In this Vegan Massaman Curry, tender jackfruit and potato chunks simmered in a gravy of coconut milk, lemongrass, red chile, and a variety of fragrant spices. Powerful but not overpowering and nicely balanced, this curry is tastier and more complex than you’ll get at most restaurants.
How Thai curry found me
I still remember the first time I tried Thai food. I was a senior in high school and I was with some classmates and teachers on a school trip. (Props to the adventurous teacher who picked this place out.) It was a simple local spot and I ordered a red curry. What struck me was the combination of different flavors that I wasn’t used to tasting together – spicy, sour, sweet, and nutty. I didn’t know much about food then (I still don’t) but the coconut milk really stood out as great.
I used that experience as my gateway to try more Thai food and eventually cook some on my own. The canned pastes sold at Asian grocery stores made it really easy to make your own curry at home – I basically just needed a can of curry paste, a can or two of coconut milk, and whatever ingredients I felt like putting into it. It was a convenient and low-risk way to make something reliably delicious. This was my go-to method of making Thai curries from the time I was in college until pretty recently.
Taking Thai curry to the next level
The dish I’m sharing with you today marks my first time diverting from that habit of using manufactured spice blends for Thai curry. A few months ago, I received an advance copy of East Meets Vegan, a plant-based cookbook with recipes from a number of different Asian countries. The Jackfruit Massaman Curry caught my eye for some reason. I think it’s because I’ve had jackfruit on occasion in some different applications – carnitas and pulled southern-style barbecue – but not yet in any Thai dishes. And lots of jackfruit comes from Thailand, so I thought there could be some nice flavor affinities there.
This curry is made from a homemade spice blend, and it makes a universe of difference. Roasting, grinding, and blending your own spices takes a bit of work, I’ll admit, but I found that it is easily worth the trouble. The flavors that come through in this curry are intense, but I never felt overwhelmed by any single spice or by the whole dish.
If you prefer to avoid processed manufactured products, this dish is a good opportunity to do that. Many industrially produced curry pastes include a ton of salt and chile peppers, and this can make it difficult to create a dish with them that is bright and flavorful, but not excessively salty or spicy.
Also, Kudos to Sasha Gill, the author of the cookbook, for making this dish so flavorful that it doesn’t even need salt. It just relies on a small amount of soy sauce for flavor enhancement.
Cooking this Vegan Massaman Curry
This dish requires a bit more work than your average curry or stew, but the results are totally worth it.
The recipe includes an optional component, Serundeng, a dish of fried, spiced, shredded coconut from Indonesia. It makes a nice topping for the curry – the flavors work well together – but it’s not really part of Thai cuisine. If you’re going to make the serundeng, I recommend making it first.
To make the curry, you start by making the homemade curry paste. Toast cardamom, coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds on the stovetop, then grind them into a powder. Add ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, then blend everything with chopped garlic, shallots, red chile pepper, ginger, and lemongrass. This curry paste is less concentrated than what you get in a can, but its depth and richness of flavor can’t be overstated.
Next, you use coconut milk to “fry” the curry paste. This is an interesting approach that allows you to skip using oil. The coconut milk does have plenty of its own fat, after all.
After “frying” the paste, you add more coconut milk, vegetable broth, some whole spices (star anise, cinnamon, and some optional Serundeng. After that cooks for a minute, the potatoes, palm sugar, jackfruit, and soy sauce go in. You simmer this whole mixture for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes and jackfruit are cooked how you like them. Garnish, serve, and enjoy.
If you’re not also making the Serundeng, you can put this one together within an hour.
A few cooking notes
You’ll need a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the spices. And a food processor or large mortar and pestle to make the curry paste.
Be sure to use green jackfruit, not ripe. Green jackfruit has a sour taste, while ripe is quite sweet. You can buy green jackfruit canned at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and many other grocery chains. Green jackfruit may have the words “in brine” on the can. Do not use any canned jackfruit packed in syrup.
Use regular coconut milk, not light coconut milk. The light version is missing a lot of fat, which is important for the flavor of this dish. Don’t use coconut cream or Coco Lopez, either. The recipe yields four dinner-sized servings. You may want to make a double batch because the curry keeps well and is delicious enough that you might not want to risk running out.
Some Vegan Massaman Curry pairings
If you’re interested in making a full Thai or Southeast Asian meal, there are a number of good vegan recipes you can pair with this curry, including:
- Pad Thai – fried rice noodles and veggies in a salty-sweet-sour sauce
- Nasi Lemak – fragrant coconut rice
- Laksa – a rich and spicy coconut noodle soup
- Nasi Goreng – Indonesian/Malaysian fried rice
- Turmeric Latte – a creamy and fragrant drink that can be served hot or cold
If you try this recipe out, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @gastroplant on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Vegan Massaman Curry
Spices to toast
- 4 cardamom pods seeds only
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Ground spice blend
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 5 garlic cloves chopped
- 2 shallots diced
- 2 Fresno chile peppers seeds removed and chopped
- 1 inch ginger chopped
- 1 lemongrass stalk peeled and chopped
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz / 400 mL)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Serundeng optional
- 4 small waxy potatoes chopped
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon palm sugar
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 can green jackfruit drained and chopped to bite-size pieces (20 oz / 570 g)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- Roasted peanuts crushed
- Fresh cilantro chopped
- Lime wedges
- Fresno chile peppers sliced thinly
Toast and grind the spices
- Combine all the ingredients in the “spices to toast” list in a small, dry skillet and heat over medium heat. Once the pan has heated, toast the spices for 2 minutes, stirring continuously to make sure they don’t scorch. Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder (or use a mortar and pestle).
Make the curry paste
- Combine the ground toasted spices, the “ground spice blend” ingredients, and the “fresh herbs” in a food processor. Blend until it forms a mostly consistent paste. You can also use a mortar and pestle for this stage if your equipment allows.
Simmer the stew
- Pour a quarter of the coconut milk into a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until boiling. Add the curry paste from the food processor. “Fry” the curry paste for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the rest of the coconut milk and all the ingredients under the “To simmer” list. Stir well. When the liquid reaches a boil, turn to low heat, cover, and simmer until both the potato and jackfruit are tender.
Season and serve
- Before serving, taste the gravy and add more soy sauce or palm sugar, if needed. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro, lime juice, and Fresno chile slices. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.