Thai curry pastes usually fall into three main categories based on colour: red, yellow, and green. While the basic set of ingredients—shallots, ginger, garlic, galangal, coriander root, lemongrass, and shrimp paste—remains the same across all three, a few key variations give them their quintessential Thai flavour and colour.
Green curry paste is made with fresh green chillies, yellow curry with fresh turmeric and ground spices (in the form of a pounded curry powder), whereas the vibrant hue of a red curry is achieved using dried red chillies, cumin, and coriander. Here I’ve borrowed from the red and the yellow and also added some extra elements into the mix. This combination might seem slightly disparate but it comes together to form the most aromatic, flavourful base for curries and soups.
I’ve been to Thailand a few times and eaten my fair share of curries there, as one does, which I’ve then tried to replicate in my own kitchen (also as one does, right?) Although the results were way better than the preservative-heavy jars available in stores, it somehow always fell short in attaining that robust flavour that a good curry paste requires. Sure, I wasn’t using galangal and shrimp paste since I haven’t been able to find any where I live, but not using anything else to replace those ingredients is where I think it fell short. I now realize this retrospectively.
I had some fresh turmeric and mango ginger in the fridge from these prawn fritters. Not unusual to use fresh turmeric in a curry paste, but mango ginger was the wild-card ingredient. Since it has a slight ginger-y flavour and the same texture as galangal, I went with it. To put it mildly, IT WORKED GREAAAT. Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you there. Also don’t forget a good lashing of soy sauce and fish sauce in your soup or curry for that extra funk and umami depth.
Since lemongrass and mango ginger are not available all year round here (and mainly for the convenience of it), I usually make a huge batch of curry paste and keep in the fridge with a thin layer of oil on top to last about two to three weeks. If you don’t foresee using it in the near future, freeze in individual portions and thaw as and when required.
1.5 to 2 cups
- 17 long dried red chillies
- 8 small shallots, peeled (or 1 onion)
- 4-6 stalks of lemongrass (see recipe for prep)
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 3 in. piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 3 in. piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped (or 1 tsp turmeric powder)
- 5 in. piece of mango ginger, peeled and chopped (or galangal if you can find it)
- 7 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup coriander roots and stems
- Peel of half a lime
- Oil, for storing (I use rice bran, but any flavourless kind will do)
- Salt, to taste
- Soak the dried chillies in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes. Cut off the woody ends and the darker green tops of the lemongrass and peel away the outer leaves. Chop the tender white core into rounds and set aside. You want about ¼ cup of chopped lemongrass.
- Add the softened chillies and all other ingredients (except oil) to a blender and blend to a smooth paste. Retain the chilli soaking liquid and use it to loosen the paste whilst blending.
- Dollop the curry paste into a glass jar. Pour the oil on top to form a 1/2" layer, making sure it’s enough the coat the top layer completely. The paste be kept refrigerated for up to a week. Alternatively, freeze in individual portions and thaw as required.
Retain the outer layers and leaves of the lemongrass to brew tea.
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