If you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen but want to make something exotic and flavourful, curry paste is the answer. Just adding a few tablespoons of paste to your ingredients will give you a dish that tastes like its been marinating for hours.
Curry paste can be used for making curries, stews and soups, noodles and rice dishes and even salad dressings or dips. Sometimes I’ll buy a good store-bought kind, but it doesn’t match my homemade paste. The homemade version is fresher, tastier and it allows you to adjust the spices and herbs to your liking.
Featured above is a yellow curry paste. Authentic Thai yellow curry paste is typically made with dry red Thai or Bird’s Eye Chilis, sometimes as many as 40. Because I couldn’t find the chilis in the grocery store, I used fresh red hot chili peppers instead. I added six red hot chilis to this recipe and the paste tasted like the real thing!
If you are sensitive to hot spices, you can substitute some of the chilis with an equal amount of sweet red pepper slices. And remember that you can always adjust the spiciness of your dish by adding a cream of choice to your recipe.
For this paste, I roasted the peppers, shallots, garlic and ginger together. Roasting the ingredients in the oven adds a rich flavour and creamier texture to the paste. It’s also better for your digestion, especially when it comes to garlic. There’s a lot of garlic in this recipe (two big heads!) and roasting them alters their chemicals thus making them milder and easier to digest.
I did not use any aluminum foil for the roasting even though I often cook with it. There is a difference of opinion as to whether aluminum foil is safe to use for cooking or roasting. If you want to learn more, you can read here and here.
Yellow curry paste
Makes 1½ cups curry paste.
- Olive oil for roasting
- 2 big garlic heads – yes, heads and not buds!
- 6 red hot chili peppers
- 4-5 purple shallots or very small red onions
- 3-inch piece of ginger root, peeled
- 1 lemon grass stalk
- 3-4 tablespoons (tbsp) boiled water
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, dry roasted
- Lime juice from one green lime
- 1 teaspoon (tsp) powdered cumin
- 2 tbsp mild curry powder
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 bunch of coriander leaves with stems
1. Roasting without using aluminum foil
Oven: 200°C / 400°F
With a sharp knife, slice off the edge of each garlic head that is opposite the stem. Slice off a thin layer, about 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) thick to expose each individual garlic bud. Peel off the papery outer layer of the garlic heads but leave the skin of each garlic bud intact. Place the garlic heads, chilis, shallots and ginger root in an oven proof pan (e.g. cast iron or clay) with a matching lid and drizzle olive oil on the ingredients turning them to coat all over with oil. After, make sure that the garlic heads are placed cut side up in the pan. Also make sure that the ingredients are not spread too far apart. I used a medium-size skillet (20cm / 7 inches in diameter).
Put an oven proof lid on the pan or skillet and roast in preheated oven on middle rack for 45 minutes. Take out and transfer all ingredients on a side dish except the garlic heads. Brush the garlics with a bit of olive oil or turn them in the oil that’s in the pan and place them again cut side up. Put the lid on and roast the garlics in oven at same temperature for another 15 minutes. Remove garlics when done and place them on a dish to cool.
When cooled enough to handle, squeeze the bottom of each garlic head and the buds will slide out of their skins and casings. If necessary, you can use a small spoon to extract them, but I find that the buds come out easily.
2. Soften the lemongrass in water
Slice the lemongrass stalk into small pieces and place them into a drinking glass and add a bit of water to cover them (about 3-4 tbsps). Heat this up on high in microwave for about 30 seconds. Take out and set aside.
3. Toast the coriander seeds
On stovetop, heat up a small dry skillet (no oil). Adjust heat to medium-high and add the seeds turning them frequently. Roast them for 2-3 minutes, not more, and until aromatic. They should not burn.
4. Put all ingredients in food processor
Transfer to the bowl of your food processor the roasted chilis, shallots, ginger and garlic with remaining olive oil they roasted in. Add the lemongrass pieces with the water, toasted coriander seeds, lime juice, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, salt and coriander leaves with stems. Process until you obtain a soft creamy paste. Transfer to a clean glass jar and seal.
Keeps in refridgerator for up to 5 days.
For freezing: You can divide the paste into two or three portions and freeze in smaller glass jars (no plastic bags! 😎) for 2 to 3 months as long as you leave 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) free space below the top of the jar and let it thaw in the fridge before using it.