Going Analog Part II: Thai “red” curry paste

This past summer, my friend Brenda and I took a Thai cooking class at Durham Spirits Company, which hosts cooking classes and other events in a beautiful historical house in Old North Durham. There were about eight of us cooking at different stations in the spacious kitchen, and afterwards, we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor—which was honestly the best Thai food I have had since moving to the Triangle.

One of the menu items that we prepped during the class was a “red” curry paste. The red is in quotation marks because the paste is not actually red; the color comes from artificial food coloring that is added when the stuff is mass-produced. The actual color is more of a deep brown rather than a bright red. You need a bunch of ingredients for this paste, but fortunately you don’t need to chop or mince anything too finely because its all going into the food processor.  This paste is incredibly aromatic and will transform your Thai dishes. However, this stuff is seriously spicy (loaded with red chilies), so handle with care. A little goes a long way!

Coming up soon…two different Thai curries that use this paste.

Note: to keep this purely vegetarian, replace the shrimp paste with soy sauce.

Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
Step 3: dry roast your shrimp paste, coriander seeds and cumin seeds
The final product: delicious, aromatic, homemade curry paste…for your future enjoyment!


(Courtesy Katie Coleman, Durham Spirits Company)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Makes: about 2 cups of paste


1 cup red chilies (dried is fine, without the stems)

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 stalks lemongrass

½ cup galangal, roughly sliced

¼ cup garlic, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. shrimp paste

1 ½ tbsp. coriander seed

1 tbsp. coriander stems, chopped

¼ cup shallots, chopped

Zest of one lime

1 cup water (use the water that the chilies are soaking in)

Generous grind of black pepper

1 tsp. salt

  1. Boil some water. Soak the red chilies in the hot water for about 15 minutes.
  2. Wrap 1 tbsp. of the shrimp paste (warning: this stuff smells rank, like a million shrimps died to make this paste) in a small piece of aluminum foil (Make a little boat).
  3. Into a dry saucepan, add in the shrimp paste in its aluminum boat, dry coriander seeds, and cumin seeds on medium heat, letting them brown but not burn.
  4. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough, outer layers of the stalk and cut off about 5” inches off the top (not the root area). Give your lemongrass a few good whacks along its spine and chop into about 1″ pieces.
  5. Roughly chop the galangal, shallots, garlic, and coriander stems. (Don’t bother peeling the galangal.  As Nigella says, the skin is just more fiber!)
  6. Using a slotted spoon, being careful not to touch the red chilies with your bare hands, transfer the chilies to a food processor. Save the soaking water.
  7. Transfer all the other ingredients to the food processor as well. Add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of the soaking water.
  8. Process to a fine paste, letting the processor go for a few minutes. Warning: the grinding process is going to release very strong aromas—including red chilies—into the air. Be sure to cover the opening of the food processor so that you protect your throat.
  9. Transfer your paste to a storage container. Refrigerate or use right away!


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