Once you learn how to make red curry paste, your Thai-inspired curries, stews and soups will never taste the same. Now that you’ve spiced up your recipes with the best Thai curry paste, you’ll also be immediately be asking yourself why you ever bought the packaged version.
Let’s learn how to make Thai red curry paste
There are 2 basic ways to make red curry paste. The first involves using your mortar and pestle and getting an upper body workout. The second, pushing the ‘on’ button on your blender or food processor. Two methods, one goal – creating a paste from your red curry paste ingredients. Sound easy enough? That depends. First, tell me why I should bother and next, what the heck is in it anyway?
Why DIY when you can buy?
Being honest here. When I decided to learn to make my own red curry paste, my motivation was one of quality control and price. Whenever a recipe called for curry paste, I’d trudge along to the store and buy several expensive packets. I knew I’d need to add more than called for in my recipe because the prepared curry I could find was never quite flavorful enough. So, let’s double (or triple) this already expensive ingredients.
Price is one thing, but quality control was an even more important motivator for me. I’d look at those various brands of red curry paste, I might even bring a few home to try. Always, there was a long list of ingredients (added oil being at the top of the list) that I didn’t want. It was at that point that I realized I’d figure out how to make it myself.
Seriously, that's what it's supposed to taste like?
One taste from my first curry paste attempt and I abandoned thoughts of price and even added oil. This fresh paste was just so much better. There was no comparison in flavor from what I’d been buying. As a bonus, none of the ingredients were outlandishly expensive and let’s face it, we’re talking about 20 minutes. And here’s the other thing – you won’t be doing that every time you want fresh red curry paste. You should end up with about ¾ cup if you follow my recipe.
Can I freeze red curry paste?
Resounding yep calling to you. I have frozen red curry paste for months and it still retains all it’s flavor. Since more recipes will call for curry paste in tablespoon increments, by advice is to store it that way. I usually bag up 2 tablespoons together in plastic bags and then pop all my bags in a freezer container. Likewise, you can put individual tablespoons into an ice cube tray. To avoid freezer burn put the tray in a freezer bag or suitably sized freezer container. It’s that simple.
Red curry paste ingredients
After several tries (all of which were highly edible), I’ve finalized the ingredient list to 12 essentials. In my opinion, when combined, these 12 suspects yield the best Thai curry paste recipe. Have a quick glance and you might discover that you have most of these on hand.
Why do you toast spices?
You’ll recognize an ‘in order of appearance’ technique when you learn how to make your own Thai red curry paste. This is a foundation technique for making Indian-inspired dishes such as kidney bean curry or pineapple lentil soup. And yes, there’s a reason. Toasting spices for just a minute or two, releases the natural aromatic oils which intensifies their flavor. The ‘toasty’ taste adds a richer flavor profile. Besides, toasting spices fills your kitchen with the most fabulous aromas. So, take 2 minutes and toast your whole spices – coriander, cumin and white peppercorns. Your red curry paste (and your mouth) will thank you.
Red chili - how hot is hot?
Thai red curry paste is meant to have chili heat. We tend to like things a bit on the spicy side around here. That said, the best curry paste should be full of flavor with all the ingredients contributing. This is my polite way to say, you don’t want it so hot that you taste nothing else. Preserve your taste buds. Ideally, 10 dried chilis with the seeds removed is just about right. Not too spicy, but enough that you get a bit of a kick.
Don’t get out of the kitchen
If you don’t like a lot of heat or your dried chilis are something like those little Bird’s Eye chilis, cut back on the amount you use. Keep in mind that for most recipes, you’ll be using 2-3 tablespoons of red curry paste. Think ingredient, not condiment. This is to say that your red curry paste will be used in conjunction with other ingredients to create a sauce for dishes like quick mango curry or veggie Thai red curry. Just be mindful, shake out the seeds and start by adding just 1 tablespoon of paste, taste and add some more if needed.
