Stop using sucky store-bought curry paste! Presenting the vegan Thai tom yum paste of your dreams, that is fast and easy to make. It’s not just for hot and sour soup (Tom Yum Soup). You can coat cashews or peanuts in it before roasting them to use as a salad topping, or coat French fries with it. This flavor bomb is a quick way to add intense Thai flavor to everything from broth, stir fried veggies, friggin’ tater tots. You may want to drink it, but that might be a little weird!
This iconic paste, deeply rooted in Thai culture, holds the secret to the captivating tastes of traditional Thai dishes such as tom yum fried rice. Bursting with invigorating heat, tamarind paste, and the aroma of galangal and makrut lime, it effortlessly transforms humble ingredients into a feast for the senses.
There's something undeniably exhilarating about crafting your own curry pastes and marinades. Like the Nam Prik Pao, Korean BBQ Sauce, Shatta Sauce, and Tarator sauces on my blog, this recipe liberates you from store-bought sauces, and the scent of lemongrass, galangal, and makrut lime leaves make it SO. WORTH. MAKING. YOUR. OWN.
With every dollop of tom yum paste, you'll have the power to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary Thai delights. Grab your mortar and pestle or blender, and let the melody of spices and herbs rock the heck out of your kitchen!
*This post contains affiliate links, so I may earn a tiny commission when you make a purchase through links on my site at no additional cost to you.
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
✊Vegan AF: Unlike some store-bought (cough garbage, cough) curry pastes that contain fish or shrimp paste, this recipe is completely plant-based (as are my red curry paste, and bumbu bali!). The time is running out folks. If our species doesn’t adopt a non-violent way of life, and a sense of stewardship for the planet, there will be nothing left for our grandkids to frolic in. Go vegan!
🌿 Simple and Healthy Ingredients: Gluten-free and made from wholesome ingredients, and without preservatives Or refined sugar, it's a nourishing addition to your meals.
😻 Quick as a Cat: You don't need more than a knife, cutting board, and a blender, or mortar and pestle to make this. It’s really fast to make and doesn’t require much cleanup time. What's more, you can make a big batch to portion and freeze so you can have it on hand long term. With this paste plus coconut milk you will have a heavenly base for any curry or veggie soup that comes dripping out of your best dreams.
✅Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all of the Thai recipes on my blog, this easy tom yum paste has undergone meticulous refinement and has been tried and given the seal of approval by recipe testers in kitchens worldwide! It’s not like, just some junk chat GPT coughed up, published by someone who doesn’t give a damn. Darn tootin.
🌶️Notable ingredients and substitutions
Tamarind concentrate, derived from the macerated and cooked down pod-like fruit of the tamarind tree, adds the iconic tanginess and subtle sweetness that tom yum is known for. You can substitute it with fresh tamarind that you deseed and blend with a small amount of hot water, but the concentrate is convenient and fast to use. If you don’t know what else to use it in, my recipes for Sambal Goreng Tempeh, and Indian spicy pickled carrot use it and are seriously deeeelish. If you don't have tamarind concentrate, you can substitute it with tamarind juice, lime juice, tart cherry juice, or even some dried unsalted sumac (so not “cured sumac”).
Galangal, or kha, is a thick chunky rhizome in the ginger family, but has a mild earthy and citrusy essence. Rehydrated dried galangal or grated fresh ginger can be used in the absence of fresh galangal.
Makrut Lime Leaves
Makrut lime leaves, known in Thailand as Bai Magrut, are an essential component of Thai cuisine. In America, they are commonly called kaffir limes, but that is a slang that some people find offensive. For years I cooked what I thought was decent-tasting Thai food without makrut lime, and when I finally learned where to find it at my local Asian grocery store, it was a complete game changer. Some stores have it fresh, and some keep it frozen. It’s a downgrade, but if you can't get them you can substitute with dried lime leaves, or a bit of lime zest, and it will still be yummy.
Dried Red Chilies
Along with Thai bird’s eye chilies, dried red chilies, (AKA Prik Haeng) form the backbone of heat in tom yum. These chilies are soaked to soften them before blending, and you can adjust the quantity according to your desired spice level. Recommended chili varieties suitable for Thai curry paste include dried bird's eye chilies, Jinta chilies, or arbol chilies, as they offer the perfect balance of heat and flavor. For milder taste preferences, consider using byadagi chilies from southern India. They are a little bit larger than dried Thai chilies, so use one or two less if you substitute with them.
Forget using store-bought tom yum paste. I will walk you through the whole process for making the best you’ve ever had! Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
De-stem the dried chilies, and if desired, you can shake out the seeds. Then place them into a bowl and cover with boiling water.
Place a plate over the bowl and allow them to rehydrate as they cool for 20 minutes.
Snip the stems off your bird’s eye chilies. Again, you can remove the seeds here if you like. I’m personally too lazy for that, and I really don’t find the seeds objectionable, but you do you, as the kids say these days. 👴
Remove the dried-up external leaves of the lemongrass. Very thinly slice the fresh lemongrass, which will make it a lot easier to end up with a smooth final product.
Place all of the ingredients into a blender, mortar and pestle, or food processor.
Blend for 60-90 seconds, or grind by hand thoroughly in a mortar and pestle until you have a smooth reddish paste.
