepan or pot, and sauté for 3—5 minutes on medium-high heat until the oil begins to sizzle lightly.
- Add in the pieces of chicken thigh, seitan or tofu, along with the diced potatoes and carrots and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
- Add coconut milk, bring it to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low. Place a lid on the saucepan or pot, and continue to simmer on low for 20 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
- Serve hot with rice or any grain of your choice. Keeps well for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Ingredient alternatives based on dietary preferences:
- Chicken thigh: Chicken breast, seitan, or firm tofu. For all three, a 20-minute simmer is sufficient.
- Potatoes and carrots: This can be omitted altogether, or in the case of an all vegetable version, become the basis of the meal itself. If you are sticking with the meat and vegetable combo, then you can include green peas.
- Coconut milk: Substitute some or all with chicken or vegetable stock for a low calorie option.