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Panang Curry with Portobello Mushrooms & Eggplant

Panang Curry with Portobello Mushrooms & Eggplant (Panang Mangsawirat) - Most Thai curries have plenty of liquid for the nuggets to swim in, much like a soup. Panang, on the other hand, is what we call kluk klik, which describes a dish with just enough sauce to go around. Spaghetti Bolognese, for example, is kluk klik. It usually consists of thin slices of meat drenched in a thick, luscious sauce, which brings me to the other unique point of panang: it’s all meat, no vegetables, making it the perfect example for “veganization.” You can substitute whatever vegetables you like to roast in the oven (butternut squash or fennel perhaps?). If the weather permits, grilling the vegetables would be even better!

Serves: 3
Cooking Time: 30 minutes + 30 minutes if making the curry paste
Special Tools: Heavy-duty mortar and pestle, or another device for making curry paste
Do-ahead Tips: Make the curry paste in advance. Finish the sauce 1–2 days in advance and store in the fridge.

Panang = Name of the curry, no other meaning in modern Thai language; Mangsawirat = Vegetarian and/or vegan
Panang Curry with Portobello Mushrooms & Eggplant Recipe

Ingredients

  • As needed Vegetable oil
  • 9 oz Chinese or Japanese eggplant, ½-inch pieces on a sharp bias
  • A pinch Salt
  • 7 oz Portobello mushrooms
  • 1 ¼–1½ cups Coconut milk
  • 1 recipe Vegan panang curry paste, or 4 Tbsp store-bought paste
  • 1 Tbsp Palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 2–3 tsp Soy sauce
  • 4 Kaffir lime leaves, very thinly julienned
  • For garnish 2 Tbsp thick part of coconut milk (optional, see note)
  • For garnish Spur chili or red bell pepper, julienned
  • For serving Jasmine rice

How to make Panang Mangsawirat

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with vegetable oil. Lay the eggplant slices on the baking sheet and brush the top with more oil. Season with a pinch of salt and roast for 15–20 minutes, or until cooked through and tender.
  2. Brush both sides of the portobello mushrooms with vegetable oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven, stem side down, for 12–15 minutes, or until cooked through. Note: Many of us have been told not to wash mushrooms. For what it’s worth, I always rinse dirty mushrooms in cold water and have yet to encounter any problems.
  3. Make the curry sauce while the vegetables roast. In a small pot, reduce ½ cup of the coconut milk over medium heat until very thick and the clear coconut oil starts to separate from the white portion, about 10 minutes. (If this doesn’t happen, just proceed with the recipe after reducing until thick. See this page for more information.)
  4. Add the curry paste and cook over medium-low heat for 3–4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the curry paste is very thick. Add the palm sugar, 2 tsp of soy sauce, ¾ cup coconut milk, and 2 kaffir lime leaves; stir for another 2 minutes to let the flavours mingle. The sauce should be thick and luscious but still flow easily when poured. If needed, add more coconut milk to achieve the desired consistency.
  5. Remove from the heat, taste, and add the remaining soy sauce if needed—remember that the sauce will later be mellowed out by the vegetables and rice, so it should taste quite strong on its own.
  6. When the vegetables are done, cut the mushrooms into ½-inch slices. Pour the curry sauce onto a deep plate and arrange the mushrooms and eggplant on top of the sauce. Drizzle the thick coconut milk (if using) over the vegetables and garnish with the remaining kaffir lime leaves and spur chili. Serve with jasmine rice.

Note: Panang is typically garnished with a drizzle of thick coconut milk—the fatty portion that naturally rises as coconut milk sits. Simply skim off the surface of refrigerated coconut milk with a spoon, or you can thicken coconut milk with rice flour using the recipe for Salted Coconut Sauce.

Vegan Panang Curry Paste

  • 10 Large dried chilies, seeded
  • 1½ tsp Coriander seeds
  • ¾ tsp Cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp White peppercorns
  • 12 Peanuts, roasted; for nut allergies use 1½ Tbsp cooked mung beans
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Galangal, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Kaffir lime zest, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Cilantro roots, finely chopped, or 1 Tbsp cilantro stems, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp Shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic, finely chopped

How to make Vegan Panang Curry Paste

  1. Grind the dry chilies into a powder using a spice/coffee grinder OR soak the chilies in water for at least an hour to soften. (See Tips for Making Curry Paste in a Mortar and Pestle.)
  2. Toast the coriander seeds by adding the seeds to a small, dry pan and stirring constantly over medium-high heat until the seeds are aromatic and have darkened slightly, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool on a plate. Repeat with the cumin seeds.
  3. Using a heavy-duty mortar and pestle or a spice/coffee grinder, grind the toasted coriander seeds, toasted cumin seeds, and white peppercorns into a fine powder. Remove and set aside.
  4. Grind the roasted peanuts until fine; remove and set aside.
  5. If using dry, ground chilies:
  6. In a heavy-duty mortar and pestle, place the salt, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest, and cilantro roots; pound into a fine paste.
  7. Add the ground dry spices, ground chilies, shallots, and garlic; pound into a fine paste.
  8. Add the ground peanuts and pound to mix.

If using soaked chilies:
Drain the chilies and dry off excess water with paper towel. Cut into small pieces. Add the chilies and salt to a heavy-duty mortar and pestle; pound into a rough paste. Add the ground dry spices to help absorb the liquid from the chilies and continue pounding to a fine paste.
Add the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest, and cilantro roots; pound into a fine paste.
Add the shallots and garlic; pound into a fine paste.
Add the ground peanuts and pound to mix.

VEGAN TRANSFORMATION
Because panang is usually a meat-heavy dish, I chose meaty, savoury vegetables such as portobello mushrooms and eggplant. Roasting the vegetables intensifies their flavours, making them robust enough to stand up to the rich curry sauce. Fish sauce and shrimp paste in the curry paste would normally provide saltiness and umami, so I chose soy sauce as a substitute, as it is a source of both.

THE BREAKDOWN
The Paste Vegan panang curry paste
The Liquid Coconut milk
The Nuggets Eggplant, portobello mushrooms
The Seasoning Soy sauce, palm sugar
Flavour Profile Salty backed by a little sweet.