A spoonful of this added to my roasted carrot lentil soup is what heaven tastes like.
Now that you've mastered the art of crafting your own tom yum paste, it's time to explore the world of bomb vegan dishes that it can elevate to new heights.
Add a dollop of tom yum paste to Khao Pad, or Pad Wood Sen, a classic Thai noodle dish. It can also elevate the peanut sauce in Ketoprak, a street food tofu and rice noodle salad from Jakarta. Add a dab to make sambal goreng tempeh go freaking sideways in the most rad way!
Use tom yum paste as an alternative to red curry paste in vegan tom kha soup.
Tom yum paste can hook up to grilled or stir-fried veggies or to top mi xao xi dau with. You can tweak a lot of Vietnamese dishes by using tom yum in place of, or in addition to nuoc mam. The paste adds an awesome twist to noodle dishes like khao suey, bami goreng, mee rebus, and mie goreng.
Use it as a marinade for homemade seitan before you turn it into a Thai-inspired vegan fried chicken, which you can serve with homemade kimchi or Korean spicy cucumbers over kimchi fried rice or Indonesian pandan-scented coconut rice.
Blender, or mortar and pestle if you are OG: A reliable blender will be your trusty sidekick in blending all the aromatic ingredients together, creating a smooth and flavorful curry paste. I like to use the small blender jar so you can scrape the sides down as you blend. It's great for making thick small batches of sauces and pastes. I use it in making tons of stuff, including shatta sauce.
Cutting Board and Knife: Get your chopping game on point with a sturdy cutting board and a sharp knife to prepare the lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, and cilantro with precision.
Rubber spatula: to get every last morsel of paste out of the blender.
To keep your tom yum fresh and ready for culinary adventures, transfer it to an airtight, sterilized glass container. Store it in the refrigerator, where it will remain at its best for up to one week. The cold temperature helps preserve its vibrant flavors and ensures it's always within reach whenever you need a burst of Thai deliciousness.
🥶If you want to have tom yum paste on hand long-term, you can freeze it in an ice cube tray.
Once frozen, transfer the curry paste cubes to a freezer-safe container and use within two months. Having small portions like this makes it easy to thaw what you need.
- Soak and Soften: Take your time to soak the dried red chili peppers until they become soft and pliable. Use good quality dried peppers that aren’t so old that all that remains is a flavorless, lifeless shape of a pepper.
- Ginger vs. Galangal: If you can't find galangal, either fresh or dried, ginger makes a worthy substitute, but be aware that they have distinct flavor profiles. Experiment and find the taste that suits your palate.
- Mellowing the Heat: If you prefer a milder paste, remove the seeds from the dried red chili peppers and bird's eye chilies before blending. You can of course, use fewer fresh bird's eye chilies to tone the heat down a bit.
Tom yum paste contains no wheat-based ingredients, so it’s safe for those following a gluten-free diet.
If you are following a strictly oil-free diet, you can leave the oil out. However, if you intend to stir fry the curry paste, having a little fat “built-in” helps that processes happen more actively.
It freezes and thaws great! I recommend freezing it first in an ice cube tray so that it’s easy to thaw and use just what you need, rather than being stuck with a giant curry ice block.
✌️You might really wanna make these too.
These are some of my favey dishes that get elevated with a spoonful of Tom Yum:
💣OTHER BANGIN' VEGAN RECIPES
Sick and tired of eating frozen peas out of a bag for dinner? Step up your vegan cooking game with these BOMB dishes:
❤️Love this recipe? It helps me out greatly if you leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below and maybe even leave me a lovey-dovey comment too!
TOM YUM PASTE (Vegan Thai curry paste recipe)
- 10 dried red chili peppers seeds removed and soaked in hot water until soft
- 6 bird’s eye chilies red Thai chilies, stems removed
- ½ cup lemongrass 1 ½ to 2 stalks, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoon grated galangal
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 shallot medium size, peeled and quartered
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 8 makrut lime leaves central stems removed
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- ¼ cup tamarind concentrate
- 3 tablespoons coconut sugar brown sugar, or another dry granulated sweetener of your choice
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon refined coconut oil sunflower oil, or canola oil
- ¼ cup lime juice
- De-stem the dried chilies and, if desired, shake out the seeds. Place them in a bowl with boiling water, ensuring they are fully covered. Cover the bowl with a plate and allow them to rehydrate as they cool for 20 minutes.
- Snip the stems off the bird's eye chilies. Optionally, remove the seeds for a milder taste. Alternatively, leave the seeds for an extra kick. Your call!
- Remove the dried-up external leaves of the lemongrass. Thinly slice the fresh lemongrass, making it easier to achieve a smooth final paste.
- Place all the ingredients into a blender, mortar and pestle, or food processor. Grind until you get a smooth light reddish paste, rich in flavors and ready to elevate your dishes.
- For a less spicy paste, remove the seeds from the dried and bird's eye chilies.
- Soaking dried chilies in boiling water helps them rehydrate and blend more easily.
- Use a very sharp knife to thinly slice the lemongrass for smoother blending.
- If using a blender or food processor, add a little water to help with the blending process.
- In a mortar and pestle, grind the ingredients in batches to ensure a consistent and smooth paste.