Ready to step up your Thai cooking game? Making your own Thai curry pastes is 100% the way to roll. Unlike Tom Yum Paste, which is sorta only good for a few dishes, this red curry paste recipe is one of the most versatile in Thai cooking, playing a key role in many recipes. If you're going all-in on making just one paste from scratch, this is your MVP!
If you've ever found yourself on a wild goose chase for the perfect red curry paste, only to end up with lackluster results or a mountain of complicated steps, or a curry paste without the powerful aroma of fresh herbs, fret no more! This recipe is your ticket to culinary triumph without the hassle. This vegan and gluten-free recipe isn’t your run-of-the-mill curry paste - it's THE Red Curry Paste that dreams are made of!
The best part? Making your own Thai curry paste only takes five minutes! Grab your ingredients, dust off that blender, and get ready to revolutionize your Thai curries forever!
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
✊Vegan AF and GF: Unlike some store-bought pastes (cough garbage, cough) that contain fish sauce, or shrimp paste, this homemade curry paste recipe is completely plant-based, and also gluten-free. 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 future generations to frolic in. Go vegan!
🔥 Flawlessly Toasted Goodness: While some pastes just use dead ol’ pre-ground spices, the secret to sincerely bomb curry paste is in the toasting! By expertly toasting whole coriander and cumin seeds, we unlock a depth of flavor that elevates this red curry paste to a whole new level. It's the culinary equivalent of hitting the "flavor jackpot."
✅Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all of the vegan Thai recipes on my blog, this easy spice paste has undergone meticulous refinement and has been tried and given the seal of approval by recipe testers in kitchens worldwide! It’s not some random junk chat GPT coughed up, published by someone who doesn’t give a damn. Darn tootin’.
🌶️Notable ingredients and substitutions
Dried Red Chilies
The best curry paste has a balance of mild and hot chilies, which is I why I recommend guajillo chilies to add depth, and arbol and Thai chilies for heat. If these varieties are hard to find, byadagi (what I use for aviyal and chana dal) and Kashmiri chilies make excellent substitutes.
Coriander and Cumin Seeds
Toasting these seeds releases a citrusy, earthy aroma, enhancing the overall flavor profile of your red curry paste. Not to be a total shill here, but I especially love the wild mountain cumin seeds from Burlap and Barrel. They are insanely more flavorful than any cumin seeds I have found anywhere. Coriander seeds are great to keep on hand for making falafel and to crust Amritsari kulcha. If you don't have the whole spices, ground coriander and cumin work well, though the toasting magic won't be the same.
Do you hate the way onions make you cry? Well, the bad news is that shallots are even worse! These small, sweet onions from Southeast Asia give the dish a mild, pungent, sweet flavor. They are the cornerstone of sambals like dabu dabu and sambal matah and are important in making Thai classics like pad see ew. Substitute with red onions or sweet onions if you can't get shallots.
Store-bought curry paste often lacks this essential ingredient! Ground white pepper complements the other spices without overpowering and brings a subtle heat to the curry paste. It's a prevalent flavor in Southeast Asian cooking, and you can see it in full display in bihun goreng, Tempe Mendoan and Bakwan Sayur. Swap it for black pepper if white pepper is not in your pantry.
With its citrusy, floral aroma, fresh lemongrass brings a refreshing zing to the paste. It's not just about flavor; lemongrass boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which is why I usually have a pot of hot Indonesian bandrek brewing on my stove. In a pinch, powdered lemongrass can stand in, though the complexity won't be quite the same.
Galangal, also known as a chunky ol’ rhizome with a pungent, citrusy, and slightly sweet flavor that is used in dishes like Mee Rebus and sambal goreng tempeh. If your local Asian market doesn't have fresh or frozen galangal, you can use dried galangal or fresh ginger as a substitute, though it may have a sharper, slightly more intense taste.
Makrut Lime Leaves
Often referred to as kaffir lime leaves in the west, most people don’t know this term is a racist slur. Known as "bai makrut" in Thai, these leaves provide a distinct citrusy aroma to dishes like nasi kunyit and Tom Kha. Essential for authenticity, they elevate the flavor profile. If you can’t find them fresh, Asian grocery stores often sell them frozen, and sometimes dried, though the dried ones don’t pack the same punch. Don’t have lime leaves? You can still make this curry paste using lime zest instead.
Cilantro stems and roots are preferred in curry paste for their concentrated flavor. Unlike the leaves, the stems and roots don’t break down into mush when cooked, which is important for the final texture of the curry paste. Additionally, using stems and roots minimizes waste, as it uses the entire cilantro plant.
*See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact quantities, nutritional info, and detailed cooking directions.
Thai Southern Red Curry Paste: In the south of Thailand, grated fresh turmeric is added for a vibrant color and earthy undertones. You can turn this recipe into a Thai yellow curry paste by using less chilies. Balance the slightly astringent flavor of the turmeric with a little tamarind concentrate, which I use in asinan sayur and tahu goreng for its sweet, tangy, fruity flavor.
