Improvising Thai Curries Without Curry Pastes

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield: 3 to 4 cups ; 1 quart if the tomatoes are used; enough for

    6 to 8


Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

Curry pastes offer an easy method for quickly incorporating a complex mixture of ingredients into stew-like curries. But these same ingredients can be finely chopped or even left whole and then be simmered directly in broth or even water to make a sauce.

Here is a broth-like sauce that’s quick to make and can be served around pieces of cooked meat and fish. Adjust, add, or omit ingredients to taste.


chicken, fish, or meat broth, cooking liquid from meat stew, or water 1 cup 250 ml
coconut milk 1 (14-oz) can 425 ml
tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped (optional) 1 cup 250 ml
garlic cloves, crushed to a paste 4 4
shallots, finely chopped 2 2
thai chiles, seeded, finely chopped or serrano chiles, seeded, finely chopped 2 to 8 or 1 to 4 2 to 8 or 1 to 4
lemongrass, outer sheath removed and discarded, 3 inches (8 cm) of root end thinly sliced 2 stalks 2 stalks
makrut lime leaves 6 6
sliced peeled galangal (¼-inch/5 mm thick) 6 6
lime juice or tamarind extract (see note) 2 to 4 tbsp 30 to 60 ml
thai fish sauce 2 to 4 tbsp 30 to 60 ml
sugar ½ to 2 tbsp 7.5 to 30 ml
cilantro, mint, or thai basil leaves 3 tbsp 45 ml


  1. Bring the broth, coconut milk, and tomatoes, if using, to a slow simmer in a medium pot.
  2. Stir in the garlic, shallots, chiles, lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal, the minimum amounts of lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Adjust the acidity with lime juice or tamarind, the saltiness with fish sauce, and the sweetness with sugar.
  3. Stir in the cilantro, mint, or basil, simmer for 30 seconds, and serve.