Until I accidentally left some chillies out on the kitchen counter some 10 years ago, I hadn’t realised that, like most fruit, they ripen. I watched them turn from Kermit green to angry red, before slowly drying and deepening to a wine-like burgundy. Their flavour changed, too: the bright green, fresh heat transformed into something richer, more rounded, and hotter. In this curry, I have, like the Thais do, used dried red chillies, soaked and blended with other aromatics to give the dish its characteristic warming and complex flavour. It is ear-ticklingly spicy, but fear not: it has been softened (a little) with some coconut milk.
Thai red curry with aubergines, rainbow chard and tofu
You can make this with traditional Thai red chillies, but I’ve used the more ubiquitous Kashmiri red chillies (which have a similar heat level). Don’t fear them: they are easy to handle and will keep in the store-cupboard for up to a year. You’ll need a deep-sided, nonstick pan and a blender for this dish.
Prep 15 min
Cook 45 min
3 aubergines (900g), cut into 6cm x 2cm wedges
8 large dried chillies – I used Kashmiri ones
1 banana shallot, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp galangal paste – I use Bart’s or Thai Taste, both of which are widely available
1 tsp white peppercorns (or ½ tsp ground white pepper)
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, bases only, chopped
8 makrut lime leaves, centre stem and stalk removed, leaves finely shredded
1½ tsp fine sea salt
2 x 400ml tins coconut milk
1 x 280g pack tofu – I like Tofoo
1 tbsp coconut or dark brown sugar
1½ tbsp light soy sauce
200g rainbow chard, stems chopped and leaves shredded
Thai basil, leaves picked
Steamed jasmine rice
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7 and line two large oven trays. Pop the aubergine wedges on the trays, drizzle over two or three tablespoons of oil, and toss with your hands so they’re well coated. Space out the wedges, then bake for 20 minutes, turning once halfway, until the aubergine is starting to burnish.
Meanwhile, make the curry paste. Break or cut the tops off the chillies, then press and rattle them so the seeds fall out. Break the deseeded chillies into a small, heat-proof bowl, pour over enough boiling water just to immerse the chillies and leave to soak for five minutes.
Put the shallot, garlic, galangal paste, pepper, lemongrass, four lime leaves and salt into a blender, add the soaked chillies and five tablespoons of their soaking water, then blitz to a smooth paste.
Drain and press the tofu to remove any excess liquid, then lightly pat dry with kitchen paper and cut into 2cm cubes.
Heat a large pan over a medium heat, add two tablespoons of oil and, when very hot, add the cubed tofu and fry, turning often, for five minutes, until golden on all sides. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tofu to a plate, leaving the oil behind.
Turn down the heat a little and add the curry paste and remaining lime leaves to the pan. Fry for five minutes, then slowly pour in the coconut milk, mixing the paste into the milk as you go. Add the soy sauce and sugar, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and add the baked aubergine, fried tofu and rainbow chard. Simmer for five minutes, until the chard wilts, then take off the heat. Serve with jasmine rice and a scattering of Thai basil leaves.