It takes an extra trip to the store (which I usually shun) but it’s occasionally worth it to make homemade curry paste. The paste recipe below makes enough for about 4 meals (for 6 each) for my family’s spice-level. If you like things mild-medium you might get more meals out of it. It keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 weeks.
You can change the mix of vegetables to suit your taste/what you have on hand.
For curry paste:
3-4 tablespoons thinly sliced, then chopped fresh galangal (looks a bit like ginger with a translucent skin)
2 stalks lemongrass, fibrous outer layer or two removed, root end and stalk end trimmed a bit and the remainder sliced thinly
Zest from two kaffir limes (I peel it off with a sharp knife-it’s too bumpy for a microplane and you want all that zest, just not the pith)
generous 1/2 cup of garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns
8-10 dried hot peppers (I used Joe’s long cayenne–quite a bit less spicy than typical cayennes, Chiltepec and Costeno Peppers–all from Ayers Creek farm–I think they’re less spicy, all of them, than dry Thai red peppers but I’m not sure. My paste was still plenty spicy. Reduce the number of peppers if you’re unsure)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
Soak the dried peppers in boiling water for 20-30 minutes. Drain, removes stems and seeds and roughly chop the peppers.
Toast the seeds and peppercorns in a dry skillet for about 3 minutes until very fragrant and toasty smelling. Be careful not to burn. Put them in a mortar and pestle and when cool, grind them up.
Put all the paste ingredients in a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides. Process until fairly smooth. Don’t be surprised if you eyes water–it’s strong stuff!
Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
For the curry itself:
3-4 tablespoons curry paste (above recipe), or less if you think your paste is very spicy. It will mellow out as it cooks and you can always add a bit more part way through if it’s not spicy enough.
1 can full fat coconut milk (it really doesn’t work with “lite” coconut milk)
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth or water
3 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2-3 carrots, scrubbed and trimmed and cut into rounds
1 large head broccoli, stem peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces and head broken into smallish florets
1 large potato, sweet potato or some winter squash, cut into large dice (peel if using sweet potatoes or winter squash)
1 cup leftover, cooked chicken (optional)
1/2 cup basil (optional) or cilantro, which is totally inauthentic but still good
Rice fore serving
In a large wok or heavy pan cook the curry paste, sugar, fish sauce and 1 cup coconut milk (the thickest part that’s usually at the top of the can)–you’ll use the rest later–over medium high heat for about 15-20 minutes. Stir often as it reduces and thickens. Towards the end you should see little bubbles of oil (from the coconut milk) on the surface. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
While the curry paste is frying bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and carrots (or any vegetables that will take a bit longer to cook) and cook for 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon. Add the broccoli (and/or another vegetables that just take 3-4 minutes to cook, like green beans or peas) and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain those and add to the potatoes and carrots and set aside.
Now add the remainder of the coconut milk and chicken stock (or water or broth) and mix well to integrate the curry paste into the liquid. Bring it to a simmer. Add the chicken and reserved vegetables and heat it through. Add the whole basil leaves, if using. Serve hot over rice.