I always feel a tad trepidacious when I post recipes from countries I’ve never visited and know very little about (but whose food I love in restaurants!). Hence the “ish” in the title.
I hope, however, that any Thai reader stumbling upon this post will see it as my feeble attempt to pay enthusiastic homage to their wonderfully fragrant, nourishing cuisine. And if they feel that this recipe could use some tweaks, I’d be grateful if they could leave their suggestions in the comments section below. I love learning from my readers.
Others may wonder: “Why is Conner even posting Thai(ish) recipes, considering she’s a nutritionist specializing in Mediterranean eating patterns?” Of course, you’re right; Thailand is 4,267 miles from even the easternmost shores of the Mediterranean, and therefore its food cannot be considered “Mediterranean.” However, traditional Thai cooking — just like that of most other ancestral cuisines — has much in common with the traditional Mediterranean way of eating, which is why I feel it can fit quite comfortably in a blog featuring more Mediterranean dishes.
Here are just some of the similarities between Thai and Mediterranean cuisines:
- A large amount of vegetables, herbs & spices with medicinal properties: Thai cuisine often incorporates a variety of fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices that provide a wide range of nutrients and health benefits. For example, ingredients like lemongrass, basil, coriander, turmeric, ginger, and galangal used in Thai dishes have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may aid digestion. Mediterranean counterparts include a wide range of vegetables and herbs like garlic, basil, oregano, dill, parsley, thyme, mint, bay leaf, rosemary, cumin, coriander, and paprika, as well as — especially in North African cuisine — ginger and turmeric.
- Seafood and a wide variety of animal proteins: Thai cuisine often includes seafood and lean proteins like chicken and tofu. These sources of protein can support healthy muscles and metabolism, while seafood like fish and shrimp contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may have cardiovascular benefits. The Mediterranean way of eating also emphasizes fish and seafood (after all, it is centered around the Mediterranean Sea whose coastline extends for 28,600 miles), and commonly eaten meats include poultry, lamb/sheep, goat, and, to a lesser extent, beef, and pork. The Mediterranean equivalent of Thailand’s tofu would be the wide range of legumes eaten in this region, ranging from chickpeas to lentils, peas, and beans.
- Variety: Both Thai and Mediterranean cuisines incorporate a wide array of plant foods that change in line with the seasons. Research has shown that eating a high variety of plant foods is associated with a healthier gut microbiome, a lower risk of certain cancers, and overall enhanced health.
- Dairy & milk: Dairy is less commonly used in Thailand, where the main “milk” comes from coconuts. While coconut milk is high in saturated fat, it can still be enjoyed in moderation. It adds richness to Thai dishes and provides essential minerals like manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Unlike long-chain triglycerides found in many other fats, the medium-chain triglycerides in coconut are quickly metabolized by the body and can be used as a source of energy. In the Mediterranean, dairy is consumed in moderate amounts, mostly in the form of yogurt, kefir, and cheese.
- Healthy Cooking Methods: Both cuisines involve stir-frying/sauteeing, steaming, low-temperature braising, and grilling, which are generally considered to be healthier cooking methods compared to deep-frying or industrial food processing.
So, you see — while you might not expect to be served Thai curry at a traditional restaurant in Seville, Beirut, or Marrakesh, it is actually quite “Mediterranean” in composition, combining high-quality protein, healthy fat, fiber-rich vegetables and flavorful aromatics brimming with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
And just like its Mediterranean counterpart, Thai cuisine is highly versatile. Therefore, feel free to vary the proteins (instead of chicken, try shrimp, squid, scallops, salmon, pork, beef, hard-boiled eggs, tofu, or edamame beans — or a combination of these), vegetables (in addition — or as alternatives to — the above-mentioned vegetables, why not try eggplant, asparagus, sugar snap or snow peas, broccoli(ni), onions, tomatoes or zucchini?) and garnishes (such as sesame seeds, cilantro, green onions — the more, the merrier).
Thai-ish Weeknight Curry
- 1 can (14 oz) coconut milk full-fat
- 1 cup chicken bone broth or vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp fish sauce my favorite is Red Boat; click here for a list of veg(etari)an fish sauce alternatives
- 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste if you are sensitive to spicy food, start with 1 tbsp and add more as desired; my favorite brands are Mae Anong and Mae Ploy – available at Asian supermarkets or online
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar or a non-glycemic sweetener like allulose
- 8 oz sweet potato about 1 medium-large potato; peeled & cut into ¾-inch cubes
- 1¼ lb chicken breast or thigh (boneless, skinless) cut cross-wise into ¼-inch slices; alternatively, 1 lb cooked, shredded chicken OR raw, peeled shrimp OR raw, frozen seafood mix (shrimp, scallops, squid) OR raw, cubed salmon OR cubed, baked (high-protein) tofu
- 1 large bell pepper in this dish, I like green peppers, but any color works
- 8 oz mushrooms sliced
- 6 oz green beans topped, tailed and cut into bite-sized lengths (about 1½ inches)
- 1 small can bamboo shoots drained
- 1 tbsp lime juice freshly pressed
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- ½ cup Thai basil OR cilantro coarsely chopped; save a few leaves for garnish
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts cparsely chopped
- Combine coconut milk, broth, fish sauce, curry paste and sugar in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
- Add sweet potato cubes and simmer, covered, until almost soft, 6-8 minutes.
- Add chicken, peppers, mushrooms and green beans to the pot, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in lime juice, frozen peas, and chopped herbs. Season with salt or fish sauce.
- Serve immediately, either on its own or accompanied by brown jasmine rice (I recommend no more than ½ to ¾ cup of rice per person). Sprinkle each bowl with chopped peanuts and garnish with a few Thai basil leaves.
- Stored in an airtight container this keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge; freezes well. Well suited for meal prep.
- Veg(etari)ans can substitute meat with tofu and/or edamame beans. If using tofu, I recommend using baked tofu, which is higher in protein than even firm or extra-firm tofu. When selecting your protein, aim for a serving that provides 30 g of protein.
- If you are eating a ketogenic diet, omit the sweet potato to reduce the carb content per serving to a net 9 g. Serve over cauliflower rice rather than regular rice, or add 1-2 packs of shirataki noodles to the curry; delicious!