Red curry with chicken, squash, string beans, and eggplant

There are as many red curry paste recipes as there are Thai cookbooks and Thai cooking blogs. I don’t have any particular favorite and usually only end up consulting them to remind myself of the necessary ingredients. Making the paste only demands resisting the temptation to put the mixture in the food processor. Everything should be mashed thoroughly with a mortar and pestle in order to avoid the bitter, metallic flavor that a machine can give to the curry. Otherwise, I simply let my tastebuds guide me toward the right balance of flavors.

Making a paste from scratch comes with a self-congratulatory sense of accomplishment, although many authorities on Thai cooking would argue that this step isn’t necessary. Even a former co-worker of mine from Thailand laughed when I told him that I make my own paste: “Everyone back home just uses the stuff from the can. Even my wife does!”

This point reminded me of a Times article from 2007, which starts off with a mocking anecdote about a couple embarrassed to be serving store bought tortillas at a dinner party instead of homemade ones. Back then, I thought these people were in good need of a reality check. Oh how times have changed, both for myself and for food culture at large. Rereading the article today, I’m reminded of one important fact though: the dilemma over whether to use something homemade or store-bought is as much a matter of social performance as it is of quality and taste.

Right about now there’s a small voice telling me to put away that heavy mortar and pestle, to relax already and let go of my foodie anxieties. Embracing a little bit of convenience here and there might not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might even be better.

1 Comment

  1. I try to think of the convenient curry paste jar as a base, then make it my own with embellishments. Usually the ground spices get fried in a little oil and the paste is then added to it. It’s like making barbeque sauce with a combination of store-bought ketchup, mustard, vinegar, etc. to your own amounts of onions, garlic, brown sugar… We can forgive ourselves for using some conveniences while still being creative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.