Vietnamese Curry – An Ode to Lemongrass
If you’re a fan of lemongrass, you’re going to love this dish! This adapted Vietnamese curry is traditionally made with chicken and known as Càri Gà.
Vietnamese cooking involves using a spice known as annatto, which according to our spice gurus, spiceography, has a mild flavour and is usually added for colour. And so, we’re going to use orange and red tones in this dish to pay homage to this difficult-to-get spice.
We’re replacing the chicken with tofu, because tofu soaks up flavours really well! The longer you leave to marinate, the more intense the flavour. I used firm tofu in this recipe, but you can use silken tofu if you drain it well. You can even bake it for about 15 minutes to help give it more texture.
Fish sauce has been replaced with soya sauce and a little fermented bean paste – but don’t go out of your way to obtain these ingredients if they’re not available in your usual supermarket or Asian supermarket.
Many Vietnamese people will eat this dish either with rice noodles or French bread – typically, a baguette!
Again, as with all my recipes, I will never use the phrase “curry powder”. As mentioned before, curry powder doesn’t exist – by that, I mean, it isn’t a single spice. And you can’t just waltz into your local supermarket and pick up any generic curry powder and expect to get anything close to an authentic flavour.
I’m all for messing about with recipes, which we’re doing by cutting out all meat or fish. But I draw the line at spices unless they’re difficult to obtain – in which case, I carefully research the best alternatives.
So, assuming you’ve followed me faithfully so far, you’ve already got yourself a decent collection of whole spices. So we’re going to make our own curry powder!
Now I shall confess that I do not know the origins of this particular recipe, since it has appeared in both Atul Kochhar‘s book and online in Ginger & Scotch‘s blog. Therefore, thanks to both as I’ve met them halfway and made something in between both these recipes.
We’re making enough spice for one pot of curry – you can always increase the spices to make a batch for the freezer. And why not, we know curry freezes well and we know that the spices in curries can often embolden in the freezer – strange, but true!
So flex your muscles, get your mortar and pestal out and be prepared for a serious work-out as we grind both wet and dry spices for this recipe.
- 1 Star anise
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 tsp Coriander seeds
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 tbsp Turmeric powder
- 3 Cloves
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 0.25 tsp Nutmeg
- 0.25 tsp Garlic powder
- 0.25 tsp Red Chilli powder It's a mild curry, but add more if you want heat
- 3-4 Lemongrass stalks 2 - 3 sliced, the others cut into 4cm lengths
- 400 g Firm tofu
- 3 medium Sweet potatoes Washed and cubed
- 1 Red pepper cored and diced
- 1 Carrot Scrubbed and diced
- 3 or 4 Shallots Or a medium onion or use 5 or 6 spring onions (scallions)
- 5 cloves Garlic Peeled and sliced
- 2 tbsp Palm sugar or dark brown sugar
- 1 400g Coconut milk
- 300 ml Vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp Light soya sauce
- 1 tsp Fermented bean paste If you have it, otherwise omit this.
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 1 tbsp Cooking oil I usually use vegetable oil (typically rapeseed oil) or groundnut oil
If you can only get soft tofu, then press all the water out. I do this by wrapping it in a clean tea towel, placing it on a large plate, putting a book over it and then sitting the heavy stone mortar on top. In about 20 minutes, most of the water is forced out.
In a pestal and mortar or a coffee grinder, grind all the dry spices into a powder. Set aside
Next we need to prepare the wet spices. So using the mortar you just smashed the dry spices with, put in the lemongrass, garlic and shallots (or onion) and get grinding. Don't forget to add a good pinch of course salt and a few white peppercorns to help with the abrasion action (whilst also seasoning your spices at the same time!)
Cut the tofu into cubes, place in a bowl and coat with the curry powder and one half of the minced wet spices. Mix with the tofu well, and add in the 4cm lengths of lemongrass. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to marinate in the fridge (overnight if possible, but for at least an hour).
Heat the oil in a large pan and then add the wet spices and cook for a short while, just to get the fragrance going. Then add the potatoes and carrots and stir so that they are well-coated. Keep stirring for about a minute or two.
Add the coconut milk, palm sugar and about half the stock. Turn the heat down and let simmer. After about 10 minutes, add the red pepper and tofu.
Add the soya sauce and nori flakes - allow to simmer until the potatoes are tender all the way through.
Serve with French bread, vermicelli rice noodles or jasmine rice.
Seb is a nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition and a writer specialising in plant-based nutrition and men’s health. He graduated from Chester University with a masters degree in human nutrition and loves discovering new and vibrant plant-based recipes.