Meera Sodha’s recipe for vegan sweet potato and aubergine massaman curry | Life and style

South-east Asian cuisine is a great source of vegan-friendly cooking, and this gently spicy Thai curry is a case in point

Meera Sodha’s sweet potato and aubergine massaman curry.

Meera Sodha’s sweet potato and aubergine massaman curry: mix and match the veg to suit your mood and what’s in the cupboard.
Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay

‘Something from the cupboard” was a regular meal when I was growing up. Our family home was in the countryside and a good distance from the shops, so going out in January to buy something fresh meant de-icing our old Nissan Bluebird that was so full of holes, eye-stinging wind would whip around our necks and freeze our fingers blue. The thought of something from the cupboard, then, was a source of great comfort, and a foil to our laziness, because it meant we didn’t need to leave the house.

Naturally, we spent a lot of time with our noses in the kitchen drawers, wondering how best to use tins of this and pots of spices, alongside stalwarts of the vegetable basket, and turn them into meals. Most of the time, this resulted in the same old things: spinach and sweetcorn saag (makai palak), plum tomato and chickpea noodle curry (sev tamatar) and dal dhokli (chickpea pasta poached in dal).

But now that there is easy access to a more varied and global pantry, I tend to push the boat out and cook my way around south-east Asia on a regular basis: pad thai, laksa, penang curry and massaman curry share many ingredients in common – coconut milk, nuts, tamarind and galangal paste – as well as spices that keep for months, if not years. All are also forgiving enough to absorb most of our seasonal produce, while many of the base pastes can be made in a blender without a significant dent to flavour.

Today’s recipe is just such a dish. According to Thai food guru David Thompson, massaman curry has “all the hallmarks of southern Muslim food – rich with coconut cream and redolent of spices”. There are many variations, but it’s usually sweet, sour with tamarind and made using spices, peanuts and coconut; it also often features a starchy vegetable such as potato or sweet potato. Ordinarily complex to make, I’ve taken liberties by using as many store-cupboard ingredients as possible.

Sweet potato and aubergine massaman curry

Feel free to play around with the vegetable element: potatoes, broccoli, carrots and radishes would all be at home here. Serves four.

For the paste
5 red bird’s-eye chillies
4 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, then roughly chopped
50g bunch coriander, leaves picked and set aside, stalks roughly chopped
100g (4½ tbsp) smooth peanut butter
1½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
1½ tbsp galangal paste
1½ tbsp tamarind paste
2½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt

For the curry
2 x 400ml tins coconut milk
400g aubergine, cut into 2cm x 2cm chunks
800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm x 3cm chunks
1 handful dried coconut slices, to garnish

Put all the ingredients for the paste in a blender, add 100ml water and blitz to a paste.

Put a large pan for which you have a lid on a medium heat and, once hot, fry the paste, stirring constantly, for five minutes, until dark and glossy; take care it doesn’t catch and burn. Add the coconut milk little by little, stirring it into the paste as you go, then throw in the aubergine and bring the lot up to a bubble. Add the sweet potato, cover the pot, turn down the heat to a whisper and leave to cook for 20 minutes, until the aubergine has collapsed and the sweet potato is very tender.

While the curry is cooking, toast the coconut slices. Put a small frying pan on a medium flame and, once hot, toast the coconut for a couple of minutes, until golden brown on both sides, then tip out on to a plate.

To serve, transfer the curry to a serving bowl, scatter the coriander leaves and coconut slices on top, and serve with plain rice.

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