This vegan coconut curry is all the things. It's nutritious, with sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger, and a whole bag of baby spinach. It's got plenty of protein, thanks to the chickpeas. And its luscious sauce and warm, spicy flavors make it feel much more decadent than it really is.
To develop the recipe, I started with this curry by Sheela Prakash and made a few key adjustments, inspired by a recent Thai client, as well as my young son, who refuses to eat anything that is "flat an green" (a.k.a. leaves). First of all, I hid an entire bag of spinach in a blended sauce, which I then used to braise the sweet potatoes and chickpeas to tender perfection. Second, I increased the amount of curry paste and added some optional Thai chiles for extra flavor and sinus-clearing heat. Finally, I wilted whole basil leaves into the curry—a delicious, texture-amplifying trick I learned while testing recipes for an upcoming Thai cookbook.
Vegan Coconut Curry, step by step
Time needed: 35 minutes
- Start the rice, if using.
Not sure how to steam rice? Check out my super-simple method here.
- Puree spinach with water and lime juice.
You'll use this mixture, along with a can of coconut milk, to create the curry's saucy texture. The spinach adds a nice amount of sweetness (on top of the extra nutrients), and the lime juice helps brighten up the flavors.
- Cook sweet potatoes and chickpeas with aromatics and curry paste.
Sautéing the sweet potatoes in a dry pan with the curry paste and garlic unlocks the most flavor and also reduces the overall cooking time.
- Pour in the spinach sauce and coconut milk and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender.
This is where the magic happens. Just stir it all up and enjoy the aromas while you clean up the dishes and set the table.
- Stir in the basil, soy sauce, and optional chiles.
When the tip of a knife easily slides into the sweet potato cubes, finish it off with the soy sauce, sliced Thai chiles (if you want extra heat), and a big handful of fresh basil leaves. When the basil is wilted, the curry is ready!
If you made rice, then scoop it onto plates or bowls along with the curry. If not, simply ladle the curry into bowls and devour it just like that.
The mind-blowing art of using basil as a cooking green
If you learn only one thing from this post, let it be this: Basil is more than a token herb to chiffonade and sprinkle on top of finished dishes. It's a bit more tender than baby spinach, with a verdant zing and a tinge of anise-like flavor that adds welcome interest to anything it touches. Try it in this recipe, then experiment by stirring whole leaves into stir-fries, sauces, salads, and creamy soups.
What to do with leftover Thai red curry paste
This recipe only uses about half of a jar of curry paste. So, because I care deeply about your precious refrigerator space (and despise wasting food), I've cobbled together a list of other uses for the Thai condiment/seasoning. Comment below if you have any other brilliant ideas to add!
- Add a spoonful to scrambled eggs or plain cooked pasta or rice.
- Mix some with mayo to make a zippy sandwich spread.
- Stir a spoonful or two into your next pot of chicken soup.
- Use it as a seasoning for sauteed vegetables, ground beef or pork, or shrimp.
Vegan (Thai-style) Coconut Curry with Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas, and Spinach
- Blender or food processor
- Large saucepan or Dutch oven
- 1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1½ limes)
- ⅓ cup vegetable broth or water
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 2 tabespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
- 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
- ¼ cup Thai red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen brand)
- 1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 to 5 Thai chiles, sliced (optional)
- ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
- Cooked jasmine or brown rice, for serving (optional)
- Combine the spinach, lime juice, and broth or water in a blender; puree until smooth.
- Heat the oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the curry paste and stir for 1 minute, until it’s very fragrant. Add the sweet potatoes and chickpeas; stir to coat them in the curry paste.
- Pour in the coconut milk, pureed spinach mixture, salt, and pepper. When the liquid starts bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the soy sauce, Thai chiles (if using), and basil leaves and cook for a minute or two, just until the basil is wilted.
- Serve the curry with rice, if desired. (Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)