It’s hard to describe in words the difference between using homemade curry paste versus using canned paste. There’s a kind of naturalness to it, an elegance that paste from a can just can’t give you. If I were to tell you that you had to pound these ingredients together in a mortar and pestle for 20 minutes, Thai old-style, I might say it’s worth it. Lemongrass and galangal are extremely fibrous (galangal, a rhizome like ginger, is practically like wood), and it takes some serious pounding. Happily, most of us who cook have a food processor. Combine all the ingredients and pulse until it’s a paste, scraping the sides of the processor as you do. Given the ease of the processor, the most time-consuming part of making curry paste is seeding the small peppers.
Please wear rubber or latex gloves when doing this. If you have the right kind of chiles, they are seriously hot, and their oils will coat your fingers; rubbing your eyes after can cause considerable distress. I find that I can take out most of the seeds and ribs, where the capsaicin is concentrated, then wash them well and drain them in a colander. Most of the seeds should be gone. The heat level is something you have to gauge as you go. Peppers vary in intensity, though Thai peppers are pretty uniformly hot. I don’t like my paste super hot, but if you do, simply use more peppers.
This makes more than you’ll need for a single batch of curry. Freeze what you don’t use for another time. Try rubbing some on ribs or chicken and then grilling them.
If you’re using whole cumin and coriander seeds, toast them in a dry pan over medium-high heat until they’re fragrant, then pulverize them in a mortar or spice grinder.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a paste, scraping down the sides as necessary. If you need more moisture to create a paste, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.
Empty the processor bowl into a big, sturdy mortar if you have one. Use the pestle to pound and grind the paste well, a minute or two, to release all the aromatic goodness and connect with the countless other cooks who have ground their curry pastes by hand.
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