When life gives you peanuts, make peanut butter. Or Penang Curry, which is basically a creamy, mellow version of Thai red curry with peanuts in it.

In Buddha’s Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style, Chat Mingkwan tells us:

“Malaysian influence gives this curry a unique flavor, due mainly to the addition of roasted peanuts to the curry paste. Panaeng curry is usually drier than most Thai curries. Its dryness s achieved by reduction, which, at the end, leaves the curry with an intense taste….

Shredded kaffir lime, both in the curry paste and garnish, is needed to tie all the flavors together.”

The Malaysian city of Penang is near the southern border of Thailand. This curry is usually made with beef, but Mingkwan’s version uses tofu.

This recipe, like all our other experiments in Thai cooking, is from this book. We’ve adapted it to suit our reduced heat tolerance.

Both of us rank Thai food among our top three favourite cuisines. The problem with Thai curries is that they take a looooooong time to make. First you make the spice paste, then the curry itself.

Some tips for express Thai cooking if you don’t make this kind of food often:

1. Make a triple or quadruple batch of spice pastes and freeze them in 1/3 or 1/2 cup portions. When you want to make the curry, thaw it in the microwave for 3 minutes or so, add some canned coconut milk and tofu/veggies, and dinner’s ready in minutes.

2. Unique Thai ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, etc. are not always readily available.

Check out our PICTORIAL GLOSSARY of common Thai ingredients.

We have a Thai store fairly close to our home, but even there, galangal and kaffir lime leaves are not available year round. So when we do find them, we buy a big hunk of galangal, grind it and put it in the freezer. It lasts for several months. Kaffir lime leaves freeze very well for at least six months. We don’t have a problem finding lemongrass, but if you do, try grinding and freezing that as well.

Then, one weekend, we get down to making huge batches of different spice pastes from Thailand and freeze them in smaller portions.

3. Always keep canned coconut milk (we use lite) in the pantry or coconut milk powder in the fridge. For each cup of coconut milk, use 1/3 cup coconut milk powder plus water.

Other standard ingredients like shallots, limes, fresh and dried chillies, garlic and cilantro are staples in our kitchen.

A big time-saver for this particular recipe is to get the packaged raw peanuts from the Thai/Chinese store.

From our simplistic perspective, there are four types of peanuts.


The unshelled ones that you boil and eat.


Planters peanuts. Roasted to look like Pamela Anderson with a fake tan and funny odour.


The raw ones with the skin from the Indian store. Needy, attention-seeking and idiotic. Zap them in the microwave or roast them in the oven. Then try to rub the skins off.

Geez … what were we thinking? A handful takes 20 minutes, and half the skins were still on. Then there’s the floor to clean. Use these only if you don’t care about skinning them.


The skinned ones from the Thai store. Not roasted, not salted, secure, low maintenance and totally hassle-free.

PENANG CURRY PASTE (Namprik Panaeng)

Makes 1 cup

6-8 large red dried chillies
**we used New Mexico chillies
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
3 tablespoons raw, skinned peanuts, lightly roasted
2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (fleshy midsection)
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh Thai red chillies for more heat (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro roots or stems
1 tablespoon chopped kaffir lime leaves (or kaffir lime zest)

1. Stem and seed the chillies. Chop them with kitchen scissors and soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Discard the bitter water, and squeeze the chillies dry.

2. Roast the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant.

3. Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste, using a little water if necessary.

We usually make double this amount and freeze it in 1/2 cup portions.

PENANG CURRY (Gaeng Panaeng)

We used a combination of tofu, peas and yellow bell peppers.

1/2 cup penang curry paste
**less if using store bought
1 cup julienned onions (we used shallots)
3 cups coconut milk (we used low-fat)
** or a combo of coconut milk and coconut cream
2 cups firm tofu diced in 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup peas (thawed in the microwave for 2 minutes if frozen)
1 chopped yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup lite soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar, jaggery or maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt to taste
3 tbsps finely chopped roasted peanuts
Thai basil leaves (bai horapha) for garnish
4 whole kaffir lime leaves for garnish

1. Heat the oil and fry the curry paste for 3-5 minutes until fragrant. Add the tofu and coat with the curry paste.

2. Add the coconut milk, soy sauce, and sugar/jaggery. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until somewhat thickened.
**if using coconut cream along with coconut milk, add it just before taking off the heat.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients except the basil and the kaffir lime leaves. Cook until the veggies are tender.
**if using frozen peas, thaw in the microwave for 3 minutes and add at the very end.

4. Adjust the seasonings. Stir in the Thai basil, cut into chiffonades. Stack the kaffir lime leaves and roll tightly. Slice to make paper-thin strips and use as garnish.

This curry is traditionally served with steamed rice.

Penang Curry is our entry for the A Fruit A Month: Coconut event hosted by dear Suganya of Tasty Palettes.

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  1. Aparna says:

    So far when life gave me peanuts (very often) I converted it (what we didn’t eat and cook)into peanut butter. Now I shall convert some into this. Good freezing ideas.

