Green curry paste provides deep heat and fiery herb-and-spice energy to traditional Thai curries. The name comes from its key ingredient, fresh, hot, green chili peppers, either prik ki noo or prik ki nok. These tiny firecrackers deliver intense chili-flavor to green curry made with coconut milk, traditionally served with jasmine rice, and often presented on special occasions with kanome jeen, a soft tangy-flavored rice noodle which is formed into round skeins and served at room temperature, with curry and sauces over it.
Though you will find a dozen or more specific curries listed in recipe books, on menus, and in the curry-paste aisle at an Asian market, there are really only two types of standard curry paste, known as kreung gaeng. One is red, and the other is green. These names may confuse you when you see the curries they make, as red curry, though in the color family, is more of a rust-colored, warm brown tone, than what we think of when we say “red”. (Spaghetti and meatballs — red sauce. Red curry: not really red). Green curry comes out even further from its name; it is usually a handsome lighter shade of brown. This is because the names describe the founding chili for each one, rather than the resulting curry.
Red curry paste is made from dried red chilies, (prik haeng, which means dried chilies — it’s a given that they are red) both small super bright red very hot ones and often a few big burgundy colored leathery ones, which are soaked first so that they can be ground down to paste. Green curry paste is made from tiny hot fresh green chilies, which are most certainly super-green going in, but which turn a khaki color in the paste, thanks to the abundance of garlic and onions and the colors of toasted cumin and coriander seeds, and peppercorns. All the other basic curry pastes, from mussamun and panaeng to ka-ree and kua, are variations on red curry paste; that is, their basis is prik haeng, dried red chilies.
This batch is made with a combination of grinding in a granite mortar with a matching pestle, and grinding in a blender, with a little water added to move the blades. You can do the entire paste in a mortar, pounding grinding and scraping, repeat, repeat; or the entire paste in a blender or small processor. In the latter cases you will need to add liquid to move the blades. Use water or the chili soaking water and don’t worry. Adding water will not dilute the paste, and there is water in the curry, so it’s a practical solution that allows you to use some technology to get where you are going.