DIY spicy curry paste perfect for spring
As if they are bursting from the earth, the greenest foods are now everywhere: asparagus and peas, ramps and spring garlic, sorrel and onions, bok choys and young kale, and bright, fresh herbs. A spicy green curry paste is one way to make the most of a lot of them. Whir the ingredients together, pack in freezer-friendly containers and you'll have the basis of a satisfying, fresh-tasting meal.
There are many commercial varieties of curry paste, but I wanted to DIY a pantry (freezer) version that would sing with the flavors of the season. Garlic is always front and center in a store-bought paste, so I opted for spring garlic bulbs and their green scapes. Along with cilantro, plenty of mint and basil boosts the herbal notes.
Curry pastes are shot through with the tingle of floral galangal, but fresh ginger is a suitable substitute. Because the traditional lime leaves can be difficult to find, I used plenty of fresh lime zest and juice instead.
Chilies are essential for both the heat and zesty complexity of traditional curries. My preference is for a combination of assertive Thai chilies and familiar, fruity serranos. Remove the peppers' seeds, and the paste is mildly spicy, with a family-friendly zing; if you are a heat-seeker, add some seeds to the mix. If red curries are your preference, substitute small red bird chilies and Fresnos or Chinese long red chilies, each one substantially zippier than their green cousins.
Plan a trip to an international grocery store for shrimp paste. Often packed in a small can, it's an ocher-colored umami bomb. It's optional in the accompanying recipe, but this standard curry paste flavoring agent adds a subtle undertone. It must be warmed to release its charms; I like to wrap a few teaspoons in a foil packet, then use the oven, the toaster oven or a dry skillet to heat it through. You'll know when it's ready, because it releases a serious olfactory insult. Soldier on; it's worth it.
Right now, early in the season, use this green curry paste to make a sauce for mussels with asparagus, sweet onions and peas. In a few months, stir the paste into a melange of zucchini, green beans, eggplant and tomatoes — with or without shellfish, shrimp, chicken or tofu. You'll find it's an adaptable ally in the kitchen.
Spring Green Thai Curry Paste
Makes 2 1/2 cups
Stir this bright, tingling, fresh-tasting curry paste into coconut milk, and you've got a delicious sauce for chicken, fish, shellfish and as many vegetables as will fit in the pot.
The paste can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days (the color may darken a bit); it can be frozen for up to 3 months.
12 green Thai chili peppers (stemmed and seeded), coarsely chopped
12 serrano chili peppers (stemmed and seeded), coarsely chopped as needed
3 medium stalks lemon grass (tough outer layers removed), cut into 1-inch lengths
3 limes, juiced, zest cut into strips with a vegetable peeler (white pith removed)
2 ounces (a chunky 3-inch piece) fresh galangal or ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed mint leaves
1 cup packed basil leaves
3 spring onions, trimmed and chopped (white and green parts)
2 bunches green garlic, chopped (may substitute 2 bunches ramps or 2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons shrimp paste (optional)
Combine the green Thai and serrano peppers, lemon grass, lime juice and zest, galangal or ginger, cilantro, mint, basil, onions and garlic in a food processor or high-powered blender. Pulse a few times, then add the fish sauce, salt, cumin, white pepper and water. Puree until smooth.
If using, enclose the shrimp paste in a small piece of aluminum foil and heat it in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until warmed through; you will smell it when it's ready. Unwrap and add the warmed shrimp paste to the curry paste. Puree until well combined and smooth. Pack the curry paste into clean 4-ounce jars or containers.
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