Do you consider yourself adventurous or squeamish when it comes trying culinary specialties from around the world? Regardless of which camp you are in food and travel can create unforgettable experiences. This Thai Red Shrimp Curry takes me back to Thailand in an instant.

Thai bird chiles on a placemat

Thai bird chiles on a placemat -photo credit Jim Little

When I heard Sue and Dave were cycling in Thailand I thought it would be fun to share a favourite Thai recipe. For me preparing and sharing a meal from somewhere far away is the perfect way to create anticipation for an upcoming trip or to relive memories from a past vacation.

In the twenty years since my husband and I visited Thailand Thai cuisine has become popular in North America. And why wouldn’t it be. Just the mention of Thailand conjures up images of tantalizing Thai curries, spicy Tom Yam soup, noodle-filled salad rolls bursting with fresh herbs and that pungent nuoc cham dipping sauce. Like music, food creates memories that are imbedded in your mind forever.

Trekking in Northern Thailand

One of my fondest memories of Thailand is the lunch we were served during a two-day trek in the northern province of Mae Hong Son. Our trek began in the capital, also called Mae Hong Son, and went up the mountain to a remote, hill-tribe village. It was off-season and to our surprise our ‘group’ consisted of our guide, Made (pronounced Ma-day) and the two of us.

We walked all morning through the jungle in the sweltering Thai heat. Occasionally there was momentary relief as we stepped in and out of the tiny stream criss-crossing our way up the mountain. Then our guide announced we would stop for lunch. At the next turn the stream opened up into a small crystal clear pool of water. We were invited to cool off and swim in the water while he prepared our lunch.

As we enjoyed the refreshing mountain water we watched our guide pick debris from the forest and make a small fire. Next he cut a long bamboo stalk and fashioned it into a teapot. Filling a section of the bamboo with water he then laid it over the fire to boil. These two photos, taken with slide film, have lost their vibrancy over the years but they bring me back to that very day.

A bamboo tea pot made by our guide.

A bamboo tea pot made by our guide -photo credit Jim Little

While the water for tea was heating Made whittled two bamboo teacups. He told us about the importance of bamboo and taught us how to hold our teacups correctly.

He carved a small notch at the top of one side on each cup to accommodate our North American noses. This notch allowed us to drink our tea to the last drop without our nose hitting the edge. Ingenious we thought.

Our guide making tea cups from bamboo

Our guide making tea cups from bamboo -photo credit Jim Little

Our meal was a small triangular shaped package handed to us like a small gift. It was filled with fragrant Thai coconut rice tightly packed around bits of spicy meat. I don’t really remember the taste but it was one of those moments when you need to pinch yourself just to make sure it is real. This is one of my cherished food travel memories.

Thai Street Food and the Floating Market

Of course there were food experiences every single day. I remember the sumptuous satay skewers dipped in plastic buckets of hot sauce sold from carts on every street corner. Vendors selling paper cones filled with cut fresh fruit and sprinkled with hot chile peppers. At the Damnoen Saduak floating market we drank refreshing coconut water served in whole coconuts as we watched the hustle and bustle. The river was crowded with boats of tourists, boats of produce and boats cooking food.

One lady was cooking little coconut pancakes and filling them with a sweet coconut cream. Another was efficiently making bowls of noodle soup and yet another making round coconut rice balls. There were continuous streams of people passing food up to the buyers and passing money back to the sellers. It was chaotic and fascinating all at the same time. We sampled as many foods as we could and took in the sights and sounds of a market half way around the world.

Bangkok floating market

Bangkok floating market -photo credit Jim Little

Thai Cuisine and Curry Paste

Thai food is a delicate balance of sweet and sour with the hot and the salty. The dishes are all served together and complement each other in a harmonious layering of flavour upon flavour. Typically diners combine any of the dishes and condiments to achieve the desired taste.

The quintessential Thai condiment is fish sauce, and is used in almost every dish. Other flavourings include Thai basil, shrimp paste and tamarind. Coconut milk is used to make desserts, fragrant coconut rice and is added to most Thai curries.

Thai curries are made with curry paste, a subtle blend of ingredients like cilantro, chiles, lemongrass, galangal, ginger and lime. These are family recipes passed down from generation to generation. This recipe for Thai Red Shrimp Curry is made with red curry paste.

Curry paste is easy to make from scratch and only takes a few minutes…as long as you have the 13 ingredients needed for the recipe. The good news is that store bought curry pastes are readily available and delicious. They can be found in Asian markets, well-stocked grocery stores and online. The most common curry pastes are named for their colour; red, yellow or green curry paste.

Over time I have learned what ingredients to stock in my pantry, fridge and freezer. I know where I can find fresh ingredients locally so without too much planning I can pull off some amazing Thai dishes. Once you have the ingredients, this recipe for Thai Red Shrimp Curry is quick and easy.

Thai Red Shrimp Curry

Thai Red Shrimp Curry -photo credit Jim Little

Ingredients for Thai Red Shrimp Curry

Here are a few tips about the ingredients for this recipe.

  • Coconut milk sold in cans is significantly less expensive at an Asian grocery store and has a long shelf life. Stock up.
  • Fish Sauce is essential. Don’t smell it, just buy it! It lasts forever at room temperature.
  • Red curry paste sold in plastic tubs keeps in the fridge for a year. Buy two kinds and share it with a like-minded friend.
  • Lime Leaves add a unique flavour so search them out for a special dinner. For everyday cooking and for convenience I keep dried lime leaves in my spice drawer. If you can’t find them substitute Thai basil or fresh mint. The taste will be different but still delicious.

So make the most of your next trip, your last trip or that bucket list vacation by getting together with friends over dinner. Will this Thai Red Shrimp Curry be part of your menu? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks to Sue and her recent trip to Asia that inspired my little trip down memory lane.

As they say in Thailand…Gan gin gan yu.

As you eat, so you are.

Thai Red Shrimp Curry

Author Cinde Little, Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet

Ingredients

  • 3 cups coconut milk (do not use light coconut milk)
  • 3 Tbsp red curry paste
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 dried red chiles, broken and seeded
  • lbs large shrimp, shelled with tails left on
  • 4 fresh lime leaves torn in half (substitute dried lime leaves, fresh Thai basil or even mint)

Instructions

  1. Set a wok or deep pan over high heat and add coconut milk.

  2. When the milk is warm add the curry paste and gently whisk to blend in. Bring to a slow boil then reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.

  3. Add the shrimp and lime leaves. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are just cooked through, 2-3 minutes.

  4. Transfer the curry to a large serving bowl. Remove the chile pieces or warn guests not to eat them. Sprinkle with cilantro and garnish with lime wedges. 

Cinde Little

Cinde Little, Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet -photo credit Jim Little

Cinde writes the Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet food blog and teaches cooking classes in Calgary, Alberta. As a passionate home cook she encourages people to just get in the kitchen and cook. She began gluten free cooking in 2009 after a friend was diagnosed with celiac disease. By day Cinde is an Education Consultant with Alberta Health Services. Follow her on twitter, instagram and facebook or visit her online store and blog at www.everydayglutenfreegourmet.ca.