Why It Works
- Coconut milk and a can of prepared curry paste provide the base for a mild, slightly sweet curry.
- A side of ajat— a cucumber and jalapeno relish— adds optional heat to the curry.
Editor’s note: This recipe originally appeared as part of the “My Thai” series that explored popular Thai dishes.
Oh, this dish. It used to confuse me when I first came to the U.S. and ate at a Thai restaurant for the first time. In ordering "yellow curry," I thought I was going to get one dish only to be presented with another. This is because nobody in Thailand calls this "yellow curry," and what we do call "yellow curry" is something entirely different. I quickly learned from this mistake.
(I was just thinking about this when I took a couple of friends who were visiting from Thailand to a Thai restaurant in Chicago several weeks ago. Unfamiliar with the US Thai restaurant terminology, they, too, were a bit confused.)
If your local Thai restaurant has opted for the designation, "kaeng kari," instead of the more common, "yellow curry," you know that both are the same dish (in the American context, that is). And if some restaurants have two dishes on their menu, both of which go by "yellow curry," pay attention to the descriptions.
When you buy the curry paste needed to make this recipe, make sure you don't end up getting the paste for the other kind of yellow curry. The two are neither similar nor interchangeable. And if Kaeng Kari is what you set out to make, using the wrong "yellow curry" paste will result in a sad, sad situation. I'll talk more about this in the actual recipe.
Kaeng Kari, as I much prefer to call this dish, is one of the milder Thai curries. It contains more of the dried spices typical of South Asian or Middle Eastern cuisines (e.g. Massaman curry) than the fresh and/or dried chilies that are typical of more traditional Thai curries (e.g. red curry). Most Thai kids love this curry as it's not hot at all.
To complement this curry, Thai people often serve a simple cucumber relish (ajat) on the side to add a little zing to a curry that, though delicious all on its own, intrinsically lacks the bold, herbal, spicy ingredients found in other curries. Thai restaurants overseas usually skip the relish, so if you're okay with serving this curry with no cucumber salad, that's fine as well. I personally find that the cucumber relish makes this curry exponentially better.
- 1/2 English cucumber
- 2 large shallots or 1/2 medium red onion, peeled and sliced thinly lengthwise
- 1 green or red jalapeno pepper, sliced thinly crosswise
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar (no substitute)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup kari (karee) curry paste (see note)
- 1 1/2 cups full-fat coconut milk
- 1 pound low-starch, waxy potatoes, peeled (optional) and cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 pound medium yellow or white onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 2-inch cubes
Cut the half cucumber in half lengthwise. With the cut side down, cut each half crosswise into thin slices; place in a glass bowl. Add shallot (or red onion) slices and pepper slices to cucumber bowl; set aside.
Combine sugar, vinegar, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved (the mixture doesn't have to be boiled), immediately remove from heat. Allow the sauce to cool down to slightly warmer than room temperature, then pour it over cucumber-shallot-pepper mixture. Stir, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and keep chilled.
In a 2-quart saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat about 1/2 cup of coconut cream (the thick part that rises to the top of the can) with curry paste. Once coconut fat splits, add potato, onion, remaining coconut milk, and fish sauce to the saucepan. Add just enough water, if necessary, to keep the ingredients submerged. Bring to a boil; cover, lower the heat so the mixture simmers, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes cubes are softened, about 15 minutes.
Add chicken to the pot. Bring mixture back to a gentle boil, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Check for seasoning, adding more fish sauce if necessary.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice and prepared ajat (cucumber/onion mixture).
Be sure to use the correct curry paste for this recipe. Look for the word "karee" or "kari" in addition to "yellow" just to be certain. There's another type of curry that is called "yellow sour curry." You want theto former, not the latter. If there's no "karee" or "kari" on the label, hopefully there's a picture of the finished dish on it to help you. If you see chunks of potato in the picture, that's a good sign. The other kind of yellow curry doesn't contain potatoes.