All About Thai Curry

By Napatr Lindsley

When people hear the words "Thai Curry", the first thing that
comes to their mind is some spicy coconut milk with curry paste.
This is not totally true. Thais say "Kaeng" which means "Curry".
However, Kaeng in Thailand does not only mean curry, but it
means the cooking process of mixing various kinds of vegetables
with liquid like water or coconut milk. It can be spicy or
non-spicy or a vegetarian or non-vegetarian dish like soup,
stew, curry or even dessert. I will use the word "Kaeng"
throughout this article. In Thailand, there are 2 types of
Kaeng: Kaeng Jued and Kaeng Ped. Ped literally means spicy and
Jued means tasteless. Kaeng Jued usually refers to non-spicy
soup dishes.

Kaeng Jued

Kaeng Jued dishes are usually comprise of broth, vegetables and
meat. Homemade broth is preferred over bouillon cubes. Broth is
made from boiling pork ribs or chicken bones in water for a long
period of time. You will often hear Thais say "nam soup" which
means broth. To make broth, the bones should have a little bit
of meat and fat left on them. On low heat, boil meat in water.
Once the boil begins, reduce heat to its lowest point so that
the broth just barely simmers. The longer the simmering, the
more flavor you will get. One and a half to two hours usually is
enough to extract flavors from meats. Before using broth,
straining is a must. In Thai cooking, some recipes would add
Chinese cellery or white radish during the simmering to add more
sweetness to the broth.

The clear broth then will be used in a different kind of Kaeng
Jued. A common way to make Kaeng Jued is to 1) bring broth to
boil 2) add meat, 3) add vegetables and 4) add flavor. Example
Kaeng Jued dishes are:

* Kaeng Jued Fak: chicken/pork broth with winter melon
* Kaeng Jued Mara: chicken/pork broth with bitter melon
* Kaeng Jued Mara Yat Sai: chicken/pork broth with stuffed
bitter melon
* Kaeng Jued Pla Muek Yat Sai: chicken/pork broth with stuffed
* Kaeng Jued Taeng Gwa: chicken/pork broth with cucumber
* Kaeng Jued Taeng Gwa Yat Sai: chicken/pork broth with stuffed
* Kaeng Jued Tao Hu: chicken/pork broth with bean curd
* Kaeng Jued Wun Sen: chicken/pork broth with clear noodles

Kaeng Ped

Most Kaeng Ped dishes differ in degree of spiciness. Some are
very spicy and some are mild. Some have coconut milk and some do
not. Kaeng Ped can be categorized into 6 different types: Kaeng
Ped, Kaeng Khua, Kaeng Liang, Kaeng Som, Tom Yum and Pad Ped.

1) Kaeng Ped

It can be confusing that Kaeng Ped is a subcategory of Kaeng
Ped. There are 2 distinct types of Kaeng Ped: Kaeng Ped with
coconut milk and Keang Ped without coconut milk. The key to a
delicious Kaeng Ped is curry paste. Either homemade or
commercial curry paste must be finely ground. Fish sauce and
sugar are the two main ingredients to flavor Kaeng Ped dishes.

Examples of water-based curry dishes are:

* Kaeng Hang Le: Northern style curry with meat, curry powder,
lemongrass, ginger, shallots, shrimp paste, chilies and peanuts

* Kaeng Pa: jungle curry, Northen curry. This curry is hot and
full of flavor from fingerroot, kaffir lime zest, lemon grass,
garlic, shallots, shrimp paste and chilies

* Kaeng Leung: hot yellow curry, most common meat used is fish.
Other ingredients are winter melon, chilies, garlic, turmeric,
lemon grass, shallots and shrimp paste.

Examples of coconut-based curry dishes are:

* Kaeng Daeng: red curry with meat, bamboo shoots, Thai sweet
basil, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk

* Kaeng Kari: Indian style curry with meat, potatoes and
coconut milk

* Kaeng Kiaw Waan: a slightly sweet green curry with meat, Thai
eggplants, pea eggplants, winter melon, Thai sweet basil (Bai
Horapa), kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk

* Kaeng Matsaman: curry with meat, potatoes, peanuts and
coconut milk (a mild curry from the Muslim Southern part of

* Kaeng Phed: spicy curry with meat and chilies

2) Kaeng Khua

Kaeng Khua curry paste makes this curry dish distinct and
different from Kaeng Ped dishes. Kaeng Khua curry paste has
either deep-fried fish, grilled fish or dried small shrimp as
part of its ingredients. Most Kaeng Khua will not have added
spices because of its strong aroma. The typical flavors of this
curry are sweet, sour and salty. The most common meat is fish,
shrimp or clam. Main added ingredients typically used in this
curry can be pineapple, mushrooms or winter melon. Other
ingredients are galangal, kaffir lime zest, dried chilies, lemon
grass and shrimp paste.

