Thai food is always a crowd pleaser, and one of the reasons for this, perhaps, is the fact that it has evolved -- and continues to evolve -- as a fusion of many different cuisines from around the world. I once read someone describe Thai food as "living art that's constantly in motion." While that couldn't sound more syrupy, I think it's also a perfect description.
I will spare you a lesson in the history of Thai cuisine, except to say that many of the Thai dishes we are familiar with today have strong influences of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian food, thanks to migrants from these nations who carried their beloved native foods into Thailand.
In later years, this cuisine would absorb influences from the Portuguese, who arrived here in the 16th century and built a relationship with Thailand based on diplomacy and trade (did you know Thailand was one of a handful of Asian nations that were never colonized by Europeans, even as more powerful nations like China and India were).
It is the Portuguese who are said to have introduced the Thai to chili peppers, adding the alluring element of fire and heat into a cuisine already bold with tangy, salty and sweet flavors.
I love Thai food, and I've shared with you a few of my favorite recipes in the past, mainly perennial favorites like Thai green curry, red curry and yellow curry.
Thai food is also one of our top choices when we eat out or, these days, order in. I am likely biased, but some of my most favorite Thai dishes happen to be those with strong Indian influences, like this Massaman Curry.
What is a massaman curry?
A massaman curry is one of Thailand's best known--and best loved--dishes. It has a pretty peanut-butter-colored sauce with chili-stained flecks of coconut fat, large pieces of cinnamon and star anise, and chunky vegetables.
There are many stories about how the massaman curry originated, but the most common one, and the most plausible, is that it was created by Muslim traders from the middle east and India in Thailand. They married spices from their native cuisines with local ingredients to create an exquisite dish that earned the sobriquet of "Muslim Curry" ("Massaman" is a corruption of the Urdu and Arabic term for muslim, "mussalman.").
How to make a vegan massaman
Massaman curry is typically made with meat, either chicken or beef. But it is very possible to make it completely vegan and just as delicious. To keep mine as authentic tasting as possible, I chose jackfruit as my meat substitute.
Raw jackfruit, with its chewy texture, emulates chicken beautifully in vegetarian dishes. This giant, thorny-skinned fruit--whose incredible sweetness and deliciousness when ripe has earned it a cult following globally and especially in the countries where it grows--is great in Thai curries, and it grows locally there.
If you are familiar with Thai cuisine to any degree, you probably know that most curries start out with spice pastes. For a massaman curry this would be massaman paste, which is not unlike a Thai red curry paste with a few additional spices in it, like nutmeg and cloves.
I just use red curry paste, because it is close enough to massaman paste and I almost always have some on hand, I love it so. You can find vegan jarred red curry pastes in the market now (Thai Kitchen appears to be vegan), but most versions you will find will have in them fish sauce or shrimp paste. I make my own and I have a great Thai Red Curry Paste recipe on my DIY Spice Mixes page that you can try. It makes enough for about three uses, so you can use some for this recipe and freeze the rest for another time when a red curry craving hits you.
I made up for the missing ingredients in the massaman paste by adding these separately to the pot as I cooked the curry, ensuring I wasn't deprived of any of the flavor of an authentic curry.
Tips and substitutions
Yes. That's what I use because I can't find raw jackfruit here except in cans. If you would like to use fresh jackfruit you certainly can, but you might need to precook it by boiling in water for a few minutes to get the right texture.
There already are potatoes in this dish. You can sub the jackfruit with other veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes, but don't use a veggie that's too watery and will go very soft, like zucchini or any squash--you want some heft and texture in there.
There is 8 grams of protein in each serving of this recipe, and that goes up when you eat it with rice. However, some chewy tofu would be great in this dish. You can bake tofu before adding to this recipe, or try this air-fryer tofu. Tempeh is a nice option too.
Definitely. Skip the nutmeg and cloves, in that case, as the massaman paste likely already has them added in it.
You can keep the curry in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and it will taste great. Warm before using.
To freeze, pour into an airtight, freezer-safe container and store for up to three months. Thaw completely and reheat before serving.
What to serve with the curry
- White rice is perfect.
- A stir fry of vegetables on the side is really nice, but not necessary.
More vegan curries
- Jackfruit "Lamb" Tagine
- Vegan Thai Green Curry
- Vegan Thai Curried Chickpeas (with red curry paste)
- Vegan Thai Yellow Curry
- Vegan Butter Chicken
Vegan Massaman Curry with Jackfruit "Chicken"
- 2 tbsp coconut cream (alternatively use coconut oil)
- ¼ cup Thai red curry paste
- 2-inch stick cinnamon
- 1 star anise
- 6 green cardamom pods (crushed)
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp turmeric (optional)
- 20 oz jackfruit (from a can. Drained and rinsed. Cut into bite-sized pieces)
- 2 medium potatoes (cut in a chunky dice)
- 14 oz coconut milk
- 1 tbsp peanut butter (or better still, blitz 1 tbsp peanuts with ¼ cup water)
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- 2 shallots (sliced thinly. Alternatively use a small red onion)
- 2 tbsp dark brown sugar or coconut sugar or coconut syrup
- 1 tsp sriracha sauce (or use cayenne)
- 1 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce. Skip if soy-free)
- 2 tbsp (level) tamarind paste (add 1 tbsp and then add more if you want the curry tangier)
- Salt to taste
For serving and garnish
- Cilantro or basil, chopped
- White rice or brown rice, cooked
- Roasted, chopped peanuts
- In a pot, heat the coconut cream with the red curry paste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the paste darkens and oozes the fat from the coconut milk.
- Add the spices--cinnamon, star anise, green cardamom pods, cloves, nutmeg and turmeric--to the pot and mix them in. Saute them with the curry paste for a couple of minutes.
- Add the jackfruit and potatoes to the pot with the peanut butter or peanut paste, half the coconut milk , roasted peanuts, shallots, sugar, sriracha, tamarind paste and 1 cup water. Mix well, cover, and cook until the potatoes and jackfruit are tender, around 20 minutes. The jackfruit will still have a slghtly chewy texture, which you want.
- Add the remaining coconut milk and thin out with more water, if you want. Mix well and let the curry cook another five to 10 minutes. You should see flecks of red oil dotting the curry, which indicates all the ingredients are cooked exactly. Check salt and add more if needed.
- Garnish with basil or cilantro.
- Serve hot with rice. Sprinkle on some roasted peanuts, if you wish.