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I've been experimenting with making green thai curry paste this week and I have a pretty decent tasting curry resulting right now. However, in all the green curry paste recipes I see, they say I have to add onion/shallots to my paste when crushing in the mortar.

My question: Is it necessary to have onion/shallots present in the paste? Or can I make a green curry paste without onion, then just add onion to the actual curry when I use the paste to make a full on dish from it? Is there any cooking theory behind this as to why onions must be crushed in the paste as opposed to just added later when cooking the dish? Will it affect the taste of my curry in any noticeable way?

The question is more from a practical perspective, as I have a pretty small mortar, and adding the onions/shallots tends to cause it to overflow and make crushing pretty difficult.

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If the mortar size vs volume of ingredients is truly the only concern, you can crush things in batches and mix them in a bowl afterwards. :-)

I think the main reason for adding them into a prepared paste is for convenience in adding that paste to recipes later. If it has everything you need already in it, then it works better as a base. If it doesn't have everything in it already, you will have to make sure you have more ingredients on hand later when you're preparing the recipe. If you're making the paste and using it in the same cooking session then this doesn't make any difference at all.

Adding the onions to the paste vs adding onions with the paste won't affect the flavor as long as you add them at the same time.

If you add the paste early in the cooking and the onions significantly later in the cooking then that can affect how thoroughly the onions get cooked and how well they impart their flavor to the sauce.

Also, if you are storing the paste for some time in the fridge, the flavors of the various ingredients may change a little over time, and onions in particular might mellow somewhat, but I don't think they would change significantly enough to matter for the end result. This is just where you get into the convenience factor -- if you have added the onions already, your Thai green chili paste is a complete ingredient in itself and you don't have to worry about having the shallots on hand as well.

  • Good answer. I do wonder however if the pasted onions help to add a little extra thickness to the sauce vs chopped. – Doug Aug 11 '15 at 20:00
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    Ahh, I didn't see this as a question of crushing vs other preparation so much as IN the paste or not. Crushed (or pureed) vs chopped could indeed affect the texture, but shouldn't noticeably affect the flavor if you are adding them raw. If you cook chopped onions vs pureed in a pan without the rest of the sauce (e.g., sauteeing them in a bit of oil) I find that it does make a difference. I guess it is because the liquid in the puree causes them to simmer instead of caramelizing the way the edges of chopped onions do. – NadjaCS Aug 11 '15 at 20:34
  • Good answer and great comments! Thanks guys! Only focused on flavor at this point, so i think ill add the onions in at the start of cooking, so it saves me the trouble of doing 2 batches of crushing in the mortar and reduces my prep time – RTbecard Aug 11 '15 at 23:22
  • In some thai curries it is not unusual to add actual onions later too, as a vegetable - but in green curry, something strikes a wrong chord about onions (as opposed to shallots) in any role :) – rackandboneman Jan 24 '16 at 20:54
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If you make Thai curry paste in a mortar, try and find asian shallots. Ask an asian grocer if you aren't sure what to look for - they are between the size of a big clove of garlic and a cherry tomato, and more rounded in shape. They are far more concentrated and thus introduce far less water and volume into your mortar (most recipes using these don't add much more shallots than garlic by volume).

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