Making Cambodian red curry paste from scratch

I have always enjoyed making and eating curries.  Curries are perfect when you’re in the mood for something hearty and warm that is rich in savory herbs and spices but also has a touch of sweetness and creaminess from the coconut milk.  As much as I love making curries, I don’t always love the fact that I often end up purchasing a pre-made curry paste from the Asian section at the grocery store.  These prepackaged pastes generally offer a decent curry flavor, but they’re usually loaded with unrecognizable ingredients and a smattering of preservatives.

While traveling in Cambodia, we had the opportunity to make red curry paste from scratch.  Not only was the finished vegan curry full of flavor due to the freshness of the curry paste, but what I appreciated most was the fact that I recognized each and every ingredient that comprised the curry paste.

Cambodia Mar 14, 2014, 9-16 PM

We mashed and pounded the curry paste by hand with a large mortar and pestle-like system.

Cambodia Mar 14, 2014, 8-49 PM

No electric kitchen tools were involved, but it would be perfectly fine to use a mini-food processor to achieve a similar consistency.  A food processor will also save about 15 minutes of pounding, though the pounding was an excellent upper body workout!

Here is the recipe for a traditional curry paste, or “amok,” as the Cambodians call it.  This recipe below incorporates a mini-food processor.


  • 3 dried chilies, soaked in warm water and puréed
  • 4, three-inch pieces of lemon grass, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 Kaffir lime leaf, finely chopped
  • 1 square inch piece of fresh turmeric
  • 1 square inch piece of fresh galingale (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 4 tablespoons of chili oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek


  1. Using a mini-food processor, “finely chop” the lemon grass, garlic, shallot, Kaffir lime leaf, turmeric and galingale.
  2. Add the puréed soaked chilies and combine until smooth.
  3. Remove mixture from food processor and place in small bowl.
  4. Add chili oil and stir until well-combined.
  5. Finally, add the star anise, cinnamon, coriander and fenugreek and stir well.