An aromatic curry from the northern part of Thailand, ‘Gaeng Hang Le’ แกงฮังเล, stands out for the use of a variety of dried spices and water as opposed to coconut milk as the liquid medium. Some of the herbs consisting the more classic Thai curry pastes, are omitted and ginger, a less common ingredient in Thai curries is added. Some of these features are found in other curries such as ‘Khao Soi’ or ‘Gaeng Massaman’.
These characteristics suggest an origin in the Indian cuisine and the history of the region points at the neighboring Burmese cuisine. Burma (today’s Myanmar) ruled the northern part of Thailand between the 16th and the 18th centuries and this curry is believed to have been embraced by the Thais at that time. In fact, Gaeng Hang Le is often referred to as Burmese curry in northern Thailand.
The flavor of this curry is salty, sweet and sour, scented by a balanced mix of warm dry spices like cassia, clove and cardamom. Subtle flavors of the lemony makrut, ginger and lemongrass add a pleasant overlay.
This curry is traditionally made with pork and seasoned with fish sauce, however in my version, meat is replaced with root vegetables and light Thai soy substitutes the fish sauce. The result is a super aromatic and comforting plant based curry that you would enjoy anytime and especially in colder days.
- Cooked and then broiled until nicely browned potatoes
- Charred shallots
- Roasted unsalted peanuts
- Vegetable oil
- Light soy sauce
- Dark soy sauce
- Tamarind puree
- Coconut sugar
- Halved fresh shallots
- Pickled garlic and pickling liquid (adds sweetness)
- Ginger chiffonade
- Filtered water
- Kelp (seaweed)
- Dry shiitake mushrooms
Dry spices (Hang Le masala):
- Star anise
- Green cardamom
- White cardamom
- Black pepper
- Fennel seeds
- 10-12 dried red chilies soaked in warm water (I used Kashmiri)
- Makrut zest
- Fresh turmeric
1.Make a stock by adding kelp and dried shiitake mushrooms to filtered water bringing them to a boil and letting the stock simmer. The kelp and mushrooms add umami layers of flavor that further enhance the richness of the dish.
2.Lightly dry roast the dry spices (except for the turmeric) in a pan on low heat, until pleasant scent spreads in the room. I prefer a small cast iron pan that evenly distributes the heat. Remove from the pan and let cool.
Grind the spices in a dry mortar and pestle or in an electric spice grinder and set the ground mix aside.
3.Chop the paste ingredients and pound them in a mortar and pestle, adding them one by one, until they turn into a fine and homogeneous paste. Add the dry spices mix into the curry paste and set aside.
4.Add oil to the center wok and fry the curry paste on medium heat for a few minutes. Keep stirring the paste to ensure it is evenly fried. When the oil separates from the paste add a little bit of the stock and let the oil float atop. Gently add the rest of the stock and bring to a boil.
Season with light soy, dark soy, palm sugar and tamarind paste. Taste and adjust to reach a nice balance of salty, sweet and subtly sour taste.
5.Add the potatoes, shallots and roasted peanuts and let cook on low heat. As needed lift the wok and gently shake to stir but avoid stirring with a spatula as the soft potatoes may disintegrate.
Add half of the ginger, the pickled garlic and pickling liquid and continue to cook on low heat.
6.Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the remainder of the ginger chiffonade.