Adapted from The Curry Book: Memorable Flavors and Irresistibly Simple Recipes From Around the World, by Nancie McDermott.
This curry paste offers a cornucopia of sweet spices set against a moderate fire created by hot red chilies. In Thailand, mussamun curries are often served as part of a feast hosted by families celebrating a wedding, a move to a new home, the birth of a baby, or the ordination of a son as a Buddhist monk. The classic mussamun version pairs chunks of beef or chicken with potatoes, peanuts, and whole cardamom pods, an unusual combination that reflects the distant Indian Muslim origins of a dish adopted and adapted by Thai cooks many years ago. An excellent use for this paste is in Nancie's Thai Mussamun Curry recipe.
Makes about 1 cup
Stem the chilies and cut them into small pieces, using kitchen scissors or a knife. There should be about 1\4 cup. Place in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Let them soak for about 15 minutes until softened. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place a small plate by the stove to hold the spices. Combine the cumin and coriander in a small, dry frying pan. Place over medium heat and toast the spices 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant and slightly darkened. Remove from the heat and tip out onto the plate. Add the pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, and salt, and set aside.
In a blender or mini food processor, combine the onion, garlic, lemongrass, galanga or ginger, 2 tablespoons water, drained chilies, and spices. Process to a fairly smooth, evenly colored paste, stopping often to scrape down the sides and grind everything well. Add a little more water as needed to keep the blades moving.
Transfer the curry paste to a jar and seal airtight. Refrigerate until needed for up to 1 month.
Note: This paste can be frozen for up to 6 months. Consider freezing in tablespoon-size portion if you plan to defrost just enough for one curry at a time.