This Vietnamese curry brings me back many years. The mix of savoury spices and rich root vegetables was a surprise when I first tried it. It reminds me of my first years in Toronto, trying new cuisines and opening my eyes.
I think the first Vietnamese dish I ever tried was a vegetarian curry. A group of co-workers filed into the (now gone) Peach Garden restaurant around the corner, and I had NO IDEA what to get. Being veg at the time, I was happy to be able to narrow down my options.
Vegetable curry, with fake “meat”, sounded like a good idea to me.
It was incredible. I wasn’t able to put my finger on what made it so special. There were the root veggies – I knew they weren’t all potato, but I had never tasted these flavours before. I figure they were an assortment of white-fleshed yams and purple-veined taro.
It was the sauce. Like, and yet incredibly unlike the Indian and Thai curries that I was becoming familiar with. Maybe more like a marriage of the two?
When looking at the list of spices in the curry powder, it’s not hard to imagine why: a healthy dose of turmeric (hello, yellow!) mixed with star anise, cloves, coriander, nutmeg and cinnamon. As I prepared my curry powder, I was a little worried that it would be too cinnamon. My freshly ground cinnamon was incredibly pungent, and seemed to overpower the mix at first. I shouldn’t have worried; it worked perfectly.
If you have a favourite Vietnamese curry powder, feel free to use it here. I have linked to the recipe that I use, and can vouch for it.
Eating the curry brought me back to my early days in Toronto. This is where I first fell in love with curries – Thai, Indian, Vietnamese (and, eventually, others!).
This is also where I decided I had to learn to make them myself…
Vietnamese Tofu Curry (Cà Ri Chay)
This dish can easily be made vegetarian/vegan by omitting the fish sauce (and using a vegetable broth) and gluten-free by omitting the seitan. These changes won’t drastically change the dish.
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil or coconut oil
- 1 block extra firm tofu, chopped into 1″ pieces
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 1-2 cups chopped mushrooms (optional)
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 Tablespoons Vietnamese curry powder
- roasted chili flakes, to taste (optional)
- salt, to taste
- 2 chinese eggplants, cubed
- 1-2 cups gluten (seitan) pieces (optional)
- 2 cups root vegetables, peeled and cubed (sweet potato, potato, taro)
- 1 lemongrass, cut into 3″ lengths and bruised (a mallet or a pestle work well)
- 2″ piece of ginger, sliced thickly
- 3 kaffir lime leaves or bay leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1.5 cups of light broth (like vegetable or chicken – can even use water)
- 400 mL of coconut milk
- 1 cup green beans or long beans, cut to 2-3″ lengths
- scallions, fresh cilantro and/or Thai basil to serve
- Heat oil in a stir fry pan, over medium-high heat. Fry tofu until browned on all sides, and a bit crispy. Remove and set aside.
- Add a bit more oil to the pan. Sauté shallots and mushrooms over medium-high heat, until liquids are released. Add chopped garlic, and sauté for about a minute.
- Add the curry powder, chili flakes and a pinch of salt. Stir regularly, and sauté for one to two minutes.
- Add eggplant, gluten (seitan) and potatoes and mix well.
- Add lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and broth. Mix well and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, and simmer uncovered until root vegetable pieces are tender. The sauce should be fairly thick, similar in consistency to a milkshake. If the sauce is a bit too thick for your taste, add a little bit of water.
- Add beans in the last 10 minutes of cooking. Try to remove the lemongrass pieces and ginger.
- Add tofu and some of the Thai basil just before serving.
- Serve over rice, topped with some scallions, cilantro and/or Thai basil.