Before anything else… a history lesson is in order.
The first recorded Panang Curry recipe was published in 1890 by Thai chef Somchin Rachanupraphan. Originally, the word panang meant “to sit cross-legged” in the Khmer language, which was also adapted into their cooking methods; they would position a whole chicken in an upright cross-legged on a grill and bathe it in a thick red curry that included coconut milk and roasted, ground up peanuts. 
Eventually, the dish was adapted for simpler times by cutting chicken into large chunks and cooking it in a pot with thick, sweet, nutty, salty curry.
Penang is quite different than the other two Thai curries we’ve explored thus far, because Panang is thicker, sweeter, less spicy, saltier, and – here’s the kicker – traditionally only contains one main ingredient, typically in the form of chicken or beef, although seafood has also become a popular recent addition to many recipes. The only other stand-out ingredients sometimes found in Panang Curry are thinly sliced red peppers and kaffir lime chiffonade, which we omitted. All this means is that Panang shouldn’t be loaded with a bunch of vegetables the same way Green & Red Curries often are.
However, because I don’t eat chicken or beef, we’re using tempeh as our star ingredient, because tempeh can be treated the same way that any meat can; in this recipe, tempeh is marinated, seared, and simmered in the same fashion that chicken would be. And – while I can’t say for sure – being that tempeh originated in Indonesia, not too far from Thailand, I wouldn’t doubt that it’s occasionally served to monks in monasteries of Thailand, most of whom follow a strict vegan diet.
Panang does not have its own unique curry paste, instead, it lends its hand out to red curry paste to form the base of its flavor profile, which makes life a ‘lil bit easier given that we can use leftover curry paste from the previous recipe. One key ingredient in traditional Panang is peanuts, which are toasted, ground into a powder, then mixed in with red curry paste before being added to the pot. But, before we dive deeper into more curry related details… let’s talk about peanuts.
Peanuts are a type of legume native to the Americas. Despite their global use, peanuts only started to find their way out of the new world at beginning of the Columbian Exchange, circa 1490s. Akin to their legume family members, peanuts contain toxic quantities of lectins that pierce the mucosal layer of one’s gut lining, infiltrate the body, hitch a ride with a healthy cell, and find their way to the brain via the bloodstream and vagus nerve. Here, lectins disperse across the brain, latch onto individual cells, and disrupt cellular communication, similar to the way clouds distort satellite connectivity during a thunderstorm storm; lectins are the clouds, satellites are the cells in the brain, and the thunder is the brain fog, hunger, and laziness that’s felt as a result.
Interestingly enough, 94% of humans contain an antibody specific to peanuts, meaning: the blood of most humans contain a protein specifically designed to combat peanut lectins. The human body innately views peanuts as an antigen.  Thus, now knowing all of this, there are no peanuts in this recipe. However, to instill the dish with nuttiness, as is typically imparted by peanuts, toasted sesame tahini is added to the sauce, as sesame seeds contain no harmful lectins!
Because tempeh isn’t innately flavorful, we give it a bath in a mixture of red curry paste, sesame oil, vegan fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar. Then, we sear it it in sesame oil to create a layer of crispy, golden-brown goodness.
Thankfully, Panang Curry requires minimal prep work, as we can simply reach for the red curry paste we made in last week’s Thai Red Curry recipe, and the only thing to cut is a block tempeh, which takes like 1 frickin’ minute!
As stated at the beginning of the post, panang is saltier, sweeter, and thicker than red and green curries, which is why we add…
- One tablespoon vegan fish sauce – which is extremely salty, akin to normal fish sauce – to both the tempeh marinade and the sauce itself.
- One tablespoon of golden monkfruit sweetener, which replaces the traditional palm sugar that’s used in Thailand.
- One can of full-fat coconut milk, which is the only liquid expect for a couple of seasonings.
Because of its high sodium levels, intense sweetness, and thick, fatty-sauce, it’s no wonder that this is most Americans’ favorite curry.
If you like what your taste buds are tellin’ ya, leave behind a nice rating, share your thoughts with us in the comments, or show us your creations by tagging @noeggsorham on Instagram.
All the best,
Ryan & Kim
Seared tempeh coated in thick, sweet, and nutty red curry sauce.
- 6-9 oz tempeh, cut into large chunks about 1-in x 1-in
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk*
- 2 tbsp unrefined sesame oil, divided
- 2 tbsp vegan fish sauce, divided
- 2 tbsp red curry paste, divided*
- 1 1/2 tbsp roasted, salted tahini
- 1 tbsp monkfruit sweetener
- 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, lightly bruised
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon each of sesame oil, red curry paste, and vegan fish sauce, plus 1/2 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. Toss with tempeh and place in a fridge for at least half an hour, up to 24 hours, stirring halfway through.
- Heat a large, high-walled sauté pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot enough so that water trickled upon the surface dances around and evaporates within seconds, add in second tablespoon of sesame oil and swirl to coat.
- Add in tempeh, toss with sesame oil using a rigid metal or wooden spatula, and let sit – undisturbed – until thoroughly browned on one side, 3-5 minutes. Toss tempeh around, then cook for another 3-5 minutes until browned on the next side.
- While the tempeh browns, shake together coconut milk, tahini, monkfruit sweetener, plus second tablespoon of red curry paste and vegan fish sauce until the ingredients are homogenous and frothy on top.
- Once tempeh finishes browning on second side, deglaze pan with coconut milk mixture and scrape the bottom with spatula to remove any stuck pieces of seasoning.
- Stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer, then cook for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, adding more fish sauce for saltiness, monkfruit for sweetness, and tahini for nuttiness.
- Serve alongside resistant starch Thai jasmine rice and kaffir lime leaf chiffonade (optional).
- Place any leftovers in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat by placing in a small pot over medium heat until a simmer is reached. Cook for 5 minutes, adding a touch of coconut milk or water if thinning is needed.
*Light coconut milk would make the sauce thin like a soup, not thick and creamy like Panang, so – please – use the full-fate variant here.
*For you folks who eat a lectin-limited or plant-based diet, be sure to use the linked curry paste and not a store bought variety because store bought curry pastes often contain shrimp paste and the chilis used in them aren’t removed of their seeds or skin.
 Miranti, Sawat. “Authentic Thai Panang Curry.” The High Heel Gourmet. WordPress, 29 Sep. 2013. Web. 12 Sep. 2017.
 Peanut lectins: Kannan et al. 2003. Expression of peanut agglutinin-binding mucin-type glycoprotein in human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma as a marker. Molecular Cancer 2: 38.