This red Thai curry paste recipe is brimming with warm, fresh flavors combining citrus, ginger, garlic, and spices. After tasting this healthy, homemade curry paste the first time, you'll never purchase expensive jars again.
Red curry paste is a versatile and foundational base for a plethora of recipes. And if you have a great one, curry paste is a time saver because all the spices and aromatics are all right there, ready to be dropped in.
From my experience, there is NO comparison between making your own curry paste and buying it. If you get through the challenge of buying a vegan brand. If the planets align and you find one without oil, it will never be as good as what you make yourself.
My motivation for making curry paste was three-fold:
1. It needed to be vegan and oil-free. This translates into a lot of grocery store visits.
2. Cost – If I could meet the first point, the cost was painful.
3. Flavor – Even with doubling or tripling the amount of jarred curry paste in a recipe and getting nowhere near the flavor I desired.
Why was that?
Fresh ingredients, toasted spices, and a blend that you can adjust and perfect – that doesn’t come from a jar.
I used to think making ingredients from scratch was over the top for me as a home cook. Wrong, it's just cooking. And guess what? It’s even batch cooking.
You can make a big batch of curry paste, add it to the freeze along with your homemade date paste, and you are ready to jam on curry at a moment's notice.
There are many variations of curry paste recipes, but after making this numerous times, I’ve settled on 12 key ingredients:
Coriander seeds, cumin seeds, white peppercorns – Toasting spices in a skillet for 1-2 minutes intensifies flavors and brings out their essential oils.
Dried red chili peppers – I use 10 dried, medium-sized chilis. If you use dried bird’s eye or super-hot chilis or want a milder flavor, then you can adjust the amount. Avoid chipotle or smoked chilies. Dried Thai red chilis are my preference, but serrano are a good, but slightly milder substitute.
It’s a good idea to break the chilis and remove the seeds. If you don't like spicy foods, the dried red chili is the best place to make an adjustment. You can cut the number of chilis or break them and remove the seeds.
Be mindful when you handle chilis that they can leave your hands (and eyes when you touch them) inflamed. It's a good idea to wear gloves or be careful to wash your hands immediately with soap and water after you handle them.
Kaffir lime leaves – My original recipe used dried leaves, but lately, because I have access to them, I’ve been using fresh leaves. Use what you have access to. Kaffir lime leaves, dried or fresh, have an intense citrus flavor.
Fresh ginger and fresh garlic – Both of these classic aromatics add bold flavors and depth. They are added raw, so we don’t rely on sauteing to release the flavor. It’s all about the pureeing or pounding, depending on how you go about it.
Lemongrass – Yes, lemongrass is grass. They are woody stalks about the size of a scallion.
Be sure that you cut away the bulbous base and peel the outer layer before you slice it. This is one ingredient that you really want to add in small pieces. Don't depend on your food processor to break it up. It will likely get snagged up on the fibrous parts, and you'll end up with look 'lemongrass strings.'
Cilantro (coriander) – 5 sprigs with leaves and tender stems for a little bit of peppery flavor. There is also a bit of moisture in the cilantro that helps you build a smoother paste.
Shallots – I particularly like the mellower flavor of shallots. I've substituted scallions as well as red onions without significantly impacting the flavor.
Lime zest – It takes 2-3 limes, depending on their size, to get 2 honest tablespoons of zest. It’s best practice to use organic (unwaxed) citrus fruits whenever you are adding the zests.
Fresh red chilis – Don't skip using fresh chilis. They add flavor, color, and moisture to blend everything together. Remove the seeds and core to decrease the heat. If you want to make a milder paste, you can use a red pimento pepper or even half a red bell pepper.
How to make this
Think toast, as in the spices, grind as in the spices again, and then blend everything. There are a few ways to accomplish the last step. I've tried them all.
1. Pestle and mortar. If you’re feeling adventurous or have some stress to relieve, grab your pestle and mortar and get busy.
For the best results, start by adding the toasted spices and dried chilis to the mortar (the bowl) and pound them using the pestle (the club). Keep on adding ingredients from the hardest to the softest. Keep on pounding, grinding, and working until you get a smooth paste.
Now, you might not get the smooth results you get when using an electric gizmo. But there's something incredibly satisfying about retreating into the Stone Age – at least for making a paste.
2. Food processor or blender. If you want to save time and get a smoother blend, use your food processor or blender. Be sure that you use a spice or coffee grinder to grind up the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, and dried chilis first.
3. Spice grinder. I often use a smaller spice grinder for making curry pastes, tahini, or date paste. The trick is not to overload it. Revert to the pestle and mortar technique. Add the spices, then add a few ingredients from the hardest to the softest. You are creating 'room' as each addition breaks down.
