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Culture Guide

The How-to’s of Indian and Thai Cuisine

21 December 2022 Written by Tilda Kitchen

Learn how to customize both a garam masala blend and a flavorful Thai curry with this handy Tilda Rice guide so you can prepare Indian and Thai dishes with confidence.

Loaded with a balanced blend of spices, plates from India and Thailand never fall short when it comes to flavor. At Tilda® Rice, we invite you to explore the unique cultures of the world by preparing meals from their rich cuisines. 

Whether you replicate our recipes or give traditional dishes your own twist, global cuisine is a great way to spice up your mealtime routine. Once you understand the flavor and ingredients of international favorites, you’ll see just how simple it is to create globally-inspired dishes in your very own kitchen. 

In this guide, we’ll be exploring Asain flavors by focusing on a most popular Indian spice blend and those 3 irresistible aromatic Thai curries!

We’ll first look at the spice mix that has found its way into many favorite Indian dishes!

WHAT IS GARAM MASALA?

Garam masala, translated as “warm spice blend” in Hindi, is a versatile and popular spice mix that brings a gentle kick and tantalizing aroma to curries and other savory dishes. This mix offers a balance of flavors: the sweetness of the cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom work to offset the bitterness of the cumin and harmonize with the pungency of the cloves, peppercorns and coriander. 

The variations across India are endless: a mix can contain anything from six to thirty six different ingredients and the heat profile gets spicier as you venture farther south. Though there are many variations, garam masala has several core components – coriander seeds, green cardamoms, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon – that are toasted and then ground into a powder. This can then be combined with oil, coconut milk, yogurt or water to form a paste, making it easier to infuse into curries and stews.

HOW TO USE GARAM MASALA

Garam masala is typically either added at the beginning of the cooking process like in this Paneer Jalfrezi  or (more commonly) sprinkled in near the end for a stronger sensory hit. 

It works particularly well with spicy vegetable, fish or meat curries, as well as rice dishes like biryanis or pilafs.

It can also be used as a dry rub for meat or for sauces and marinades like in a Lamb Biryani: full of flavor from the spice rub and plenty moist from the yogurt – it’s an unbeatable combination.

Though you can find this spice mix pre-mixed, making your own blend gives you the freedom to adjust the amounts to taste. Make a batch so you can add flavor complexity to any meal with just a flick of the wrist.

GARAM MASALA VS CURRY POWDER: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Garam masala and curry powder are not interchangeable. Garam masala is a traditional Indian mix whereas curry powder is a blanket term British colonists used to describe all the spices found in Indian cuisine: it is often hotter, earthier and less aromatic. 

HOW TO MAKE GARAM MASALA

INGREDIENTS (WITH APPROX AMOUNTS)

  • 1 (heaped) tbsp Coriander seeds 
  • 1 tbsp Green cardamoms 
  • 1 tbsp Black peppercorns 
  • 1 tbsp Cumin seeds  
  • ½ tsp Cloves 
  • ½ tsp Ground nutmeg 
  • A cinnamon stick 

METHOD

  • Firstly, toast the spices to bring out the flavor. Start by gently heating them in a pan, without oil, for around 10 minutes, or until they start to release their aromas. Make sure to shake the pan occasionally.
  • When your spices are toasted, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  • Take your spices and grind them into a powder using either a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. 
  • If you wish to make your garam masala into a paste, mix a tablespoon of oil in for each teaspoon of powder, or you can use equal parts of spice, oil and water.  

GARAM MASALA SUBSTITUTES

For a quick stand-in, a mixture of cumin (1 part) and all-spice (¼ part) will do the trick; after all, all-spice mimics the flavors found in cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. 

However, to get all the complexity of the spice blend, you might want to include each spice. If you are missing 1 or 2 of the ingredients listed, it’s possible you have a substitute: 

Cumin: caraway seeds 

Cloves: bay leaves

Coriander seeds: fennel 

Peppercorns: ground black pepper

HOW TO STORE GARAM MASALA  

Once ground, spices tend to lose their pungency very quickly. To help mitigate this, store your garam masala in a cool, dark place in an airtight container for up to 6 months. 

Unlike Indian curries, which usually start with dried spice mixes like Garam masala, Thai curries begin with a rich paste made from fresh ingredients. Let’s dive deeper!

WHAT IS THAI CURRY PASTE?

Thai curry paste is a mix of fresh herbs and spices – including chillies, lemongrass, coriander root, garlic, shallots and galangal root that is crushed with a pestle and mortar or blitz in a blender until smooth. 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 – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves!  

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 intensity of homemade Thai curry paste. Plus, making it yourself also means you can dial the chillies up or down to please your palate.

FIND YOUR FLAVOR: THREE POPULAR TYPES OF THAI CURRY PASTE

Though there are variations depending on the region and the specific dish, there are three broad categories of Thai curries: red, green and yellow. 

Traditionally, basic red, green and yellow curry pastes were all made with the same ingredients – the only difference being the color 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 three pastes, red curry packs quite a punch thanks to the generous amount of dried red chillies. If you prefer a sweeter curry with a hint of spice from red chilis, our Butternut Squash Curry is just what you’re looking for!

GREEN CURRY (KREUNG GAENG KEO WAHN

Probably the most popular curry in Thailand, green curry is made with fresh green chillies, making it the hottest of the three.

YELLOW CURRY (GAENG LEUNG OR GAENG KAREE )

Mild and sweet, yellow curry gets that signature golden hue largely due to turmeric or curry powder.


SPICE INGREDIENT SUBSTITUTIONS

The Ingredient list may seem overwhelming, but don’t fret! There is a good chance you have another spice you can use instead on-hand – here’s a short list of substitutions for the recipes above, check out **OUR GUIDE TO SPICES** for a more exhaustive list!

*No galangal? Use ginger with a little extra lime zest.

**No coriander root? Chop up the thick part of coriander stems.

***No kaffir lime zest? Substitute with 2 kaffir lime leaves (finely chopped) and a little lime zest.

****No shrimp paste? Squeeze in tamari, miso paste or – for a vegan alternative – Marmite.


HOW TO STORE CURRY 

While they can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple of weeks or frozen in an ice-cube tray for up to two months, these pastes are at their best when they are freshly made. 

 

BONUS: MAKE YOUR OWN THAI CHILI PASTE

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’re on the right track when no single flavor dominates the others, but everything works together in harmony. Ingredients vary in intensity depending on age, season, and if they’re fresh or dry, so keep in mind that you may need to adjust your measurements each time you prepare it.

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**** 

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.

 

Recipe Note: This is a basic red curry paste. If you’d like flavor complexity, 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****

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****

 

Kitchen Tip: If you use fresh turmeric, remember that it colors everything – hands, surfaces, and clothes! 

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.

We love cooking dishes from all over the world, and we think you will too!  With a little help from Tilda® Rice, you’ll have all the guidance you need to prepare internationally-inspired meals with confidence using our rice varieties, a stocked spice rack, and a little creativity!



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