My New York-based multi-talented niece Dr Vedika Kumar, who is training to become a psychiatrist, has always been passionate about vegan food.
Finding vegan food is increasingly easier, I have discovered on my travels, in the United States, the UK, Ireland, and many parts of Europe. It feels quite good, as a vegetarian myself, to pick up a packet of food in a British or Irish grocery store and see a thoughtful little message -- 'suitable for vegetarians' or 'suitable for vegans'.
And much of Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine one bumps into is vegan too or easily adaptable as vegan.
But to get the kind of meals that appeal to her, Vedika cooks a wide range of vegan food regularly when she is off duty from the hospital and is an accomplished home cook.
She invited me on a lovely June evening for an al fresco dinner in the tiny but precious garden of her Brooklyn apartment, where she grows a variety of vegetables.
Vedika made a smorgasbord of tasty vegan food from scratch -- spring rolls, a dip with crudites, noodle salad, stuffed lettuce wraps, Thai curry, steamed rice. There was even vegan strawberry ice cream at the end of it.
The Thai curry, with tofu in it, was particularly special. I asked for her recipe, which is below, with her comments, and this is what she said about the recipe:
"This Thai-inspired tofu curry is a tasty and balanced meal with endless possibilities for customisation. I like to use it to clear out my fridge of produce at the end of the week. Or, if you keep certain canned items around, you can put this together with relatively few fresh ingredients too."
"The amounts here are purposefully vague because these ingredients vary hugely in terms of their flavour profile. I recommend tasting as you go and altering the recipe when you want to."
Vedika's Vegan Thai Red Curry With Veggies and Tofu
For the gravy
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 tbsp finely grated galangal (please see the note below)
- 2 tbsp Thai curry paste (please see the note below)
- 2-inch piece lemongrass, minced, optional
- 2 shallots, diced, can substitute with a large onion instead
- 1 tsp gud or jaggery, add based on sweetness preferences
- 1-2 Thai hot peppers, add depending on spiciness of the curry paste (can be substituted with any kind of chilly or omitted)
- 1-2 400 ml cans regular, unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk, may need more than 1 can depending on the amount of vegetables used
- ½ cup water, adjust based on desired creaminess of broth
- 2 tsp rice vinegar or substitute fresh lime juice, or any other vinegar
Vegetable or protein for the curry
Very customisable, these are just suggestions. Pick and choose based on what's on hand. You want around 3-4 cups of these items chopped. But if you have more than 3-4 cups, just add more coconut milk.
- Canned sliced water chestnuts
- Canned sliced bamboo shoots
- Tofu (I usually use firm tofu, around 1 pack per 2-3 people)
- 1 white or yellow onion, chopped (I prefer slivers)
- 1 red, green or yellow capsicum or bell pepper, sliced into strips
- Handful green beans, chopped into 2-inch pieces
- Half a head of cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- Handful or more leafy greens like spinach, kale, bok choy etc
- Chopped Thai basil (my favourite)
- Few lime wedges
- Sprinkling bean sprouts
- Chopped green dhania or coriander or cilantro
- Steamed rice, jasmine variety preferred
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the diced shallots, lemongrass and stir for a few minutes until translucent.
Add in the hard vegetables like cauliflower, bell peppers, beans etc, the canned vegetables and the tofu and saute until softened but still crunchy.
Do not add in the leafy greens yet.
Add the grated galangal and continue to stir for less than a minute -- do not let it burn.
Add the curry paste and continue to stir for a few more minutes.
Add the coconut milk, gud and mix together.
Assess the thickness of the broth, and add water as needed.
- Bring the broth to a simmer.
Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are the desired texture.
Add the leafy greens and take off heat when nearly done
- Finally, add the vinegar or lime juice, and the basil if using.
If the broth is tasting too one-dimensional, it often is due to lack of acid or sourness, so adjust accordingly.
- Serve over steamed rice topped with the garnishes listed below.
Don't forget to squeeze lime on at the end while serving!
- This curry keeps well in the fridge and gets tastier over time.
If you have a lot leftover, it also freezes quite well.
Vedika's Note: Thai root or galangal is often hard to find -- when I find it, I freeze it and use it for a year. You can substitute it for ginger, but the flavors are pretty different.
Red Thai curry paste is sometimes hard to find but is available online in India and if you live abroad in East Asian grocery marts.
If you are vegetarian, make sure to find one without seafood or fish sauce. But sometimes pastes with seafood pictured on the label are actually vegetarian -- read carefully! I have had great success with tom yum paste as well. Some commonly found vegetarian brands are Thai Kitchen and Maesri.
If you are not vegetarian, you may like to add a few large prawns peeled, de-veined, head removed and tailed, while frying the vegetables.
Those on a diabetic diet should opt for quinoa or millets or red rice instead of white rice.