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How to Make Thai Curry Paste

Fresh, fragrant and full of flavour, these simple recipes will bring on the zing

A big hit of fragrant spices. A riot of colour. If you’ve ever eaten Thai curries, you’ll know they’re a feast for the senses. 

Unlike Indian curries, which usually start with dried spice mixes like Garam masala, Thai curries begin with a rich paste made from fresh ingredients. The paste is mixed with coconut milk or water plus vegetables, meat or seafood, then served up on a bed of jasmine or sticky rice. You can also use Thai curry paste in warming soups and sizzling stir fries.

Ready-made pastes are available in most supermarkets, but nothing beats the intense flavours of homemade Thai curry paste. Making it yourself also means you can dial the chillies up or down to please your palate.

What is Thai curry paste?

A mix of fresh herbs and spices, including chillies, lemongrass, coriander root, garlic, shallots and a root called galangal that comes from the same family as ginger. They’re crushed with a pestle and mortar or blitzed in a blender until they come together in a smooth, spicy paste. 

Depending on the curry, other ingredients can be used, including kaffir lime zest and leaves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, turmeric, ginger and peppercorns.

Find your flavour: three popular types of Thai curry paste

 There are several types of Thai curry, including the ever-popular red, green and yellow curries. Even within these broad categories, there are variations in paste ingredients depending on the dish you’re making. 

Traditionally, basic red, green and yellow curry pastes were all made with the same ingredients, with the only difference being the colour of the chillies. Over time, many chefs have adjusted this slightly to make each recipe more distinct in look and taste. 

Red Curry (kreung gaeng phet daeng)

The most versatile of the curry pastes, and the one that packs a punch thanks to its high levels of dried red chillies. 

Green Curry (kreung gaeng keo wahn

Often considered to be the most popular curry in Thailand, and the hottest of the three, made with fresh green chillies.

Yellow Curry (gaeng leung or gaeng karee )

Usually the mildest and sweetest of the three. The colour is largely due to turmeric or curry powder that’s added to the dish.

When you’re making your own paste, keep your senses on alert. Thai curries are less about heat, and more about aromatics and the blend of the ingredients. You’ll know you’re on the right track when no single flavour dominates the others, but everything works together in harmony. In fact, you may need to adjust your recipe every time you make it, as ingredients may differ in strength depending on their age, the time of year and whether you’re using dried or fresh. 

The following recipes are simply a guide, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the suggested amounts.


How to make Thai Red Curry Paste 

Ingredients

  • 6-8 dried red chillies, chopped
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1-2 stems fresh lemongrass: remove outer layers, trim and thinly slice
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-2 tbsp galangal, grated*
  • 1 tsp fresh coriander root, chopped**
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime zest, grated***
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste**** 

* If you can’t find this, use ginger with a little extra lime zest instead

** Alternatively, use the thick part of coriander stalks, as near to the root as possible

*** Substitute with 2 kaffir lime leaves (finely chopped) and a little lime zest

**** Use tamari, miso paste or Marmite for a vegan alternative

Method

  1. Soften your dried chillies by soaking them in hot water for around 15 minutes, then drain them, reserving a little of the water. Remove the seeds (optional).
  2. Put the soaked chillies with the rest of the ingredients in a blender and blitz into a smooth paste. Add some of your reserved chilli water if you need to as the paste thickens.

Note: This recipe is for a basic red curry paste. If you’d like slightly more complex flavours, add toasted ground cumin and coriander seeds, as per the green curry paste recipe.


How to make Thai Green Curry Paste

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp white peppercorns
  • 6-8 fresh green chillies, deseeded (optional) and chopped
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1-2 stems fresh lemongrass: remove outer layers, trim and thinly slice 
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-2 tbsp galangal, grated*
  • 1 tsp fresh coriander root, chopped**
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime zest, grated***
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste****

* If you can’t find this, use ginger with a little extra lime zest instead

**Alternatively, use the thick part of coriander stems, as near to the root as possible

***Substitute with 2 kaffir lime leaves (finely chopped) and a little lime zest

****Use tamari, miso paste or Marmite for a vegan alternative

Method

  1. Toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and white peppercorns until they release their aromas, tossing them in a dry pan over a medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. Crush the cooled seeds with a pestle and mortar until you have a fine powder.
  3. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz into a smooth paste. Add a little water or coconut oil if you need to as the paste thickens.

How to make Thai Yellow Curry Paste

Ingredients

  • 8-10 dried red chillies, chopped
  • 2 shallots, peeled
  • 1-2 stems fresh lemongrass: remove outer layers, trim and thinly slice 
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized piece galangal, sliced*
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp curry powder or 2 tablespoons fresh turmeric, grated**
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste***

*If you can’t find this, use ginger with a little extra lime zest

** If you use fresh turmeric, be warned: it colours everything it touches so mind your hands and any surfaces you use

*** Substitute with tamari, miso paste or Marmite for a vegan alternative

Method

  1. Wrap the peeled shallots in foil, drizzled with a little oil. Wrap your sliced ginger and galangal in a single layer in foil, drizzled with a little oil. Wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in foil, drizzled with a little oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes at 180 degrees, until softened and fragrant.
  2. Meanwhile, soften your dried chillies by soaking them in hot water for around 15 minutes, then drain them, reserving a little of the water. Remove any remaining seeds (optional).
  3. Also meanwhile, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cardamom seeds until they release their aroma, tossing them in a dry pan over a medium heat for a few minutes.
  4. Crush the cooled seeds with a pestle and mortar until you have a fine powder.
  5. Slice the cooled shallots and squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin.
  6. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz into a smooth paste. You may need to add a little of the reserved chilli water as the paste thickens.

These pastes are best used immediately, but you can store them in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple of weeks, or freeze in an ice-cube tray for up to two months.

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