Non-Spicy Thai Curries
November 14, 2017 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Is there anyway to purchase a Thai curry paste that has zero chilies in it?

I love Thai curries. Before I moved in with my fiancée, they were my go-to "make a bunch of food so there's leftovers for the week." She cannot do spicy. At all. As in Massaman Curry had her in tears and drinking large amounts of milk. I could make my own paste from scratch to have no chilies in it, but this seems like a real pain. Excepting the spiciness, I suspect that any curry paste I put together were be the same if not inferior to anything I can buy in a can.

So, can I buy Thai curry paste (for Panang would be amazing, but even a not-at-all spicy Massaman would be good) that does not have any chilies in it? Or am I doomed to getting my curries in restaurants until I finally break down and round up all the ingredients and purchase a mortar and pestle for all of this?
posted by Hactar to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help with the search for curry paste without chilis - I've never seen such a thing, but I can't say for sure it definitely doesn't exist.

But you could consider making your curry paste in a big batch and freezing it in individual, saran-wrapped portions, so you don't need to do this every time you want to make a curry.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:36 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Thai Kitchen brand curry pastes I've tried are pretty mild, although they do contain chilis. If you look at reviews on Amazon, you'll find people stating that they are not spicy (this pleases some people and disappoints others).
posted by bananana at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

this curry with no chili recipe is not a paste, but i can vouch that it is delicious with either fish or chicken. it really does need the kaffir lime leaves to reach its full potential, though.

i have also made massaman curry from just powdered spices and fresh ginger and garlic, before, on a similar principle to the recipe above, for a friend allergic to shrimp (so no shrimp paste, and therefore no curry paste). i just fried the ground spices with the coconut cream, adding some extra to make it richer, and whisked it up really well with some coconut milk until the spices dissolved.
posted by halation at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Okay I know you very specifically said Thai curry and have mentioned several Thai curries. But if you're open to other curries, Japanese curry is totally un-hot, and I can personally vouch for the mild flavor of S&B Golden Curry.

I don't recall the Trader Joe's brand of green curry simmer sauce being very spicy at all, but it also has a slightly sour flavor I don't particularly care for. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2017

(oh so as not to abuse the edit window: the recipe above says to fresh-grind your spices from whole. i don't bother with this, and it's still good.)
posted by halation at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2017

I also can't say for sure that this thing doesn't exist, but I cook a lot of Thai food and have made lots of Thai curries, from both homemade pastes and commercial products -- red, green, yellow, Massaman, panang, sour and gaeng liang -- and I have never ever seen a commercial Thai curry paste that doesn't include chilies. They're considered an integral ingredient to nearly all curries so I'd be skeptical anything like that is widely available, particularly anything "authentic" aimed toward the Thai market.

Gaeng liang, which I linked to above, is considered a "gaeng" or curry by Thai people and doesn't have chilies because it gets its spice from white peppercorns, but it's still spicy in the pepper way and Westerners are unlikely to consider it a "Thai curry" -- it's very light and doesn't use coconut milk; you'd likely consider it a soup.

You could do a bit of an ironic thing and go for "inauthentic"/Westernized products like Trader Joe's Thai red curry sauce, which this page pans as having "has only faint chili heat" (it's not a compliment, but it might work for you). However, the flavor seems pretty weak.

The other solution would be as halation mentions above, to search for curry-like recipes that don't involve chilies. However, you should be aware that the complete absence of chilies does have a substantial -- not necessarily bad, just significant -- impact on flavor; the main difference between red and green curries, for instance, is that the former uses dried red chilies while the latter uses fresh green chilies.


If it's really important to you to make something close to a Thai curry without chilies as possible, I'd recommend you make your own pastes. Here are some tips on making it easier to make Thai pastes in a Western kitchen/shopping in a Western context:

- I use a mortar and pestle, but I blitz the spices (typically coriander seeds, cumin seeds and white peppercorns, all of which should be found at bigger supermarkets or at a pinch a place like Penzey's) and the dried chilies in a coffee grinder, since grinding rehydrated dried chilies is always the biggest pain. (Obviously not a problem for you.) You could also just use dried spices; I use whole because I went through a big Indian phase, which left me with lots of whole spices.

- I have read that using a stick/immersion blender is the best non-mortar and pestle tool for making pastes, since it allows you to whizz the ingredients up without having to add tons of water, as you might have to do in a traditional blender.

- Of the typical fresh ingredients -- lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime peel, garlic and shallots -- the first two you can freeze easily and the last two are widely available anywhere. Lemongrass and galangal can be hard to find, but you can order them online or hunt in your Asian markets, and once you find them you can buy them in large quantities and freeze them. Kaffir lime peel is the hardest to find, but you can order it online and it freezes well. You can use kaffir lime leaves in a pinch but they're harder to pound/blitz to a powder.

- Shrimp paste is important to a traditional curry paste but you can replace it with miso or omit it (many commercial pastes don't include it to make them vegetarian.)
posted by andrewesque at 11:02 AM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

To answer the unasked question: see here

My SO made a concerted effort to up her spicy food game prior to a trip to Szechuan province in China, and she was very glad she did it. And is continually happy she did it as she now enjoys spicier hot wings, indian, thai, chili, etc back at home. Do keep in mind #6 from that list though if no progress is forthcoming.

posted by Grither at 11:40 AM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

You don't need to buy a mortar and pestle to make curry pastes, just use a mini food processor. Chop up all the ingredients and process with a tiny bit of water. I use a magic bullet. This is a better option than shopping around for chilli-less commercial pastes, which I have never come across, and I would imagine would be pretty flavorless.
posted by sid at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2017

Try looking for Khmer/Cambodian curries. They taste similar to Thai curries but have a much milder heat to almost no heat at all. You eat them with potatoes and french bread in some permutations. It's important to use decent fish sauce, coconut milk and tamarind paste (if you can get your hands on prahok paste of any sort, that's amazingly helpful) and the fresh ingredients help a lot.

Google returns heaps of decent recipes so just look for one that appeals. My kids and I cook variations, but you can follow a recipe and then once you're happy, just adapt to whatever you have. The green curry with potatoes is the mildest.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:22 PM on November 14, 2017

The Thai Kitchen brand is very mild, much to my annoyance. Try that? Also, for really mild, you want to avoid leftovers as the heat level increases with time. Also, add more coconut milk.

Wanted to also answer the unasked question like Grither, above. Eating spicy foods is learned, not innate, and if she's game, she can build up the tolerance and the appetite for spice. Not to mention that Thai food tastes much better when it's spicy. ;)
posted by vivzan at 7:17 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

dorothyisunderwood, I have a Cambodian cookbook, although it doesn't have any curry recipes in it. (The Elephant Walk Cookbook) It does, however, have recipes involving prahok paste. I cannot find this anywhere. Where have you gotten yours? And I definitely will look into Cambodian curies.

As to getting my fiancee to eat spicier food, that's something that's going to take ages, if it even happens. Although, I have gotten her to like eggplant, so it may not be impossible (she has, in turn, gotten me to see that rosemary can actually be quite tasty and need not overwhelm every dish it is put into). But this is not something that she is interested in, and, at the moment, it is not something that I'm willing to put energy into pursuing.

We have made Japanese curries in the past. They're pretty good, but, at least for me, do not come anywhere close to a good thai curry.

Thanks to everyone who replied, I'll try the curry without chilis and my own experiments to see where this goes. I own and immersion blender with a mini blender add on, so that may be the ticket.
posted by Hactar at 5:38 PM on November 15, 2017

My kid literally brought a giant jar wrapped in bubble wrap back from the wet market in Phnom Penh which is slowly being used, but previously bought small jars at the Thai-Burmese market here in Singapore. It looks like a reddish-grey paste and smells like rotted shrimp/delicious. You really only need a small jar and can in a pinch substitute say tamarind, fish sauce and shrimp belacan for something close.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:08 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

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