Strawberry Pepper

Panang Curry


There is nothing tastier and more flavorful than a homemade curry sauce. This could be said of all foods, cooking from scratch always results in more delicious products. The only reason why people even take short cuts is out of time constraints, or feelings of laziness (yes, it happens to the best of us). There are plenty of nights where I get home from lab and feel too tired to cook and the best I can manage is to eat some fruit, or make some pasta (or hope for leftovers in the fridge!).

The other day I was craving a panang curry. Panang curry is Malaysian in origin, and is traditionally richer and creamier than the more common red and green Thai curries. The nearest restaurant to me that offers a panang curry charges extra for removing the fish sauce and leaves me feeling 10 lbs heavier after one serving. I knew if I wanted to eat a panang curry I would have to make it myself.

I am not sure if I can buy panang curry paste at my local grocery store, but as the recipe traditionally contains fish sauce and shrimp paste, I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway. Instead, I delved into research about the traditional flavors and spices used in a panang curry and created a recipe that should taste quite similar to the traditional version.

A couple of notes: I tried to keep the recipe accessible to those who cannot easily buy specialty thai spices and ingredients. As such I did not include the traditional kaffir lime leaves. If you have access to them, add a chopped tablespoon to your curry paste. I substituted ginger for galangal root. If you want to use galangal, please do. I also used miso paste instead of fermented soybean paste. If you have access to a fermented soy product, use that instead.  I did use fresh lemongrass, but you can substitute dried or canned if the fresh is not available to you.

Don’t be put off by the length of this recipe, from start to finish it took me an hour to make (minus the picture taking time)!  There are a lot of ingredients, but most are your normal pantry items. The curry paste is best prepared a day in advance, but I couldn’t wait a day to eat it and it was still delicious. The final product was an amazing combination of tangy curry and sweet pineapple with the great textures of the chewy seitan and crunchy cashews. The parents happened to be visiting (me or the city, I’m not sure…), and were on their way out the door for a dinner out when the smell of curry reached their noses. They immediately turned around, changed their plans, and gobbled up generous helpings of curry.

Panang Curry Paste
makes about 1 cup

2 medium shallots, quartered
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tbsp brown miso paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp lime juice
1 heaping tbsp lemongrass, sliced
6-10 basil leaves
2-6 red chilies (depending on the level of heat you want)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove

1. Put all ingredients into food processor and grind until smooth.
2. Refrigerate until ready for use. Will be better the day after making, when flavors have had a chance to meld.
Should last a couple of weeks in the fridge, or freeze for longer storage time.

Seitan and Pineapple Panang Curry
Serves 4

1/2 cup cashews, unsalted
1/2 lb seitan, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp peanut oil
1 cup sliced scallions, extra for garnish
4 oz. bean sprouts (about 1 cup)
2 cups pineapple chunks (or 1 can)
1 5 oz. can bamboo shoots
1/4 cup panang curry paste + 1 tbsp more if extra zing is desired
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup vegetable broth (or substitute water)

1. On a skillet over medium-high heat, dry roast the cashews, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
2. Lower to a medium heat, and add tsp of peanut oil (If using a wok, turn the heat to high, and continue with the same directions). Sauté the seitan for 5-10 minutes, until browned. Add the scallions and sauté an additional 5 minutes.
3. Add the pineapple and bamboo shoots to the skillet or wok and sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Mix in the curry paste, and stir to coat evenly. Allow this to heat up and roast for a minute so that the flavors come out.
5. Add the coconut milk and vegetable broth (or water) and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Most of the liquid should absorb, and the rest should be thick and creamy.
6. Add the sprouts and roasted cashews, leaving some out to garnish with, if desired. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, then remove from heat.
7. Serve with rice and garnished with cashews, sprouts, and sliced scallions.