There are a lot of advantages to making the base pastes for Thai curries yourself. Firstly, you know what goes in them, secondly they’re going to be as fresh as can possibly be, thirdly you get to adjust the ingredients to make them your own. I’ve done this for years, cutting the chilli content down when my kids were younger, now starting to bring it back up to a full-heat version as they’re all getting a lot more tolerant!
There’ll be a lot of recipes out there on the internet for this, this is the one I use when making it for the family.
- 1/2 tsp White peppercorns
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp shrimp paste
- 1tsp salt
- 4 sticks lemon grass (trim off the dry green bits and the root-ends)
- 2tsp ginger (galangal if you can get it)
- 1 kaffir lime leaf
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander stalk (never have been able to get the root, if you can then go for it – and tell me where you got it)
- 1 small onion or 5 shallots
- 1 head of garlic, peeled to give you all the cloves you could possibly want (and then add a couple more, just to be safe)
- Chillies to taste (see below)
Dry-fry the peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin, and shrimp paste (wrap it in a little foil first) for a couple or three minutes in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. You should be able to move the seeds around with your fingertips and not get burned. This stage smells divine. Really, you should do this with whole spices whenever you’re using them, before you grind them. Makes a difference! Allow to cool and then crush the seeds to powder. Don’t try and crush the shrimp paste, you only make that mistake once!
Now for the really complicated bit. The chillies. If you want this a full-heat, no-holds-barred, toilet-paper-in-the-fridge paste, whack in ~15 long green chillies. Want less heat? Use less chillies. I substitute green bell peppers or poblanos if I’ve got them with a ratio of 5 hot chillies = 1 poblano or 1/2 a bell pepper. Right now, I’m usually making this paste with 2 or 3 long green chillies and 1 green pepper (de-seeded)
Put everything in your blender (or go old-school and use a pestle and mortar) and turn it into a smoothish paste.
Job done. Freeze what you don’t use in an ice cube tray, that way when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of Thai green paste you can chuck in a couple of ice-cubes’ worth and you’re golden.