Panang curry paste does the heavy lifting in this vegan Panang curry soup recipe. It’s a sweet, salty, spicy, rich curry soup you’ll love for a busy weeknight. This recipe will also give you tips on how to cook with curry paste so you can throw together a quick curry soup any time you want using whatever you have in your pantry.
I wrote about common Thai curry pastes in my recipe for Green Curry Chicken Meatballs. The post touched on the three major pastes–red, yellow, and green–but I didn’t go too much into Panang curry paste (or the myriad of other curry pastes available!). I haven’t cooked with it as often as I have the red or green pastes, but I saw a can on my last trip to the local Asian grocery store and wanted to try it.
Here’s what you need to make this recipe:
- Panang curry paste: The most important part! If you don’t have Panang curry paste, you can substitute it with your favorite vegan curry paste.
- Aromatics: In addition to the curry paste, the broth is enhanced with onion, garlic, lemongrass, and minced Thai chili peppers.
- Coconut milk: The paste is fried in oil and simmered in coconut milk, and this milk makes the most comforting, rich broth ever.
- Noodles: You can serve this with rice, but the brothiness of the soup works perfectly with rice noodles.
- Protein: This recipe uses soft tofu that is simmered straight in the broth. Texturally, it works perfectly in this broth. You can use a meat protein like chicken or shrimp if you don’t keep vegan. Alternatively, you can use a can of chickpeas instead.
- Vegetables: I kept it simple with just sugar snap peas, but use any mix of vegetables you like. Eggplant, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, or broccoli are all great options.
- Garnishes: The toppings might just be my favorite part of any curry soup! Get creative, but I love to use crispy shallots, chili oil, cilantro, thinly sliced red onion, and lime wedges. If you aren’t vegan, a soft-boiled egg would also be lovely.
The Panang curry paste:
This is the star of the show and the foundation for the entire soup. I use vegan Panang curry paste from Maesri. Since this is a vegan recipe, this brand is perfect since it’s made without shrimp paste.
Panang curry paste starts out with a similar foundation to red curry paste, including chili peppers, makrut lime leaves, galangal, garlic, shallot, lemongrass, and a few other similar spices. Panang is a bit sweeter than red curry paste. If you were making Panang curry paste from scratch, where you would diverge from red curry paste is in the addition of peanuts and nutmeg ground straight into the paste.
Interestingly, many of the Panang curry paste brands you see on the shelves today are made without the addition of peanuts. For instance, the Panang curry pastes from Maesri, Mae Ploy, and Arroy-D are all made without peanuts. If you buy a Panang simmer sauce, it may include peanut butter.
I prepared this soup just with the Panang curry paste, but if you want to bring in that nutty aroma, you can add a scoop of peanut butter and a dash of nutmeg to the broth as well. It’s all a matter of personal preference!
How to cook with curry paste:
Similarly to frying dry spices in a bit of oil or butter, curry pastes need to be bloomed. You can accomplish this by frying the paste in vegetable oil, or you can follow the more traditional route which is through a process of cracking coconut cream.
- Fry in oil method: I typically opt to fry the paste in oil, similar to tomato paste. It will deepen in color and begin sticking to the pot. Then you can add coconut milk and your other ingredients. This gives the flavors an opportunity to fully integrate, mellow out, and play nicely with each other.
- ‘Cracked’ coconut cream method: To follow the more traditional method, you’d ‘crack’ your coconut cream. This process involves simmering the solid layer of coconut fat from the can in a hot skillet or wok until the oil separates out. It takes about 7–12 minutes to separate and also causes any water in the coconut cream to evaporate, resulting in a richer curry.
Now that you know how to cook with curry paste, it’s time to put this recipe together.
How to make this vegan panang curry soup recipe:
- Step 1: Fry the aromatics first in oil. It starts with onion, garlic, lemongrass, and a few optional Thai chilies if you like it spicy.
- Step 2: Fry that curry paste! I use the oil method and let it go until it deepens in color and begins sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Step 3: Pour in the coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add water or vegetable stock and bring it to a boil once more.
- Step 4: Add the vegetables of your choice and your cubed soft tofu. Simmer until the vegetables are just tender.
- Step 5: Prepare the noodles according to package instructions.
From there, it’s just a matter of assembling the bowls. Divide the cooked noodles between bowls and ladle that beautiful soup on top. Garnish as you like and serve it up!
If you liked this vegan recipe, check my website, Exploring Vegan, for all kinds of other vegan dishes.
Vegan Panang Curry Soup
- Large pot
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 1 red or yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 4 Thai chili peppers, trimmed and minced
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste
- 4 ounces Panang curry paste* see note
- 15.4- ounces coconut milk
- 4 cups water or vegetable stock
- 12 ounces rice noodles
- 1–2 cups of vegetables of choice, like sugar snap peas, baby corn, sliced bell peppers, snow peas, or sliced carrots
- 16 ounces soft tofu, cubed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cilantro, minced scallions, thinly sliced red onion, crispy shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges
Sauté the aromatics:
- Heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until it just begins to soften.
- Add the garlic, chili peppers, and lemongrass paste. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
Bloom the curry paste:
- Stir the paste into the aromatics and sizzle in the oil for 2–3 minutes until it deepens in color and begins sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Pour in enough coconut milk to cover the paste. Bring to a boil for a few minutes and pour in the remaining coconut milk.
Simmer the soup:
- Pour in 4 cups water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the vegetables and cubed soft tofu. Stir gently to combine, being careful not to break up the tofu too much. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
- Simmer for 10–12 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and crisp. Turn off the heat.
Cook the noodles:
- As the soup simmers, soak or boil the noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and divide between bowls.
- Ladle the broth over the noodles and pile the tofu and vegetables on top. Garnish with cilantro, minced scallions, sliced red onion, crispy shallots, and chili oil if you like. Serve with lime wedges. Enjoy!