Khao Soi paste makes a mild curry flavored with turmeric, ginger, and cardamom. It is the heart of the addictive Thai Noodle Soup from Northwestern Thailand – Khao Soi (Chiang Mai) Noodles.
One of my minor kitchen obsessions since moving home to Kansas City from Bangkok has been Thai curry paste. It takes a few special ingredients and a bit of work, but is really fun if you’re the sort of person who likes a cooking project. And if there is one curry paste that I highly recommend making yourself, it’s Khao Soi Curry Paste. This curry paste is difficult to find pre-made. It is full of fresh aromatics and dried herbs, so the flavor you get from making it yourself is hard to beat.
If you want to jump right to the recipe for making the delicious, rich, noodle curry that comes from this curry paste, hop on over to the recipe for Khao Soi (Chiang Mai) Noodles.
- Dried Red Chili Peppers – Dried chili peppers form the base of this curry paste and give it a slightly red hue. Use dried chili peppers that are about 6 to 8 inches long and are fairly mild. Outside of Thailand, these larger chilis are typically from North America and are labeled “California Chilis”, “Southwestern Chilis”, or “New Mexico Chilis”. I actually get them from a Mexican grocery store because it is difficult to find this size of dried chili peppers at my local Asian grocery store.
- Fresh Turmeric – The key ingredient in Khao Soi Curry Paste is turmeric, and for the best flavor, it’s really worth tracking down the fresh variety instead of dried. Fresh turmeric is bright orange inside and needs to be peeled before you use it.
- Shallot, Ginger, and Garlic – These should be available at any grocery store. Be sure to measure them after dicing them to get the amounts right.
- Mild Curry Powder – Dried curry powder can vary a lot in the amount of spice it contains. I always look for a mild version of yellow curry powder. This curry paste shouldn’t be super spicy, and you can always add spice to the dish later.
- Ground Cardamom and Ground Coriander – These dried spices give the curry its unique flavor. Cardamom is not something you would find in other Thai curries, but is a nod to the non-Thai origins of this fusion dish. It is really this combination of spices that make the curry paste taste so special and unique.
Blender, Food Processor, or Mortar and Pestle
Thai curry paste is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle. If you have one and want to pound the ingredients together that way, go for it. You extract more flavor from the ingredients by smashing them in a mortar than you do in using a blender. However, I always say that if you’ve decided to make curry paste yourself, you’re already taking on a bit of a project, so don’t stress about the method you use to make it. A mortar and pestle are great, but you’ll still get a delicious curry paste if you decide to use a blender or food processor instead.
Water vs. Coconut Cream
If using a blender or food processor to make curry paste, you will likely need to add water to help everything blend. (If using a mortar and pestle you won’t need to add water.) Some recipes for curry paste use coconut cream to help the paste blend, but depending on the height and position of the blades in your blender or food processor, you may need to add a lot.
I prefer water which will cook out and not change the flavor of the dish when the paste is used to make curry. You’ll always add coconut cream to the curry when you start making it, so the coconut flavor will always be there.
Looking for More on Thai Curry?
For more on the wide and delicious world of Thai curry, check out The Ultimate Guide to Thai Curries. If you want to make other Thai curries, try using store-bought curry paste to make red, green, or Massaman curries.
Khao Soi Curry Paste
- Kitchen Shears
- Blender or Food Processor
- 4 large Dried Red Chili Peppers (look for New Mexico or California Chili Peppers that are about 4 inches long; see note)
- 1 Tbsp Cooking Oil (coconut, vegetable, grapeseed, or avocado oil)
- 1/4 cup diced Fresh Turmeric
- 1/4 cup diced Shallot
- 2 Tbsp diced Ginger
- 2 tsp diced Garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Mild Curry Powder
- 1 tsp Ground Cardamom
- 1 tsp Ground Coriander
- Water, as needed (see note)
- Use kitchen shears to slice the dried chilis down the center. Shake out some or all of the seeds. (The more seeds you leave in, the spicier your curry paste will be.) Cut the chili peppers into large pieces and soak them in water for 20 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
- Place a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add oil. When oil begins to shimmer, add turmeric, shallot, ginger, and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until lightly browned in spots, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Transfer ingredients from skillet to a blender or food processor. Add salt, curry powder, ground cardamom, and ground coriander.
- Drain the chili peppers well and add them to the blender.
- Blend everything together, adding just enough water as is needed to enable blending, until a smooth even paste forms.
- Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 year.
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