Khao Soi – Thai Curry Noodles from Chiang Mai

Khao Soi - Chiang Mai Curry Noodles
Khao Soi – Thai Curry Noodles from Chiang Mai

Well.. here we go off to the James Beard awards! Herbivoracious is a finalist in the Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian category. The award ceremony is this Friday, May 3rd. Win, lose, or draw I’m thrilled to be a part of it, and looking forward to some time in New York. This is one of my very favorite recipes from the book.

Khao soi is an iconic dish from the Chiang Mai region of northern Thailand, though its roots are thought to be Burmese or Chinese Muslim. It inspires cultlike devotion among initiates.

You don’t find khao soi often enough at Thai restaurants in America, which is why I think it is well worth making at home. Fresh, soft egg noodles are served in a spicy coconut-milk broth redolent of homemade curry paste. Pickled cabbage or mustard greens, lime juice, and crispy fried noodles provide a balance of textures and flavors that cut the richness of the coconut.

The amount of fried tofu to use depends on the variety you find at your local Asian market. My favorite kind has a deep-fried skin but is still pretty dense inside. If yours is like that, you’ll want about 1 1/2 pounds. If you find instead the type that is light and pillowy all the way through, use only about 3/4 pound, since it is a much larger volume for the amount of sauce. The dish should essentially be a soup with, say, eight bites of tofu on top of the noodles, not just tofu glazed with sauce!

My version isn’t completely authentic; I skip making a second chili sauce (nam prik pao) that is used as a garnish and simply pass more of the curry paste for those who like more heat.

Khao Soi – Thai Curry Noodles from Chiang Mai

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Khao Soi – Thai Curry Noodles from Chiang Mai

  • 5 large, whole dried red chiles (such as pasilla, ancho, or New Mexico), stemmed but not seeded
  • 1/2 cup diced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala or other Indian spice mix of your choice
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 big handful of the noodles you will be using for the main dish
  • 3 (13.6-ounce) cans coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds packaged fried tofu (see head note)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup Chinese pickled mustard greens
  • OR 1 cup Sichuan pickled vegetable (see page 000)
  • OR 1 cup sliced napa cabbage (1/8 inch thick) tossed with 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound fresh flat (about 1/8 inch wide) or spaghetti-shaped Asian egg noodles, minus a handful fried up for garnish
  • 4 Key limes, halved, or 2 regular limes, quartered
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallot
    For the curry paste
  1. Place a medium skillet over medium heat. Put the chiles in the pan and dry-toast them for 2 minutes. Add the shallot, ginger, and garlic and continue to cook, tossing once or twice, until the chiles are very fragrant but not burning. Add the coriander seeds, turmeric, and garam masala, toss to combine, and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly, then puree in a mini-food processor (or with a mortar and pestle), adding about 1/4 cup of water (or more as needed) to form a coarse paste.
  2. For the crispy noodles
  3. In a very small saucepan, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Throw in one noodle, and when it sizzles, add half of the noodles that you have set aside for crisping. Cook, turning frequently with tongs, until golden brown and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and repeat with the rest of the noodles to be crisped.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and warm four serving bowls in a low (200°F) oven.
  5. For the sauce
  6. While the pot of water heats up, pour 1 can of the coconut milk into a large saucepan (at least 4 quarts), place it over medium heat, and simmer until it begins to separate. Stir in about half of the curry paste, along with the soy sauce and sugar, and continue cooking until the sauce becomes thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes. Add the fried tofu and simmer 10 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if desired. If you like it hotter, stir in more of the chili paste. Add the remaining 2 cans of coconut milk and the water, and bring back up to a simmer.
  7. To complete the dish
  8. Drain and squeeze most of the liquid out of the pickled vegetable. Boil the noodles according to the package directions; cook until they are tender but still have a bit of bite. Drain and divide among the serving bowls. Top each serving of noodles with one-quarter of the sauce and tofu, a squeeze of lime juice, a handful of the pickled vegetable, one-quarter of the crispy noodles, and a few cilantro leaves. Serve immediately, passing the thinly sliced shallots, remaining limes, and curry paste for each diner to apply.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 in Main Courses, Recipes.

10 Responses to “Khao Soi – Thai Curry Noodles from Chiang Mai”

  1. Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    This Thai curry noodles dish is so delish. I love all the flavors. Will try this one soon. Thanks for sharing & congrats on the James Beard nomination. You’re already a winner to all your friends and followers, Michael !

  2. Reply
    May 1, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Michael ~ you design beautiful meals, with balanced form-color-texture and flavors, and your notes are up-front, personal and informative.

    Best of luck at the awards. Are the Indian and Thai restaurants still clustered on 5th-6th Streets in NYC ? Some of my favorite menu-memories and palatable excursions were fostered there. Have a blast !

  3. Reply
    OR Suz
    May 1, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Break a leg! Will be eager for details of the whole affair.

  4. Reply
    May 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Great good luck in NYC. As fate would have it, I’ll be in the City as well and maybe will join the screaming fans outside JBHouse. And I wholeheartedly agree that we will need details IN MINUTIA of the proceedings. I’m so excited for you.

  5. Reply
    May 2, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    As the other said, good luck in New York.
    – I must say this meal looks fantastic. The worst thing is some of the ingredients is foreign here, so it is rather hard to aquire them. Thank God for the internet, even it is a bit more expensive.

  6. Reply
    May 9, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Michael this recipe looks amazing. Although it seems to be a bit involved, I’m going to give it a shot! Good luck at the awards.


  7. Reply
    May 19, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    Just found your blog and love it! Very impressed with all your food photos – I always struggle making things look so presentable for the camera! Nice to have another veggie. blog to follow. Thanks.

  8. Reply
    May 19, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Love what you do, love what you make! hope you win in New York.
    The more good vegetarian food is around, the better the world is!
    A fellow cook
    link to

    Lots of love,

    Miriam Barendsen
    veggie cook

  9. Reply
    August 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    This is one of the best recipes I’ve tried from here! Pretty simple for the complex tasting result- I’ve done it a couple different ways, with different noodles or chilis (I like soba noodles and ancho chills)

    • Reply
      August 27, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

      Glad it was a hit! That is one of my all time favorite things to eat, whether I make it myself or get it at a good Thai place.

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