a basic Thai red curry paste

While Thai red curry paste seems to be a universal of chilli-spiced Thai pastes, there are actually several different types, some of which are more spiced than others, including black peppercorns, cumin and coriander. But I’m keeping this simple. Not quite as simple as the nam prik pao paste that I use in my tom yum soup, as this includes galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste.

I’ve adapted this from David Thompson‘s Thai Food. If you like to cook Thai Food and want to learn more, then this seminal work is the book for you. Not only is it a wonderful background to Thailand’s glorious food, it is beautifully presented too, with a bright pink silk cover. (Yup, the book publishers had me at “pink silk”!)

Thompson’s recipe includes kaffir lime zest, which is nigh-on impossible to buy in the UK, so I’ve substituted ordinary lime zest. However, I often use dried kaffir lime powder from the fabulous spice merchants, The Spice Mountain. (Check them out at Borough Market or online – really rather wonderful!)

The recipe also includes coriander roots, which if you can’t get hold of then just omit. One of my biggest gripes with markets and supermarkets in the UK is that you are often only able to buy a bunch of coriander leaves, without the roots. I don’t know why that is. If you can buy a bunch with the roots on, they stay much fresher for longer if you dunk them in a jug with a little bit of water. The reason is probably two-fold. Firstly that while the British have embraced fresh coriander, we don’t realise that there is flavour in the coriander roots as well. The supermarkets sell bunches of coriander by weight and assume that most of us just want the leaves.

The solution is to find yourself a greengrocer or market stall that caters for our ethnic communities. They’ve got it right and know what’s good to eat and cook! I am lucky enough to have a little Thai supermarket down the road from where I live, in Camden. But a couple of the local veg market stalls sometimes sell bunches of coriander complete with roots. I have to confess a sense of achievement when I buy a bunch with roots; I feel like giving a little green victory wave as I’m walking home!

Apparently this type of red cury paste is typically used with dry curries, particularly seafood curries, or added to fishcakes. I tend to use it in just about everything from soups to stir-fries and curries. It may not be Thai-authentic but it tastes so good that it would be a shame to be too prescriptive.

Skill level: Easy

5 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water (or substitute 2-3 fresh red birdseye chillies)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2cm piece of galangal or fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and very finely chopped
2 tsp coriander root, finely chopped
1 tsp lime zest chopped (or 1 tsp kaffir lime powder)
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

1 tsp shrimp paste


  1. Drain the dried chillies and finely chop.
  2. Tip all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.


  • If you want to make this in larger quantities, it will stay fresh in the fridge for about 1 week. Alternatively, top with a layer of oil and keep in an airtight sterlised container. It will stay fresh in the fridge for at least a month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *