Drop the jar—this is one of those cases where making it fresh makes all the difference. 

Darcy Lenz
April 02, 2019
Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners

If there is one thing I love experiencing in the kitchen, it’s the sense of giddy wonder I get from being utterly blown away by flavor. Doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are, you never outgrow the eligibility for those multi-sensory revelations. Prime example: I recently popped into the test kitchen to taste this Instant Pot Khao Soi, and my knee-jerk reaction to the first spoonful was, “Wow, why does this taste so good??” 

The answer: homemade curry paste. 

I realize that making curry paste from scratch is nothing out of the ordinary in plenty of home kitchens, but I’d never made my own before. And truthfully, outside of a restaurant, I’d never tasted any variation of coconut-curry soup that approached the same level of bold, bright, and lively personality that filled the bowl in front of me. It was incredible. 

So, for anyone else who’s yet to get the memo, please trust: Curry paste is absolutely one of those flavor-boosting ingredients that’s well worth making yourself. And it’s not difficult to do. You’re simply bringing together a combination of aromatics (like garlic, shallots, galangal, and lemongrass), chiles (these will vary depending on what type of curry paste you’re making—red, green, or yellow), and dried spices (such as coriander and black pepper), then crushing them into a paste. 

Traditionally, you’d accomplish this via a mortar and pestle; however, our recipe is not your archetypal example of “traditional.” And that is OK. Like other condiments, such as pesto or chimichurri, you have some flex room here to accommodate your taste, your creativity, ingredient availability, etc. In our take on an easy Khao Soi, we opted to keep things approachable as possible by reaching for the food processor. 

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We use dried red chiles because we love the concentrated flavor they pack, so you’ll need to rehydrate them with boiling water before processing everything together. Once they’re softened—this will take 20 to 30 minutes—be sure to reserve the water; you’ll use it to thin the paste to your desired consistency. 

Once you’ve got your paste made, if you’re not using all of it immediately, jar it up and stash the rest in the fridge. Stored in a lidded, airtight container, your curry paste should keep for at least two weeks. Beyond the incomparable flavor boost, going homemade means you’ll bypass the excess sodium, sugar, and other preservatives that come along with the jarred stuff. In addition to Khao Soi and other Thai curry recipes, your homemade curry paste is an exceptional way to liven up any number of dishes, from quick vegetable sautes to marinades and rubs. Just remember: Your curry paste destiny is as dynamic as you want to make it.