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I'm making a green Thai curry paste from scratch. I'm very happy with the recipe, and I've made it with much success in the past, but today I am cooking for someone who can't take much heat. Or well, only very little; I can put a single capsicum annuum ('standard' red chili pepper?) in a dish for 4, let's say.

But the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of green bird's eye chilies. That's definitely going to be too hot, even if I de-seed and trim the insides. However, a significant part of the paste comes from these (there's about 11 Tbsp of ingredients in total, so 1/3th to 1/4th is the chilies) and leaving them out entirely probably doesn't do it any favour.

So my question is, what would you replace them with? I could get a green bell pepper, but I imagine that'd be quite watery. I also have access to jalapenos, which are a bit milder (and green, as far as that matters) but I imagine could still get quite spicy. Or perhaps I do leave them out after all. What would you go for?

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    Honestly I would be tempted to just leave it out and invite the folks that want the heat to add some chili paste (of some sort...) at the table. – Steve Chambers Jan 20 at 17:20
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    Texas A&M Jalapenos look like large, shiny Jalapenos, but lack most of the heat. Cut them in half, scrape out the seed membranes and you should end up with something people have trouble telling from a standard bell pepper. For a little warmth, and a more complex flavor, go with Anaheim or Hatch peppers. Again, scrape out seeds and membranes. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 21 at 3:39
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    The bird's eye peppers don't add much fragrance, just heat. The other ingredients in Thai curry are all very potent aromatics that totally overpower any subtle elements the chilis provide. If you want it less spicy, just use fewer or leave them out. They don't need a substitute - just omit. You'll end up with less paste. That's how it goes - scale the rest of the recipe if you want more. – J... Jan 21 at 13:40
  • @J... A green bird's eye does have a quite specific flavour, aside from the heat. You could substitute maybe a Jalapeño or Fresno & get a similar flavour with reduced [though still very noticeable] heat. A bell-pepper just tastes 'different' as would a Habañero or Scotch Bonnet [again, ignoring the heat], or indeed any red chilli when a green was needed. There's a definite need for the 'green chilli' flavour in a Thai green paste that I think would be missed if it wasn't there at all. – Tetsujin Jan 21 at 18:37
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    @Tetsujin I suppose it's a matter of taste. I find with Thai paste the other aromatics are much more dominant - the sharp pine aromas from the galangal, the brightness from the lemongrass and lime leaf, the pungency of the fermented shrimp and fish sauce, garlic, shallots, white pepper. Underneath all of that it's hard to pick out a contribution from the chilis, I find. It's not like a west-indian sauce, for example, which is also very hot, but has dominant flavours from the scotch bonnet that can't be easily substituted. The bird's eye has a much more subtle fragrance, imo. – J... Jan 21 at 19:16
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Let me take a wild swing -

I think trying to generate the volume required by using jalapeños would be too hot for your friend & you're right that a regular capsicum/bell pepper wouldn't have enough flavour to water ratio. Also 'bell peppers' don't taste like chillies.

How about Hungarian or Banana peppers?

Now, this is quite a variable & may depend on where you live as to which type you can access. Here in North London I can choose from 3 varieties without going more than 50m from my front door - from the the fat 'triangular' ones like giant fresnos with very smooth skin which are very cool, to the skinny ones about 20cm long with a 'lumpy' skin, which would be the type I would aim for.
Though they are generically known as Hungarian, [& of course, could actually be grown anywhere] they are likely to be commonly found in Turkish stores - local availability of course not guaranteed.

They taste like 'chilli' not like 'bell peppers' but they really don't have too much kick to them. They would generate the flavour without too much heat, but not sufficient colour, so you could perhaps trick some extra coriander [cilantro] into your paste to deepen the green.

From comments - though I wouldn't bother for myself, you can keep the heat down still further by not using the seeds or inner 'whiter' membranes.

  • Chipotle peppers may work too, they're a little spicy but have a nice smoky and somewhat sweet flavor. – BruceWayne Jan 20 at 21:14
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    I've never tried this, so it's a wild suggestion, but I believe you could also get away with bell peppers if you slice them finely (to almost a pulp), use some salt to draw out the moisture and let it reduce by frying with a very small amount of oil on low heat. – orlp Jan 21 at 0:56
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    There are cultivars of Banana peppers that go far past 500 Scoville units. Test before you use these. Try eating a seed and a bit of the membrane holding it. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 21 at 4:53
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    @BruceWayne - aside from the fact that they would be far too hot, they are after all jalapeños ...and dried.. and red... and smoked... smoked red chillies in a Thai green curry?? Just no. – Tetsujin Jan 21 at 7:25
  • @Tetsujin Agreed. A fresh green poblano might be a reasonable substitute, although you do occasionally get a "surprise" poblano which is much hotter than you might typically expect. – J... Jan 21 at 19:22
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I do this a lot (mostly red curries though) using oven-dried bell peppers, or the variety that is sold here as "sweet pointy peppers". To dry the peppers, I halve and deseed them and put them in a convection oven at 90°C for about 3 hours. They don't have to be dehydrated completely, just semi-dry (like sun dried tomatoes) is enough.

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You should get our hands on Kashmiri Red Chilli which is easily available in powder form at Indian stores, however it shouldn't be impossible to find whole dried ones. It has the typical red chilli flavor without any considerable heat.

Alternatively, you can try tomato puree but it will not tasye the same.

  • Interesting! The Kashmiri red chili powder I have at home has considerable heat. Maybe the labeling is off on that one. – user129412 Jan 21 at 13:05
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    @user129412 No, it's just that spice tolerance runs on a logarithmic scale. Something with "almost no heat" to one person can be raging hot to another. Furthermore, each of those people can probably find someone they could say the same about for a tier up or down in spice as well. This is why eastern restaurants in the west are so pathetic with the amount of spice they use - the lowest common denominator is so incredibly sensitive to capsaicin that they just don't risk any more than a whiff. I mean, I've seen people tear up eating chicken paprikash, if you can believe it. Go figure. – J... Jan 21 at 13:29
  • @J... That is true of course. I do consider myself to have a somewhat high tolerance for heat though (I cook with scotch bonnets without deseeding them, which doesn't make me a world champion but I wouldn't recommend it to most of my friends), and the stuff I have with that name is definitely spicy to most standards. I wouldn't put it in a different order of magnitude from birds eye chillies, which are the ones I am looking to replace in the recipe. So I'd attribute it to me or Love Bites having something that is not standard. – user129412 Jan 21 at 13:41
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    @user129412 Fair enough. Could just be a different source. Even genetically identical peppers can range from mild to crazy hot depending on growing conditions, etc. Kashmiri pepper grown in Kashmir will certainly taste different to the same pepper grown on another continent, in a different climate. True Kashmiri chili powder should be quite on the mild side, though - it is used primarily for colour and flavour in Indian cooking, and not for heat. – J... Jan 21 at 13:47
  • I love Kashmiri Mirch - use it all the time, it's fairly easy to get in the UK... but not in a green curry. For a red chilli substitute, ordinary [unsmoked] paprika is not a million miles away from Mirch, or New Mexico... but again, not for a green curry. – Tetsujin Jan 21 at 14:41

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