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~ Demystifying Thai Curries: Green, Red & Yellow! ~

IMG_8753Thai curry (gaeng" being the Thai word for Thai curry) is not the same as Indian curry.  "Karee" is the Thai word for "curry in the style of India" ("kari" being the Indian word for "sauce").

IMG_8913Unlike Indian curries, Thai cooks simmer their curries for a much shorter period of time and use a much bigger ratio of fresh ingredients and herbs to dry spices or spice blends, which get pulverized to paste form (curry paste).  The only two curry dishes in Thailand that are based upon dried herbs and spices are Massaman and Panang curry, and, those are not my focus today.  Curry is a staple dish in Thailand, and, in many homes it is eaten on a daily basis and made from ingredients growing around the house.  It typically contains less protein than we Westerners (including me) often add to it, and, served over rice, it is an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.  There are countless Thai curry dishes and recipes, and, they are culinarily unique because there is nothing identical to them anywhere on the world's table!

The starting point for every Thai curry is curry paste!

A bit about the three Thai curries:  Thai cooking is all about balancing hot, sour, sweet and salty. In Thai cuisine there are three curry pastes which are identified by color:  green, red and yellow.

PICT0047Thai curries range from soupy to slightly stewlike and are served with or ladled over steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles.  They all contain a protein of choice:  chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu or duck.  They all contain fruits and/or vegetables too. Here are the most common examples:  bell peppers, broccoli, Thai eggplant (not our American eggplant), green onion, mango, pineapple pumpkin or squash.  It's common for any curry to contain or be garnished with Thai basil or cilantro and/or chopped or whole, toasted peanuts or cashews...

IMG_8789... which, in true Thai-style are stir-fried.

In a small stir-fry-type pan, place:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  cups whole, unsalted cashews or peanuts

Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon, stir-fry until the nuts are golden brown.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool!

Curries differ in how each balances hot, sour, sweet and salty:

Hot comes from green, red or yellow chile peppers.

Sour comes from lemongrass, tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice and/or lime zest.

Sweet comes from palm sugar, coconut milk and/or coconut cream.

Salty comes from fish sauce and/or shrimp paste.

IMG_8745Thai Green Curry Paste:

"Semi-Hot-to-Hot & Sweet"

Green curry can be and tends to be just as hot as red curry, except green chiles are used in the preparation of the curry paste instead of red chiles.  However, green curry, regardless of the heat, has a definite sweetness to it not associated with red curries, which comes from the addition of a healty dose of palm sugar (similar to light brown sugar).

IMG_8743Thai Red Curry Paste:


Red curry is made from a spicy blend of pulverized red chiles, garlic, shallots, galangal root and shrimp paste.  The red curry paste is made using the same ingredients as the above mentioned green curry paste, with the exception of red chiles in place of green chiles. In Thai households, the proportions of the ingredients are adjusted to suit that family's taste.

IMG_8765Thai Yellow Curry Paste:

"Extra-Creamy & Mild"

Yellow curry paste (similar in appearance to red) is less spicy than other curry pastes.  In addition to coconut milk, coconut cream is sometimes added to yellow curry to make it even richer and creamier. Its hint of sweetness and subtle spice comes from palm sugar and cinnamon.  It gets its color from yellow chiles along with the vibrant yellow spice, turmeric.

Now that you understand the difference between these three curries, you can mix and match proteins, fruit, and/or vegetables with a curry paste to suit you and your family's taste like I do!

IMG_8954Curry pastes are traditionally made from scratch in the Thai home kitchen using a mortal and pestle to pulverize the ingredients, which extracts the essential oils and fully develops the flavors.  Let me suffice it to say, a food processor or a blender is not a viable substitute for this ancient tool.  I do have my own recipes for making Thai curry pastes the traditional way, and, I promise to post them in the future!

IMG_8815Nowadays, most busy cooks (Thai cooks included) just purchase high-quality curry paste from their Asian market.  That being said, savvy modern cooks and Thai cooks add a few things to their store-bought curry to brighten up and personalize the flavor!

The Thai curry world is indeed a wonderful world!

IMG_8978"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


Ronni -- All I can say is, go to your local Asian market, buy three cans (they're inexpensive) and do a personal taste test. Hope this helps.

Strange. I just read this , which contradicts your heat level explamation...

Ray -- Whenever I eat Thai food in a restaurant, it is rarely hot enough, so, I ask them to make it "extra spicy". That said, I grow my own Thai bird chiles, so I can control the heat in my homemade curry pastes very easily, and, sometimes I process a chile or two into a can of store-bought curry paste too. If you don't grow your own peppers, most Asian markets sell them.

Where can I find some good HOT thai curry , geen or red.

Eric -- WOW!!! What a lovely comment and compliment. I am so pleased that my post was helpful and I wish you all the best!!!

I work at a Thai restaurant and am training to become a server. We need to take a menu test before we are allowed to serve. Many of the questions are in essay form and I was told one is "Please explain the difference between our curries to a customer who has never had Thai curry and is deciding which one to pick." Your explanations have helped me find my answer and hopefully I will be serving soon!

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