Malaysian Nyonya Red Curry Paste: Influenced by the Peranakan culture, this Malaysian twist balances sweetness and spice. Add a few makrut lime leaves (aka Kaffir lime leaves), a little palm sugar or brown sugar for a hint of sweetness, and include candlenuts (the same thing you use to make bumbu Bali with) for a rich, creamy texture. The result is a Malaysian red curry paste that is amazing to add to Malaysian and Indonesian curries like bami goreng and mie goreng.
📖How to nail this red curry paste recipe
People said you couldn't do it, but BLAM! You made curry paste on your first shot by following these step-by-step instructions with helpful tips. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Soak dried chili peppers (a mix of arbol and guajillo or Thai chilies) in warm water until pliable.
Toast of the Town:
In a dry pan over medium-low heat, toast coriander seeds and cumin seeds for about 2 minutes until fragrant.
Go on a Blender:
Combine toasted seeds, rehydrated chilies, ¼ cup of chili soaking water, sliced shallots, garlic cloves, white pepper, salt, lemongrass, grated galangal, lime zest, and chopped cilantro stems in a blender.
Achieve Red Curry Bliss:
Blend or process until a vibrant, smooth paste emerges. Adjust the consistency by adding water if needed, depending on your blender.
Smell that? It’s the fragrance of you officially kicking store-bought red curry paste to the curb!
Use or Store:
If you aren’t gonna put the curry paste to work immediately, store it in a sterilized glass jar for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, or place it into one-tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray in the freezer. Once the curry cubes are frozen, transfer them into a labeled sealed container in your freezer and store them for up to three months, thawing as needed.
This is a great recipe to add depth to khao pad or tom yum fried rice, adding iconic red curry flavors to a satisfying bowl of rice.
Add greater complexity to the smoky essence of Pad Kee Mao, also known as drunken noodles, a Thai noodle dish that gracefully marries sweet and savory elements to emerge as a fast and delicious dinner! This is a good curry paste to add to the peanut sauce in Ketoprak. Ketoprak is the fried tofu and vermicelli salad my family is addicted to!
- Chili Soaking Savvy: Ensure your soaking water is warm enough to soften the chilies effectively. Don't rush this process; pliable chilies lead to a smoother paste.
- Don’t Use A Garbage-Ass Blender You Fished Out Of The Dump: You can sorta get away with making this in a crappy blender or even a food processor, but you know it’s gonna struggle, especially with the more fibrous ingredients like lemongrass. If I had to recommend two pieces of gear worth throwing a little money at in your home kitchen, a knife you love and a proper high-speed blender are two things worth splurging for that can make a big difference in the quality of your home cooking.
- Galangal Grating Technique: The secret to getting the most out of galangal's unique flavor lies in the grating. Opt for a fine grater to effectively break down the fibrous texture. This ensures a seamless integration of galangal's peppery notes into the paste.
- Consistency is Key: The thickness of your final paste depends on personal preference and what you will use the paste for. For instance, to add to dipping sauce like nuoc cham and Korean bbq sauce you might want something a little smoother and thinner, while for use in stir fries, you are probably going to want to stick with the recipe’s original consistency. Anyway, for a smoother, pourable texture, gradually add water until the desired consistency is achieved.
🤷♀️ Recipe FAQs
🌡️In the fridge: For storage, place the curry paste in a sterilized glass jar in the refrigerator for a maximum of two weeks. If the curry paste looks dried out, or has a funky smell, don't take any chances, and compost the darned stuff!
🥶In the freezer: Alternatively, portion it into one-tablespoon servings in an ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer the curry cubes to a labeled airtight container in the freezer, where they can be stored for up to three months. Thaw individual portions as required.
Absolutely! Control the heat by adding or reducing the number of dried chilies. You can also tailor it to your taste preferences by altering the ratio of mild and spicy dried chilies in the recipe. More Arbol or Thai chilies in the mix will make it hotter.
Any good Asian grocery store should have fresh or frozen galangal. But if you just can't get any, dried galangal or fresh ginger make suitable alternatives. Keep in mind, regular ginger will contribute a sharper, spicier flavor in this red curry recipe than using galangal.
Certainly! Traditionally, curry pastes are made with a mortar and pestle. I recommend using a special mortar and pestle just for projects like this, so that you don’t get the flavors of shallots and garlic absorbed into a mortar and pestle you also use for applications where you might not like having a hint of those aromatics.
✌️My faves to add red curry paste to:
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Thai Red Curry Paste Recipe (Easy, Vegan, and Gluten-Free)
- 1 ounce dried red chilies a mix of arbol and guajillo or Thai chilies
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ cup shallots sliced
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 stalk lemongrass core and tender inner leaves only, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons galangal grated
- 2 makrut lime leaves or 1 teaspoon lime zest
- ½ cup cilantro stems and roots chopped
- Start by soaking dried red chilies (a mix of arbol and guajillo or Thai chilies) in warm water until they become pliable.
- Meanwhile, in a dry pan over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds for about 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Place the toasted seeds, the rehydrated chilies, ¼ cup of the chili soaking water, sliced shallots, garlic cloves, white pepper, salt, lemongrass, grated galangal, lime zest, and chopped cilantro into a blender.
- Blend or process the ingredients until a smooth and vibrant red curry paste is achieved. Depending on your blender, you may have to adjust the consistency by adding a bit of water if needed.