Thai Green Curry Paste

Curry pastes from Thailand. From left: Red, Green, Yellow, Penang / Penaeng and Mussaman / Massaman.


Thai Green Curry Paste

Green curry paste is one of the five core curry pastes from Thailand that I am going to describe on Cookgypsy. There are innumerable other curries, but for the sake of being able to cross reference recipes for now I am going to include the core groups that most Westerners are familiar with.  Red, green, yellow, Penang / Penaeng and  mussaman / massaman. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon sliced cilantro roots
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons galangal
  • 1/4 cup garlic
  • 1 Kaffir Lime
  • 3-4 tablespoons sliced lemongrass
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 1/4 cup Chili Leaf Optional
  • 10-15 Green Thai Chili Peppers

Preparation:

Prepping: Toast coriander, peppercorns and cumin in a pan until light brown.  You’ll hear the crackling sound when they're ready.  Let the spices cool so they will grind easily. 

Slice shallots, lemongrass, galangal and cilantro roots into small pieces.  I use one lemongrass stalk. Slice thinly or grate the kaffir lime zest, about 1 tablespoon. They will grind into fine paste with smaller fibers.

Grind the spices into powder. Add lemongrass and galangal into the mortar. Grind them into rough fibers.  Add salt, garlic, kaffir lime zest, cilantro roots and shrimp paste next.  Add fresh green chili peppers and leaves next.  Pound until the mixture turn into a fine paste so that you can’t recognize individual ingredients.  It took me a good 20 minutes of straight pounding; good for your arm.  You are excused from going to the gym today!

The role of salt in curry pastes is to help with grinding and to act as a preservative.  You may add more salt than what’s called for; just remember when you cook with it to taste your curry prior to seasoning.

Tips and Techniques

  • In making green curry paste, one important, but difficult-to-find ingredient is kaffir lime zest.  Please do not substitute kaffir lime leaves for the zest as you would not substitute lemon leaves for lemon zest in lemon meringue pie. Kaffir lime zest has a distinct scent and flavor and regular western limes are an ineffective substitute.
  • Cilantro roots are often not available; substitute stems for roots.
  • The technique to using a mortar and pestle is to pound down at an angle then drag it, grind and twist it up toward yourself. Use the other hand to cup the opening, to both prevent the contents from bouncing out and steady the mortar.  Then pound and pound and pound. It will take a lot of grinding to make smooth curry paste.
  • The purpose of the leaves is primarily to add a beautiful bright green color without adding heat.  If you try to get the same color without the leaves, you will need many peppers and the paste will be very hot.

Notes about using the mortar and pestle:

Pound the ingredients into the side, almost at the deepest spot, at a 65 degree angle.  Do not pound straight down into the center of the mortar; things will bounce back at you. Pound and drag out the pestle to separate the fibers.

Grinding curry paste techniques: Ingredients with least amount of water content and/or hard ingredients go in first.  Leave the shallots for last.

Chili Leaves

Chili Leaves don’t play an important role like galangal or kaffir lime leaves in most Thai dishes but when it comes to green curry paste, they shine. They give green curry paste its beautiful bright green color without adding so many green chilies, the curry would be too hot to eat. The leaves themselves have no heat and little flavor; they can best be thought of as natural food coloring