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Thai curry pastes (Part Two)

We looked at commercially made Thai curry pastes last time. Now it’s time for the DIY version. As well as all the special ingredients, you’ll need a mortar and pestle, or you can cheat by using a food processor and a hand blender. Some recipes tell you to bung the stuff in a processor. Well, you can do this, but sorry – it’s just not good enough. The processor tears the ingredients and doesn’t release the oils and aromatics in the same way. The flavour will be inferior. However, even an enthusiast like me doesn’t have all day to blat-blat away with the pestle so I’ve found a wee shortcut. Put the stuff in the processor first and then finish it off with the hand blender (or the mortar and pestle) so you get a fairly stiff and beautifully fragrant paste.

Below, you’ll find a guide to the basic recipes but, as usual, there’s no need to be exact and there’s nothing stopping you varying the proportions till you discover your own special favourite combination. Good luck!

Green curry paste

  • 12 small green chillies
  • 2 Thai shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • small piece of fresh galangal – 1 teaspoon (tsp) chopped (if you can’t get it, use ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon (tbsp) fresh coriander root (or plant)
  • 5 tbsp chopped fresh lemon grass stalks
  • 1 tsp fresh kaffir lime zest
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • ¼ tsp roasted cumin seeds roasted and ground
  • 2 tsp kapi (shrimp paste)
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil

Red curry paste

  • 12 small red chillies
  • 2 Thai shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh galangal
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander root or plant
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh lemon grass
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp roasted coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Method for both

If you are using a mortar and pestle, give yourself a start by chopping all the ingredients first. Otherwise take off the skins and stalks etc and bung it all, except the oil, in the processor. When it’s as smooth as you can get it, transfer it to another container and start work with the handheld blender, gradually adding the oil until you get a homogeneous paste. (I haven’t seen any book recommend finishing with the hand blender but I find that it works well.) Transfer the paste to an airtight container if you’re planning to store it.

There are other types of curry pastes but these are the staples. They’ll keep for ages in the fridge and you can freeze them too. We can look at what to do with them when we get on to the recipe part of this series. Thai curry – mmmmmmm!

Cook’s notes

Don’t substitute dried herbs and spices where the recipe calls for fresh, unless you reduce the quantities. Dried is always much stronger. However, if you can’t get the proper ingredients you’ll be better buying a commercial paste rather than making your own without the essentials.

Making your own pastes is indeed a labour of love – and worth it. Join in by commenting below and tell us how you get on. Contributions, or even criticisms, from Thai people are especially welcome!

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