Fresh or dried curry leaves can be substituted for lime leaves. You can also add extra lemongrass or lime zest, depending on the recipe you are using. Use 1 ½ teaspoons of lime zest for each curry leaf. For Thai red curry paste, I recommend a combination of lime zest with lemon zest or lemongrass.
Absolutely. Freeze a few tablespoons of curry paste in small containers, small freezer bags, or ice cube trays. Simply fetch them from the freezer and add them to your curry and sauces and allow them to thaw as they cook.
When you buy curry paste, always check the labels. Some varieties of paste use shrimp paste, oyster sauce, fish sauce, or other non-vegan ingredients.
How to use red curry paste
Red curry paste adds a bright bomb of flavor to anything you add it to. If you already have your conveniently frozen stash, you can make Thai-inspired vegetable dishes with minimal effort. When you don't have a lot of ingredients on hand, or your main ingredients and inspiration aren't in high supply, you can still make a hearty dinner recipe with superior flavor. Here are a few of our favorite ways:
1. Soups – Add curry paste to a simple vegetable soup such as fava bean vegetable soup and transform the flavor. Some recipes will call for full-fat coconut milk, but it isn’t required. You can use light coconut milk or a combination of plant milk with a few drops of coconut extract.
2. Sauces and curries. Satay sauce for curry, Thai stew with sweet potatoes, mango sauce, or simple vegan Thai red curry with vegetables - the list of combinations is endless. You don't need to have specialized ingredients like snap peas, bamboo shoots, or baby corn. If you have green beans, bell peppers, or just a bag of stir-fry mix, you can make a dinner the whole family will love.
You can make a more complete meal by adding crispy tofu. And don't forget the rice. We prefer brown basmati rice or jasmine rice, but you can ramp up the veggies even more and use cauliflower rice.
3. Noodles. Looking for a quick lunch or an easy dinner? Try noodles with a quick sauce of veggie broth and curry paste. Add a few frozen veggies as the noodles cook, and it's on in a jiff.
4. Salad dressings. Brighten up a lemon-tahini dressing. Experiment with a combination of rice vinegar, date paste, soy sauce, and curry paste for an Asian-inspired salad dressing that doubles as a stir-fry sauce.
Thai red curry paste recipe (vegan)
This vegan red Thai curry paste recipe (vegan) is brimming with warm, fresh flavors and so fresh and tasty that you'll never buy jarred paste again.
- Prep Time: 15 min
- Cook Time: 10 min
- Total Time: 25 min
- Yield: 1 cup 1x
- Category: ingredients
- Cuisine: Thai
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
- 1 Tbsp. white peppercorns
- 10 dried Thai red chilis
- 3 kaffir lime leaves (fresh or dried)
- 2 Tbsp. ginger, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, bulb removed, peeled, and sliced
- 5 sprigs of fresh cilantro (coriander) - leaves and sprigs
- 3 Tbsp. diced shallots
- 2 Tbsp. lime zest (2-3 fresh limes)
- 2 fresh red chilis or ½ cup of diced red bell pepper, diced (remove the seeds if you don't want too much heat)
- Toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and white peppercorns in a small pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.
- Break your dried chilis in half to remove the seeds.
- Using a spice grinder, food processor, or pestle and mortar, grind the spices, dried red chilis, and kaffir lime leaves (if using the dry leaves). Grind the spices until they are broken down into fine pieces.
- Prepare the lemongrass by cutting the bulb off (about the bottom one-third of the stalk), peeling away the outer layer, and finely slicing the remaining part of the stalk. Prepare the rest of the ingredients per the ingredient list.
- If you are using a food processor or blender, add all the ingredients and blend until smooth. If you are using a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, add the densest ingredients first. Continue the process until everything is added and the paste is smooth.
- Store red curry paste in the refrigerator for 1 week in a tightly sealed container. You can also freeze it in small portions for up to 3 months. Think meal prep!
- It is best practice to use organic limes when using the zest to avoid pesticides.
- Be careful when handling dried chili. Wear gloves or wash your hands immediately after touching them. Try to avoid touching your face, in particular, your eyes.
- Be sure to grind the dry spices, chilis, and dried lime leaves (if using) before adding them to a food processor or blender. They will not grind properly in a large container and won't break down if added to the rest of the ingredients.
- If you cannot find dried red Thai chilis, serrano or other dried red chilis will work. Avoid smoked chilis such as chipotle.
Keywords: Thai red curry paste recipe