Ssshh! That Thai Dish Secret Started in a Jar

Thai red curry paste is the condiment that’s started a thousand meals in my kitchen. Simmered with a little coconut milk, it becomes a fragrant, spicy sauce for all manner of meat, fish, vegetable, tofu or noodles. It’s fast, convenient and tasty — better than my local takeout — which is all I ask for on most days of the week.

There are, however, times when I crave something a little more ambitious, a dish that’s deeper, more complex and closer to the curries I can get in a good Thai restaurant. But I want it without having to track down the galangal, lime leaves and dried shrimp necessary to make an authentic Thai red curry paste from scratch.

Doctoring up the stuff in the jar is a good middle ground. The prepared paste has the base flavor that I can build on by adding a few fresh aromatics — ones that I can easily pick up en route from the subway to my front door — garlic, chiles, cilantro, ginger and shallot. These can revive even an old half-used jar (the one that lives behind the miso and the tahini), giving it brightness and verve.

If you can’t easily find the lemongrass, feel free to leave it out. There’s already some in the jarred paste. And if you’re lucky enough to come across a bumpy-skinned and highly aromatic makrut lime, whirl its zest and juice into the paste in place of the regular lime. It will make the curry even livelier.

Once you’ve done your shopping and chopping, the paste comes together quickly in the blender, and you’ll have enough left over to make this dish again. Store the extra paste in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or the freezer for up to three months.

As for the noodles themselves, use any kind of thin noodles you like. Even gluten-free varieties work well as long as you don’t overcook them. I generally lean toward skinny Chinese egg noodles because I like the added richness of the yolk. But springy rice noodles are a close second.

This dish requires a bit more work than your average weeknight dinner, and a lot more work than ordering in. But with its gorgeous combination of crunchy vegetables, slippery noodles and heady sauce, no one will ever guess it all started in a jar.

  • YIELD4 servings
  • TIME50 minutes

Think of this dish as red curry noodles, version 2.0. By doctoring up jarred red curry paste with fresh chile, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and spices, this dish gets a much more complex, intense flavor than the usual version. Once you have all the ingredients at the ready, the dish comes together quickly. And you’ll have enough leftover curry paste to make this again, even faster the next time. Omit the fish sauce (use soy instead) and egg to make this a vegan dish.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTE:

  • ¼ cup lightly packed cilantro leavesand stems (white roots, too, if available)
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 fresh hot red chile, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons prepared Thai red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer leaves trimmed off, inner leaves finely chopped
  •  Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander

FOR THE NOODLES:

  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 5 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms(about 3 cups)
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh hot red chile, seeded and thinly sliced
  •  Kosher salt
  • 4 ounces thin dried noodles, such as ramen, egg noodles, rice noodles, etc.
  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Asian fish sauce, more to taste
  •  Juice of 1/2 lime, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 1 cup sliced snow peas or green beans
  • 5 ounces baby bok choy, spinach or tatsoi torn into bite-size pieces
  •  Lime wedges, for garnish
  •  Optional garnishes (use all or any combination of the following): 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes; torn basil, mint, or cilantro leaves; sesame seeds; halved hard-cooked eggs

PREPARATION

  1. Prepare the curry paste: In a blender or mini food processor, combine cilantro, garlic, shallot, chile, red curry, coconut oil, ginger, lemongrass, zest and juice of 1 lime, fish sauce, curry powder, cumin and coriander. Blend into a paste, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. If mixture is too thick to blend, add teaspoon or two of water as needed.
  2. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Stir in mushrooms, half the scallions, garlic, chile and a large pinch of salt. Sauté until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  4. Stir 1/4 cup curry paste mixture into skillet and cook until fragrant and darkened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir coconut milk into skillet along with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, and juice of 1/2 lime.
  5. Add red pepper, snow peas and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in bok choy and cook until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes longer.
  6. Fold in noodles, tossing until coated with sauce and heated through. Add fish sauce or lime juice to taste, and pass lime wedges at the table. Top with remaining scallions and any of the optional garnishes. Serve with lime wedges on the side. Store the extra curry paste in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.
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