Why It Works
- Combining the paste with full-fat coconut milk then cooking off the water content blooms the aromatics and spices in the paste.
- Par-cooking the potatoes separately gives you more control over their final texture and prevents the curry from becoming excessively starchy.
- Using soy sauce instead of fish sauce or salt keeps the curry vegetarian while also providing extra savoriness.
Gaeng garee is a heavily spiced but relatively mild coconut-based curry, often paired with chicken or beef, that has become extremely popular outside of Thailand. Like other Thai curries, gaeng garee is made with a deeply flavorful curry paste. Prik gaeng garee doesn’t pack the fresh chile punch of a prik gaeng khiao waan, but instead features a South Asian-influenced warm spice profile, thanks to a combination of ground dried spices and fresh turmeric, which also give the paste its characteristic orange-yellow hue.
The curry’s color is responsible for the fact that it is often listed on Thai menus in the United States as “yellow curry.” However, whenever I talk about “yellow curry” with my Thai friends, nearly everyone assumes I am referring to a spicy and sour water-based curry known as gaeng leung, which literally translates to “yellow curry” but has a completely different flavor profile (this discrepancy has been noted in the past by Leela Punyaratabandhu in her recipe for yellow curry with chicken).
While gaeng garee is often made with chicken, as in Leela’s recipe linked above, or with beef, potatoes, and onions, in this recipe I decided to skip the meat and make a rich vegetarian version with eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes. The coconut milk paired with the curry paste and hearty vegetables makes a slightly sweet curry that’s still satisfying even though it omits the seafood and meat products found in many other Thai curries. This recipe also amply demonstrates that, yes, it is possible to make a delicious Thai curry without fish sauce and fermented shrimp paste.
Making the Curry
Much like many other Thai curries, the foundation of gaeng garee is its paste, prik gaeng garee. You can make the paste yourself using the recipe I’ve provided, or you can use store-bought paste; if you choose to use store-bought paste, make sure to look for labels that specifically say gari/kari or karee/garee. (If you buy something that says “yellow sour curry paste,” you’ll be ready to make gaeng leung, but not this gaeng garee recipe.) To freshen up store-bought paste, you can add a pinch of freshly toasted and ground coriander seeds and cumin seeds and a knob of fresh turmeric and a little bit of lemongrass. However, if you use store-bought paste, it will likely contain fermented shrimp paste, making this otherwise vegetarian recipe non-vegetarian.
Once you have the paste, the procedure is the same as for most coconut-based curries: you cook the paste in thick coconut milk (coconut cream), gradually incorporating more coconut milk until the paste is aromatic and the milk has started to split, with a red-tinged chile oil rising to the surface of the mixture. At this point, your kitchen should also smell heavenly.
You then season the curry with Thai thin soy sauce and palm sugar. While gaeng garee can also be seasoned with fish sauce (or even just salt), I find it useful to have soy sauce’s extra boost of savoriness, particularly since there’s no shrimp paste or fish sauce in the paste. Once the curry is seasoned, you then add some coconut milk that’s been diluted with a bit of water, which thins out the curry’s sauce so it isn’t too rich. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and into the bubbling jacuzzi you add some potatoes—par-cooked to give you some measure of control, and so that they don’t add a lot of excess starch to the curry—and eggplant, so they can cook through and become imbued with the flavors of the curry, which will be altered slightly by the inclusion of the tomatoes, whose tartness cuts through some of the sweetness.
About that eggplant: I call for purple Japanese eggplant in this recipe, as I’ve found they’re a good substitute for the greener Thai variety of eggplant known as makheua yao. But if you can’t find Japanese eggplant, a globe eggplant will also work in this recipe, although I suggest cutting it up into batons so it cooks quickly and evenly.
And just when you think the curry hast to be ready and can’t be taken any further, you “garnish” it with fried shallots. “Garnish” is set in quotation marks because the fried shallots aren’t optional; the additional roasty flavor and sweetness they provide is integral to the curry and you shouldn’t miss them!
Serve the curry immediately with jasmine rice and you have an excellent meal, but you can also consider adding a cucumber pickle, which is commonly paired with gaeng garee.
- 12 ounces (325g) Yukon gold potatoes (2 medium potatoes), cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (355ml) full-fat coconut milk, such as Aroy-D, divided (see note)
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup; 115g) homemade or store-bought yellow (garee/karee) curry paste
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (40g) palm sugar (see note)
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
- 2 Japanese eggplants (about 9 ounces; 255g total), stemmed and cut crosswise on a bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup; 100g) cherry tomatoes
- Fried shallots, for serving
- Cooked jasmine rice, for serving
In a 3-quart saucepan, combine potatoes and salt and cover by 2 inches with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are just tender, offering little resistance when poked with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside; return saucepan to stovetop.
While potatoes cook, in a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut milk and 1/2 cup (120ml) water; set thinned coconut milk mixture aside.
In now-empty saucepan, bring 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut milk to a boil over medium heat, and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add curry paste and stir vigorously with a rubber spatula to combine, scraping sides of saucepan to fully incorporate paste. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring and scraping constantly until paste mixture begins to spit (which indicates that water content has been cooked off and mixture has begun to fry in coconut oil), about 1 minute. Lower heat back to medium and continue to cook while gradually adding remaining 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut milk in 2-tablespoon (30ml) increments, until paste turns dark red and fat begins to separate from curry paste, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add palm sugar, soy sauce, and reserved thinned coconut milk mixture, and stir until palm sugar is fully dissolved. Bring to a simmer, add potatoes, eggplant, and cherry tomatoes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer curry to a large serving bowl or divide between individual bowls and top with fried shallots. Serve immediately with cooked jasmine rice.
When purchasing coconut milk, look for versions like this one from Aroy-D that have "100% coconut milk" as the only listed ingredient, rather than those made with coconut extract and water.
Palm sugar can be found in Thai markets, as well as some nationwide supermarket chains like HMart, and also online.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The finished curry can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat gently on stovetop before serving.