Vegan Jungle Curry (Kaeng Pa)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil 15 g
- 1 package firm tofu or seitan 340–450 g; extra-firm tofu is fine too
- 2 tbsp red curry paste or green curry paste 40 g
- 1 small eggplant, sliced and quartered 120–180 g
- 1/2 cup straw mushrooms, sliced 100 g; see Notes for substitutions
- 1/2 jar bamboo shoots in oil 150 g; optional
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock 500 g
- 1 tbsp vegan fish sauce 15 g; see Notes for substitution
- 2 tsp palm sugar or honey 10 g
- 1 sprig Thai basil leaves
- 3 cups cooked jasmine rice or noodles for serving
- Heat wok or deep stock pot to medium-high heat.
- Pour oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the wok. Add tofu in a single layer and pan-fry for two minutes on each side, or until each piece is golden brown and lifts without sticking.
- Add curry paste, eggplant, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water, fish sauce, and sugar. Give everything a quick stir.
- Cover and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer for at least half an hour.
- Remove from heat and stir in Thai basil leaves. Spoon curry over jasmine rice or noodles and enjoy.
If you can’t find straw mushrooms, any kind of mushroom will work in this vegan jungle curry. Slice into 1-inch pieces.
You can either make your own vegan fish sauce, or substitute with an equal amount of light soy sauce. (If you’re not sure if your soy sauce is light or dark, it’s light.)
Straw mushrooms are the default in a lot of Asian cuisines, including Thai; however, pretty much any variety of shrooms will work in their place.
Straw mushrooms are ubiquitous in Thailand the way button mushrooms are in North America, but they are very uncommon here. In fact, I hadn’t heard of this mushroom variety until I started researching this recipe! If you’re living outside of Asia, you may have to settle for canned straw mushrooms. I think you’ll have luck at most Asian grocers, though; I was able to find this can in my tiny local supermarket.
I’m in love with pretty much every shape of mushroom, but I find these especially cute. They’re so round and (the canned ones at least) are very squishy!
I hope I’ll be able to source fresh straw mushrooms someday, but for now here’s my review of the canned ones: they taste very savoury (definitely more umami taste than button mushrooms) but a little fishy too, I think that comes from being canned. The mushroom caps hold a lot of water and spurt it out when bitten into, reminding me of a water balloon. Make sure to rinse well before using.
I like to use bamboo shoots that are preserved in chili oil because the chili oil adds an extra dimension of flavour to this jungle curry. They can be found in a jar such as the one I’m holding here or in a plastic vacuum pack. You can also use fresh bamboo shoots or plain canned shoots or omit them altogether if you’re not a fan.
Wondering what to do with the leftover half jar of bamboo shoots? When I lived with my parents, we used to eat it for breakfast with our congee. Another option: add it to a Chinese hot and sour soup. I also love eating it right out of the jar, yes it’s that good lol.
Other Vegetables You Can Use
The veggies you can add to this recipe are incredibly versatile. Eggplants and mushrooms are a staple and a classic, but you can leave out whatever veggies you don’t like and add other ones you have on hand.
I already went over the mushrooms and bamboo shoots earlier. The eggplants I used were Chinese eggplants, the long and skinny ones, but again, you can use whatever you can find. Zucchini would be a great substitute (they have a similar texture imo), but if you’re using zucchini, add them halfway through the cooking time to avoid turning them into mush.
Other vegetables that work well in this curry:
- Baby corn (the canned kind)
- Bell peppers
- Squash (kabocha is the most traditional but butternut, acorn, etc. is fine)
- String beans
Thai Curry without Coconut Milk
Since Kevin and I are moving out in two weeks, I’m trying to avoid buying any more pantry items for now. My ingredient inventory has been shrinking steadily, and one of the things that ran out a while back was canned coconut milk. However, I still had a bit of Thai curry paste to use up, and most Thai curries are incomplete without a rich coconut milk base.
Luckily, kaeng pa came to answer my prayers! Due to the much lower fat content, it’s different in both taste and consistency from the Thai curry most of us are used to. It is so thin as to resemble more of a soup than a thick curry sauce, but it’s super savoury and is a refreshing change of pace. You know that cloying, mild-food-coma feeling you get after eating a big bowl of a curry that’s high in fat? Yeah, that won’t happen with this one.
How to Turn This Recipe into a Noodle Soup Dish
One last thing: this curry is commonly eaten with steamed rice but it’s easy to turn into a noodle dish.
When you’re halfway through the simmering step (Step 4), add three extra cups of water and three servings of dry noodles. (For me, one serving for a main course is anywhere from 70 g to 100 g depending on how hungry I am that day.)
I used glass noodles aka Asian sweet potato noodles, but I think rice noodles or udon would work too (shorten the cooking time accordingly), or even long pastas like spaghetti or linguini.
Nutrition and Cost Information
Calculations for full recipe as written (3 bowls):
Note: calculations below don’t account for rice or noodles.
Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.