  2. Cham says:

    Beautiful pot and of course the curry. Now i am discovering “galangal” in your list, can we get it in any chinese store?

  3. sra says:

    LOL @ P. A. having funny odour ;)

  4. musical says:

    Ooh, that’s one beauty of a picture! Yummy curry and such a gorgeous looking pot! I love panang curry. Btw, don’t hate on those peanuts who proudly wear there red coat :-D They are great in lemon rice and sukki/dry khichdi(and ofcourse superb to munch on)! I agree with you about the time it takes to make Thai curries. Though if you make a large batch of curry paste and then batch freeze them, its pretty easy then (like you do).

  5. Jude says:

    It looks so complicated but I’m sure it’s totally worth it. That bowl looks great.

  6. mekhala says:

    you are my favorite food blog! cheers to your interesting write-ups, zesty recipes and handy tips!!

  7. Pelicano says:

    Looks great you two! I’ve had friends order this one out who absolutely love it, and so I’ve tasted it; for me a bite or two is fine but the sweetness is a chile-buzz-kill for whatever I happen to be eating. Maybe if I make my own sometime I’ll be sure to make it spicy enough to be palatable. :-)

    And you are so right about the peanut beauties at the Thai grocers!

  8. kalva says:

    Looks awesome…. I went through the pain tooooooooo

  9. Shibani says:

    Wonderful and gorgeous presentation, love the curry,curry paste, pot and lovely tea towel.
    Never made Thai curry from scratch and now I am tempted to try them.

  10. enjay says:

    You just solved one of my big problems..how to give Thai curry paste some body without using onion/shallots. Use peanuts instead! Perfect. You have my eternal gratitude. :)

  11. arundathi says:

    I dry roast those pain-in-the-ass peanuts on the stove-top. As you roast, some of the skin will fall off. Take off heat, when cool, rub between fingers – the rest falls off. I agree. So much easier to get the skinned ones, but the flavors are different (maybe because of the dry roasting to get the skins off!).

  12. Dee says:

    True about the planter peanuts , even the colour of the peanut chutney looks funny!! Love Penang Curry Bee, always on my to eat list whenever we eat thai!!!

  13. sunshinemom says:

    That part about peanuts looking like PA was apt! I liked the barani kinda pot you have used! Nice curry too! I don’t think I would use that much jaggery – I am not a fan of sweet gravies! All the other ingredients indicate divinity:)

  14. Maryann says:

    “pain in the ass peanuts” haha..so funny!
    I put them inside a cloth and rub rub rub :)

  15. Priya Bhaskar says:

    Hi Bee and Jai,

    The curry looks smashing as always. I managed to find galanga and lemongrass. Where do you get Kaffir limes or leaves?

    the Thai store. else, use regular lime zest.

  16. Miri says:

    I just got some Gondhraj lemon leaves and put ONE into a Thai veggie noodle soup (posted last week)I made – what a difference it made! Can imagine what difference the Kaffir and galangal make too.

  17. lakshmi says:

    what do i use for kaffir lime leaves?

  18. lakshmi says:

    oops, lemon zest, just saw comment above mine – :slap on head:

  19. sonia says:

    Peanuts that look like Pamela Anderson! Ha ha! Nice analogy :-)

  20. [...] and Clotted Cream, Queso Fundido con Chorizo & Rajas from Joelen’s Culinary Adventures, Penang Curry from jugalbandi, Chile Mustard Pork Kabobs and Tarragon-Mustard Deviled Eggs from Kalyn’s [...]

  21. Namratha says:

    I am so happy now that I don’t know what to write. I have been looking for a recipe for Penang curry for I dunno how long!! I’m so glad you posted this :) Thank you!!!! :)

    Penang curry happens to be my most recent favourite at every Thai restaurant. Hence the desperate search for the recipe.

  22. Nupur says:

    I tried this a couple of days ago with wonderful results! Even with a few omissions and substitutions, it really was a wonderful curry and better than what I have eaten at restaurants. Thank you!

  23. lin says:

    Can you freeze roasted peanuts. If so how do you freeze them and how good are they when they thaw out?

    we always store nuts in the freezer in glass jars. they turn out fine.

  24. [...] A note about peanuts: You can use the roasted and skinned Planters peanuts or the pain-in-the-ass peanuts with the skin from the Indian store, or the self-actualised pre-skinned but raw peanuts from the Thai store. (Details in this post.) [...]

  25. [...] A Peanut Primer and Penang Curry jugalbandi Posted by root 3 hours ago (http://jugalbandi.info) Make a triple or quadruple batch of spice pastes and freeze them in 1 3 or 1 2 cup portions 3 cups coconut milk we used low fat oops lemon zest just saw comment above mine slap on head copyright 2007 2009 http jugalbandi info feed powered by wordpress ada Discuss  |  Bury |  News | A Peanut Primer and Penang Curry jugalbandi [...]

  26. jhon says:

    Thank you for information.I think this nice post.

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