Speaking of heat, there are also 2 red chilis included in this recipe. Deseed these to further reduce the spiciness, but don’t eliminate them. You want the added flavor and moisture. One option here is to add ⅓ cup of chopped red bell pepper. I’ve tried this and it makes the paste a bit sweeter and certainly milder.
Kaffir lime leaves
When reviewing the ingredient list for red curry paste, you might find a few you don’t recognize or use often. Kaffir lime leaves. What the heck? So, not surprisingly, kaffir leaves come from – wait for it – the kaffir lime plant. The fruit of the plant looks like a funky lime. Green, but silly bumpy. The leaves can be found dried or even frozen and have a citrus aroma and flavor. You’ll find kaffir leaves used in a lot of Indian or Asian dishes. You may also see them called Thai lime leaves.
What are substitutes for kaffir lime leaves?
The best substitute for kaffir lime leaves frozen or dried is lime zest. Since this is already called for in our recipe, we’ll just be adding more. In general, use a conversion of 1 ½ teaspoons for each leaf. So, in making this recipe for red curry paste use 4 ½ teaspoons or 1 ⅕ tablespoons of extra lime zest. Note, if you can, it’s always best to use organic fruit if you’re using the zest.
You guessed it – lemongrass is a type of grass that has a lemony flavor. It very, very stalky and even fresh, quite hard. To prepare it, cut the bulb off (about the bottom one third of the stalk), peel the outer layer off and finely slice the rest of the stalk. Look for lemon grass in the Asian section of the supermarket or along with the fresh herbs.
What is a substitute for lemongrass?
Lemon zest is your best bet if you want a lemongrass substitute. For the 2 stalks recommended in this recipe, use the zest of 1 fresh lemon. As noted above, try to use the zest of an organic lemon.
Often, healthy eating comes down to a decision between quality and convenience. The tension isn’t just a matter of cooking in or taking out. It’s also about ingredients and how we choose to prepare them. We can take easy, healthy steps such as using vegetable broth or water rather than oil when we sauté onions. Simple enough.
We can also create our own convenience. Take a moment before you plan your cooking. Ask yourself if making a double batch will save you steps in the future. Perhaps that’s stocking your freezer with curry paste or sauces or doubling a recipe for another dinner or a few lunches. Narrowing the time/effort versus the convenient package can be a huge help if you are trying to eat healthier. This is particularly important for long term success. Besides, sometimes, letting the freezer answer the question ‘what’s for dinner’ is the most convenient action of all. Peace.Print
how to make red curry paste
Once you learn how to make your own red curry paste and taste pure freshness with the ultimate in flavor, you’ll never buy those expensive packets again.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: ¾ cup 1x
- Category: Dressings & Condiments
- Method: Blending
- Cuisine: Thai
- 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
- 1 Tbsp. white peppercorns
- 10 dried red chilis
- 3 dried kaffir lime leaves
- 2 Tbsp. minced ginger
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 5 sprigs of fresh cilantro (coriander) – leaves and sprigs – chopped
- 3 Tbsp. diced shallots
- 2 Tbsp. lime zest
- 2 fresh red chilis or ½ cup diced red bell pepper diced (remove the seeds if you don’t want too much heat)
- Toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and white peppercorns in a small pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.
- Break your dried chilis in half to remove the seeds.
- Using a spice grinder, food processor or pestle and mortar, grind the spices, kaffir lime leaves and dried red chilis until the spices are broken down.
- Begin adding all the other ingredients, and blend everything until smooth. Note, if you are using a food process, simply add all the remaining ingredients and hit the power.
- Cook time reflects using a food processor or blender.
- Freeze leftover in 1-2 tablespoon measures in small bags or in an ice cube tray. To avoid freezer burn, place the individual bags or ice cube tray in a large freezer bag or freezer container.
- My rule is 2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste for a 4-6-person recipe but adjust depending on your heat tolerance.
- Mix fresh Thai red curry paste and 1 15 oz. can of coconut milk for a quick, wonderful curry sauce for vegetables and/or tofu.
Keywords: how to make red curry paste