Stroll by a curry vendor in a Thai food court and you'll likely see one curry that stands out from the rest: phat phrik khing. Unlike most other curries, which are served with plenty of liquid—be it coconut milk or broth—phat phrik khing is served dry, its intensely flavored curry paste coating each morsel of food. It can be made with any number of vegetables or meat, but I particularly love the common combination of long beans and tofu. The simplest recipes start with store-bought red curry paste. (Some, like the one just linked to, contain shrimp paste, but vegan red curry paste is easy to come by.) It's not a bad way to turn out a 10-minute meal, but, so long as you have access to fresh Southeast Asian ingredients, a few simple tools, and some elbow grease, you can make something much, much more spectacular.
Why It WorksA mortar and pestle is key to great flavor in this dry Thai curry.
- A mortar and pestle draws out flavor from fresh aromatics.
- Stir-frying in batches ensures that the tofu and green beans sear properly instead of steaming.
- 6 dried guajillo, California, or pasilla chilies, stemmed and seeded (45g)
- 6 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped (30g)
- 2 medium shallots, peeled and roughly chopped (60g)
- 2 to 6 red Thai bird chilies (to taste), roughly chopped
- 1 large bunch cilantro stems (about 1 ounce; 30g), roughly chopped
- 3 fresh or dried makrut lime leaves (see note above), hard central stem removed and discarded, leaves roughly chopped
- 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, bottom 3 to 5 inches only (40g), tough outer leaves removed and discarded, tender core thinly sliced
- 1 (1-inch) knob galangal, peeled (see note above)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground white or black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) vegetable oil or coconut oil
- 1 (12-ounce; 340g) block firm tofu, cut into 1- by 1- by 1/2-inch squares, pressed firmly between paper towels
- 1 pound (450g) green beans or long beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
- 1 tablespoon (14g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
- Steamed jasmine rice, for serving
Place chilies in a heatproof container and cover with boiling water. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place garlic, shallots, Thai chilies, cilantro, lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, ground pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle. Pound into a rough paste. Drain chilies, add to mortar, and continue pounding until a rough paste has formed. Alternatively, chop all ingredients in a food processor (see note above).
Heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil in a wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add tofu, spread into a single layer, and cook, occasionally shaking pan gently, until crisp on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip tofu and continue cooking until second side is crisp. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add another tablespoon (15ml) oil to the wok and increase heat to high. When oil is smoking, add beans and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until blistered and tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl with tofu.
Add remaining tablespoon (15ml) oil to wok and return to high heat until lightly smoking. Add curry paste all at once and cook, stirring continuously, until aromatic and sizzling, about 1 minute. Return tofu and beans to pan, along with sugar and soy sauce. Stir and toss to combine and coat tofu and beans in curry paste. Season to taste with more salt if desired. Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice.