In this blog post we’re sharing our favorite van life recipe, a one pot Thai red curry dish that is perfect for vegetarians, vegans, meat lovers, and is easy to make whether you live in a van or not!
One of the biggest adjustments since traveling full time in our van is the limited kitchen. Before van life, you could often find us grilling meat and roasting veggies every night at our apartment in Seattle. As we worked on our van build, we had to think about every inch of the space and how we wanted to best utilize it. From how much storage we needed, the right length for our bed, and what amenities we wanted in our kitchen.
While we tend to cook 90% of the time, we decided to keep our kitchen in the van super simple and only have one portable induction stove top. Yup, that’s it! No oven or microwave, which have become popular in vans, just one stove. While we considered all options, like a built in propane stove or an oven, we decided to try to survive with one portable induction stove top to save counter space and avoid having a big propane tank.
And so far it has worked super well! The induction stove top does take a ton of power, which is the only downside, but we have learned over time how to best manage our power to be able to cook effectively (and we have a backup camping stove if needed). We love having tons of counter space and it has been a fun challenge learning how to make one pot meals.
We’ve cooked a variety of things in the van, but by far our favorite van life recipe is our take on Thai red curry. It is so dang delicious, it’s super easy to make, it’s great for all types of eaters, and it’s pretty affordable!
We haven’t been to Thailand (yet), so it may not be super authentic, but when we do finally visit, one of the first things we’ll do is hunt down a similar dish to compare!
About the dish
Over our travels we have come to love dishes that involve rice with some sort of curry over the top. A big bowl of rice with delicious sauces over the top, how can you go wrong? During our trip to the United Kingdom, we ate at this popular Indian restaurant called Dishoom. And it was amazing! We ate there both in London and Edinburgh because we loved it so much.
Once we moved into our van, we quickly learned that we needed easy, one pot meals and we came across a Thai red curry dish. And our lives haven’t been the same since!
We have since modified recipes we found online to make our own version, which is extremely creamy, flavorful, and filling. It may not look 100% appetizing in one pot form, but trust us, it’s delicious!
Another thing we love about the dish is that it is super customizable and can suit meat eaters and vegetarians alike! We like to use grass fed and finished ground beef because it adds some extra oil and fattiness to the dish and since the meat is ground, you get the perfect ratio of meat, veggies, rice, and curry in each bite. We’ve also tried it with chicken and pork and it’s good with them as well!
But if you aren’t a meat eater, you can sub any type of protein you’d like and/or just add more veggies. This dish is very flexible!
So what do you need to make our one pot Thai red curry dish? It’s pretty simple! Here’s the list of ingredients.
- 1lb Ground beef, but any protein source would go well
- 1 Bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange)
- 1 Zucchini
- 1 jar of Thai Kitchen red curry paste
- 1 can of Thai Kitchen coconut cream
- Curry powder
- Parboiled rice, instant noodles, or zucchini noodles (regular rice and noodles work too!)
- Cilantro or Thai basil
- Salt and pepper
- Sriracha or garlic chili sauce (optional)
How to make our Thai Red Curry Dish
We make our Thai red curry as a one pot dish, but if you do not live in a van like us, you could cook things separately and combine when it’s time to eat. However, for our one pot version of this recipe, here are the instructions of how to cook it.
Cook your meat of choice. If you decide to skip protein, you can skip ahead to the next step.
Next come all the veggies. We love to include lots of colorful veggies including bell peppers, a green and/or a red, and zucchini. We chop them up into bite size bits, but you can also spiralize the zucchini to use that as your “carb” instead of using rice or noodles later on.
Add the red curry paste. The red curry paste is what gives it the great orange/red color and lots of flavor. We’ve seen recipes that call for only half of the bottle of the red curry paste, but we like flavor so we use the whole container.
The paste is not spicy in our opinion, but if you’re wanting to stretch your dollar, as it’s $4-5 a jar, you could use half so that it lasts for two meals.
Now it’s time for one of the best parts of this dish, the coconut cream. We like coconut cream over coconut milk, as it’s a bit creamer than milk, but either work and will be delicious. And similar to the paste, we use the whole can of this. It mixes perfectly with the paste, giving the pan a soupier and creamy consistency.
In the past, we used recipes that added chicken broth to the coconut cream or coconut milk, but we found that it made the dish a bit more watery, so we just do one can of coconut cream now.
We also add 3-5 good shakes of curry powder at this point. We never measure this, but would guess it’s around 1 TBSP. You can always add a little and see how it tastes before adding more.
After mixing up the coconut cream, meat, veggies, and curry paste, we add our carb of choice. In the van, we typically use parboiled rice because it’s already cooked so you can just open the pouch or container and dump it in, but you could use any type of rice if you have a way to cook it.
The rice soaks up some of the color and flavor and adds a nice bite to the dish. Noodles are delicious too!
You can also keep the rice/noodles separate and spoon the curry over it afterwards. We do it both ways depending on if we cook the rice in an instant pot or use parboiled rice.
Next, we will add some salt and pepper if needed. We’ve also seen some other recipes that call for fish sauce and brown sugar. Fish sauce would be a good ingredient to use to add in the extra flavor element of umami, but we never have it on hand and keep forgetting to buy it. As for the brown sugar, we like to save our sugar for pints of ice cream, so we usually skip that part. 😉
Once all the ingredients are mixed together, we let it simmer for a couple minutes then spoon it into a bowl and top it with cilantro or Thai basil. Adam likes to add some sriracha or chili garlic sauce for some extra spice too!
And that’s all there is to it! It is super easy to make and easy to clean up because you just have your bowls and the one pan, but the flavor is rich, creamy, and absolutely delicious!
If you make this dish, let us know what you think! And since this red curry dish is truly customizable, if you throw your own spin on it, let us know too. We’d love to try other variations of it! 😀
Looking for an easy one pot meal or van life recipe?
Pin our Thai red curry dish to make in the future!
We love Thai food but traditional recipes can be complex with lots of ingredients. This looks like it checks all the boxes for van life — simple, easy clean up and tasty! I can’t wait to try this.
Sharing a little tip in case you find it useful: I copied this into Evernote which is where I like to keep all the recipes I find on social media. Any that are easy and simple get an “RV Cooking” tag so I can easily search for new ideas and inspiration when I find us getting into a cooking rut. It’s especially helpful when we’re out of cell coverage since I can still access my info.
We really enjoy this meal! And we hope you do too! Thank you for the Evernote tip! Having access to things without cell service is key 😀
Hi A +K! I made this dish! I was in the mood for something different even though I knew my other half wouldn’t be excited about it. I thought it was really good; I made it with ground turkey. But I think it would be better with the grass fed beef! I even added the hot sauce the 2nd time I had it (since I was the only one eating it; although, my husband did taste it and said it was good). Since it was my first time trying it, I only used 1/2 of the coconut cream and 1/2 of the paste – I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by either – but as it turned out, it was great. Also, instead of rice, I went with riced cauliflower. (avoiding those carbs!)
We are glad you enjoyed it! The best thing about it is that it is very customizable. We tend to just throw things in there and hardly ever measure (definitely not chefs haha)!