Vegetarian Massaman Curry | This rich and savory, coconut curry is flavored with a mild Massaman curry paste, creamy coconut milk, anise stars, peanuts and tamarind sauce. Thai red chilies are optional, as this isn't usually a super spicy curry. Serve with jasmine rice or brown rice.
If there is a Thai dish that holds my heart, it's probably Massaman curry with it's mild and spiced flavors, soft potatoes, the bite of roasted peanuts cooked in sauce and the aromatic star anise – my personal vote for star of the show.
There's something about the practice of making a curry paste, incorporating whole spices, herbs and aromatics into a dish that feels like a very magical process to me. Gently coaxing out the flavor by simmering anise stars, frying the curry paste with coconut milk until fragrant makes for a comforting dish.
Try this simpler version of this curry, made with a store bought curry paste. We don't all have the time and inclination, and my own paste hasn't been perfected yet. I'll share it when it is so you can take part in the process of really making this dish from scratch. For now, store bought paste will do.
Use the table of contents below to jump to any section of this blog post. You can also use the jump to recipe link above to get right to the recipe card.
Massaman curry paste itself is a wonderful fusion of Indian, Malay and Thai influences.
Massaman curry came to the Thai cuisine through Indian and Malay influences. The basis of the dish and it's flavors such as potato, star anise and other spices melded with Thai ingredients, like lemongrass, chili, galangal, and shallots into a more Thai influenced curry paste that is today's common Massaman paste.
Due to it's origins, this dish is commonly made with chicken, however I prefer it meatless. I don't think it misses a beat on flavor when made without meat and if I wasn't allergic to tofu, I'd probably incorporate that, as I do in my Pad Thai (when other people are eating it. Sadly I break out into full body hives when I come in contact with soy bean protein.) If you can eat tofu, try it in this dish.
This is my all time favorite Thai dish, keeping in mind that I've had it mostly in my local Thai restaurants in Winnipeg (and once in San Francisco). I like to think this comes very close to what I've had from restaurants here. I hope you like it.
About the ingredients for this recipe. See the recipe card below for exact amounts.
- onion: onions start off the base flavor. I like to keep them fairly large and chunky as they'll cook for half an hour in the liquid.
- potatoes and carrots: these should also be cubed in medium to large pieces. The dish will be done once the the potatoes are cooked (the sauce will have time to meld together by then).
- Massaman paste: This is what makes this dish a Thai Massaman curry and there are all different kinds available. I've used mostly the one by Mae Ploy and the one by Maesri as these are most accessible to me. If a vegan paste is important to use, check the the ingredients for things like shrimp paste.
- coconut milk: I use one can of full fat coconut milk for a thick and creamy consistency. Cartons of coconut milk are not quite the same and have a thinner consistency.
- anise stars: These are lovely and if you've never cooked with anise stars before they have a licorice-like flavor to them. I've bought mine in small amounts at my local Bulk Barn store and also in large bags at my local Asian Supermarket. They give flavor to the dish but are not meant to be eaten. You can discard them before serving or just instruct your diners not to eat them.
- tamarind paste: Tamarind paste is another item I get at my Asian Supermarket and it's a very affordable item and important in Thai cooking. I also use it in my Pad Thai recipe. Tamarind paste is made from the tamarind fruit and has kind of a sour tangy flavor. I use brown sugar to mellow it out.
- brown sugar: the helps mellow the tartness of the tamarind. Thai food always has a beautiful balance of salty, sour and sweet flavors.
- Thai red chilies: These are also labeled as bird's eye chilies. They are small, very hot peppers. Spicy is relative to your own palette so you may need to experiment with the amount you use. If you're sensitive to spice start with only one or half of one. I tolerate spice well and we like it spicy, so I use 6-8 chilies per recipe.
- chop the onions
- peel and chunk the potatoes and carrots
- carefully slice the Thai chilies - they are hot and contact with your skin can make it feel like it's burning. Wear kitchen gloves or just be careful and wash your hands after.
I cooked this dish in my enameled cast iron braising dish. You can also use a large skillet or a large pot. You don't need a lid.
Heat a large skillet or pan over medium heat and cook the onions in oil for a few minutes, until just starting to soften. Add the red chilies and cook for a minute or two. They will give off a spicy steam, so turn on your stove fan and make sure not to breathe it in. It'll subside when you add the liquid.
Add the curry paste and ½ cup of the coconut milk (just the thick part at the top of the can.) Fry the curry paste for a few minutes, stirring. It's important for the flavor to cook the curry paste a bit before adding the rest of the liquid.
Add the rest of the coconut milk and the water.
Add the potatoes and carrots and stir well.
Add the star anise.
Add the peanuts.
Let the dish simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. I added the chilies here because I forgot at the beginning, it happens 🙂
After 15-20 minutes check the potatoes to see if they are fork tender. If they are, add the tamarind paste and the sugar, stir and then serve. I like to serve this with jasmine rice. Sometimes I garnish it with Thai basil as well and a few extra peanuts.
RECIPE TIP: To add chicken to the dish, add cubed chicken in with the onions and cook before carrying on with the recipe.
✔ This Massaman Curry recipe is vegetarian.
> To make this vegan, use a vegan Massaman curry paste like this curry paste from Maesri, which appears to be vegan. Massaman curry pastes usually contain shrimp paste, like the one I link to in my recipe card by Mae Ploy.
> Want to add protein? Tofu is a good protein source for Massaman curry. If I wasn't allergic, I would add it. You can also add chicken if you're not looking for a vegetarian or vegan dish.
Use a large skillet. I use either my favorite large non-stick skillet or a cast iron braising pan (from Superstore).
Store leftovers in the fridge and warm up either in the microwave or on the stovetop in a pot. Leftovers last about 3-5 days.
More Thai inspired recipes:
- Jasmine Coconut Rice
- Tofu Pad Thai
- Coconut Curry Ramen
- Instant Pot Thai Red Curry Chickpeas
- Thai Green Curry Soup with Shrimp
Tips + FAQs
Massaman curry is spiced, sweet and mild in flavor. It's spices are warming and mild combined with creamy coconut milk.
Massaman curry paste is made with a more varied selection of spices than most typical Thai curries, (like a Thai red curry or a green curry) owing to it's Indian origins. The paste itself contains warming spices like coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom as well as shallots, lemongrass, galangal, cilantro stems, and usually shrimp paste, and sometimes (Kaffir) lime leaves.
Vegetarian Massaman Curry
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 large onion (chopped)
- 3 Thai chilies (chopped)
- 2 lb. potatoes ( 900 grams, peeled and cubed)
- 2 large carrots (peeled and sliced)
- ¼ cup Thai Massaman curry paste
- 1 400 ml can coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 3 whole star anise
- 1-2 teaspoons tamarind paste
- 2 teaspoon brown sugar (packed)
- rice (to serve, optional)
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.
- Add cooking oil and then add onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until softening.
- Add Thai chilies and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Be aware of the spicy fumes from the chilies. Turn your stove exhaust fan on.
- Add the curry paste and ½ cup of coconut milk (just the creamy part at the top of the can). Fry the curry paste and coconut milk together until they are combined and the curry paste has been cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the rest of the coconut milk and the water. Stir.
- Add the potatoes, carrots, peanuts, and anise stars. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and let cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your potato cubes.
- Once potatoes are cooked through, add the tamarind paste and brown sugar. Stir to combine and serve the curry on top of rice.
- What it more filling? Serve this curry with rice.
- Not vegetarian? Add cubed chicken with the onions.
- Want to spice it up? Add more Thai red chilies. I use 6-8.
Nutritional information is an estimate. Values vary based on products used.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.
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