Some people might confuse Kaeng Khua and Kaeng Pa because they
look similar and both are coconut-based curry. However, both use
different curry paste and Kaeng Pa mostly has only a salty

3) Kaeng Liang

Many say Kaeng Liang is Thai vegetarian curry. The main
ingredients of this curry are vegetables, usually there is no
meat. Some recipes may add chicken or shrimp. However, if we
look at Kaeng Liang curry paste, this dish is not vegetarian.
Part of Kaeng Liang curry paste is dried shrimp paste (ka pi),
dried shrimp and deep-fried fish or grilled fish. This curry is
a water-based curry that is quite thick. The most common
vegetables are sponge gourd (buab liam), gourd leaves (bai tam
leung), "hairy" basil (bai Maeng Luk) and baby corn.

4) Kaeng Som

Kaeng Som is a water-based curry that in flavor combines sour,
saltiness and a little sweetness. The common meat used in this
curry is fish or shrimp. Some recipes use clams. Common
vegetables are morning glory (phak bueng), bottle gourd (phak
nam tao), water mimosa (phak kra ched), Vegetable Humming Bird
(dok kae), cabbage (kra lum plee) and juice-based tamarind.
Other ingredients are shrimp paste, dried shrimp and shallots.
The famous Kaeng Som is Kaeng Som Pla Chon Phak Kra Ched which
has striped snakehead (pla chon) and water mimosa (phak kra
ched) as main ingredients.

5) Tom Yum

Tom Yum is a hot and sour soup. Tom Yum soup dishes have lots
of herbs and meat as the main ingredients. Few vegetables are
used in Tom Yum soup, although usually included are oyster
mushrooms or straw mushrooms. Common herbs used in Tom Yum soup
are kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chilies and coriander
roots. The common meats used in Tom Yum soup are chicken, shrimp
and fish. The ingredients used in flavoring Tom Yum are lemon
juice, tamarind juice, sugar and fish sauce.

Tom Yum soup can also be categorized into 2 different types:
coconut-based Tom Yum soup and water/broth-based Tom Yum soup.
Examples of Tom Yum soup dishes are:

* Tom Kha Gai: coconut-based hot and sour soup with chicken
* Tom Kha Pla Duk: coconut-based hot and sour soup with catfish

* Tom Kha Ta Le: coconut-based hot and sour soup with seafood
* Tom Yum Gai: water/broth-based hot and sour soup with chicken

* Tom Yum Goong: water/broth-based hot and sour soup with prawn

* Tom Yum Hua Pla: water/broth-based hot and sour soup with
fish head
* Tom Yam Moo Pa: water/broth-based hot and sour soup with boar

6) Pad Ped

Pad Ped is similar to Kaeng Ped; however, Pad Ped dishes use
less coconut milk or water than Kaeng Ped. Thus Pad Ped is more
like a stir-fried dried curry paste dish with meat and
vegetables. Example vegetables are Thai eggplants, yard long
beans, bamboo shoots and pea eggplants. Two main ingredients
used in flavoring Pad Ped dishes are fish sauce and sugar.
Example dishes are:

* Pad Ped Moo Tao Fak Yao: stir-fried red curry paste with pork
and yard long beans
* Pad Ped Pla Duk: stir-fried catfish with chili paste
* Phanaeng Gai: stir-fried phanaeng curry paste with chicken
and kaffir lime leaves
* Phanaeng Moo: stir-fried phanaeng curry paste with pork and
kaffir lime leaves
* Phanaeng Nuea: stir-fried phanaeng curry paste with beef and
kaffir lime leaves

The example dishes listed above are famous dishes in Thailand.
Of course, there are more dishes than I can name here. "Kaeng"
has more than just the one meaning of spicy curry like many
believe about Thai curry. Thais even use the word "Kaeng" in
desserts like Kaeng Buat. Kaeng Buat is a dessert that has
pumpkin, taro and/or potatoes in coconut milk. Most Thai
restaurants in the U.S offer coconut-based Kaeng Ped, Pad Ped
and Tom Yum soup. If you have a chance to visit Thailand, I hope
you will have a chance to enjoy all different kinds of Kaeng.

Napatr Lindsley

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