authentic-panang-curry-paste-fb-e1464708057216The lifeblood of any curry dish is the paste and this is the “mother” pastes from which all others are born. But if you weren’t raised in an Indian or Indonesian household how do you learn to make it? During my visit to Bali, I had the rare opportunity of attending a cooking class lead by a native Balinese chef. Prior to the class, the chef took our group to the local market in Ubud as an introduction to the various indigenous herbs, spices, and produce we would be using for our menu. Touching, tasting, and smelling the produce and aromatics was an experience, but not nearly as much as haggling with the local merchants. That was an education unto itself. maketplace After returning to the kitchen to prepare our meal, alongside the ingredients of herbs, spices, and twisted roots sat a large stone plate like a sacrificial altar. “This,” the chef said, “is the Cuisinart our ancestors have used for thousands of years to make curry sambals” (their term for paste/pesto), proclaiming with proud indignation, “and we make them fresh every day.” Indentured servitude immediately sprang to mind at the idea of someone hunched over this oversized primitive pestle mortar grinding out curry paste FRESH, every, single, day. One by one we took our turn pummeling the ingredients that eventually bore the fruit of our labor.

lynn-sambalAfter the lesson concluded, we took our seats while the staff finished preparing our meal. As soon as they married the curry paste with coconut milk, and I inhaled its exotic fragrance, my salivary glands opened their flood gates. I could scarcely contain my-self as the wait-staff placed the plate of curry in front of me. It was love at first bite. With recipe in hand, I couldn’t wait to get home and make my own. Fortunately, I do have a Cuisinart, so this labor of love isn’t as laborious, although I tend to prepare a large batch and freeze it in ice-cube trays to be sure I have plenty on hand to add to soups, sauces, rice, and vegetables. I think you’ll agree that once you’ve tasted authentic curry from scratch, you’ll never go back to store-bought versions, again.

Recipe notes: What you will need: Food processor, serrated knife, and one for slicing and mining, and med-large skillet. Prepared in 3 easy steps. Active prep time 1-hour. Cooking time 5-10 minutes. Yields 3-cups paste. Difficulty level:Moderate


  • 15 shallots sliced thin
  • 10 cloves garlic minced
  • 1” piece ginger peeled and minced
  • 2” galangal peeled and sliced (if unavailable substitute with ginger)
  • 2-stalks lemongrass white part only, sliced thin
  • 1-4″ piece of fresh turmeric
  • 6-kaffir lime leaves (available in the freezer case of mpst Asian markets. If unavailable substitute with 1-Tbsp lime zest.)
  • 6-mild red chilies seeded, ribs removed, sliced thin (if unavailable substitute with dry New Mexico chili pods hydrated in warm water.)
  • 7-serrano chiles with seeds, sliced thin
  • 2-lrg Roma tomatoes diced
  • 2-tsp shrimp paste (optional) can be substituted with soy or yellow bean sauce
  • 10-Macadamia nuts
  • 4-tbsp palm sugar
  • ¼-cup light vegetable oil



Sambal Paste


Prepare all ingredients as outlined above.


  1. Place herbs and spices in food processor and pulse every 30 seconds, scraping down side of bowl.
  2. Drizzle oil between pulses to prevent ingredients from browning. Continue pulsing till mixture resembles paste


  • ¼-cup coconut oil
  • 1-stalk lemongrass bruised with mallet or scored with serrated knife
  • 4-fresh curry leaves (found in Asian market Do not substitute with bay leaf. If unavailable, omit entirely)
  • 4-kaffir lime leaves (if unavailable, used 1/2-Tbsp lime zest.)
  • 1-cup coconut milk



  1. In skillet heat coconut oil, add curry leaves, kaffir lime, and lemongrass, quickly stir fry for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Remove curry leaves, kaffir lime, and lemongrass.
  3. Add paste stirring frequently until mixture turns reddish golden color.
  4. Add coconut milk and taste. If too spicy adjust with more coconut milk.
  5. Allow to cool before storing.

Can be frozen in ice-cube trays, and kept in zip-lock freezer bag.