What It Is
The flavor base of Thai curries -- spicy, aromatic stews served over rice -- starts with curry paste, a smooth, moist blend that may include shallots, garlic, lemongrass, green or red chiles, cilantro roots, kaffir lime leaves, and peppery, gingerlike galangal.
The distinctive colors of the pastes -- red, green, and yellow -- reflect the specific makeup of each. No one type is the spiciest; the heat depends in part on the number and kind of chiles used. Mellow yellow curry paste, bright with turmeric and other dried spices, is often combined with lamb, beef, or potatoes in a heavy sauce. The red paste, rich with dried red chiles, is great with beef, chicken, fish, or shrimp. The green paste, with the clean flavors of fresh chiles and herbs, is wonderful with pork and vegetables.
For fast flavor, mix your favorite curry paste with a bit of oil and rub on meat before roasting; toss with Asian-style noodles or add to a stir-fry, chicken soup, or seafood stew.
Buying and Storing
Look for curry pastes in your supermarket's Asian foods section. If making a vegetarian curry, read labels closely: Some contain shrimp paste or fish sauce, while others are vegan. Store opened paste in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.