20 dried red finger-length chilies (chiles de arbol is fine)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10 peppercorns black or white
3 stalks lemongrass
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic (8-12 cloves depending on size)
1 tbsp. coarsely chopped, peeled galangal or ginger root
1 tsp finely minced fresh lime peel, wild or domestic
1 tsp salt
[for massaman paste add 1 tsp each cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and ¼ tsp nutmeg, ground, plus ¼ cup peanuts. Also add 1 tsp. palm sugar OR brown sugar. ]
Stem chilies and shake seeds out. Break or cut into large pieces and cover with warm water to soften for twenty minutes. Wear gloves or wash hands thoroughly after handling.
Fry coriander seeds in a skillet without oil for 2-3 minutes, set aside. Fry cumin seeds in the same way for 1-2 minutes. You want them to start to darken but not burn. Combine both with peppercorns in a spice grinder of coffee mill dedicated to spices.
Process lemongrass as follows: trim away roots from base and trip leaves from top, about six inches down. Remove any dry wilted leaves from remainder of stalk and then chop.
For lime zest use a micro-plane or small grater and rough chop shallots, garlic, ginger and cilantro.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender including the drained red chilies and grind to a smooth paste. Add water by teaspoonfuls to help the blades move through the ingredients, using as little as possible.
You can keep the paste in a clean jar in the fridge for about a month but I’d advise making some of it into ice cubes that you can store in a plastic bag for later use. I’ve done this with pesto, too. If you can find kaffir lime leaves you can chop up a tbsp. worth to use in this paste or you can simply use whole leaves to flavor broth. They are pretty tough so don't try to eat the whole leaves.
To use, warm a couple of tablespoons in a small amount of coconut milk to bring out the flavors, then add remainder of can to the pot along with vegetables. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Can also be used in stir fries or rice dishes.
My pescetarian and omnivorous readers may add fish sauce and reduce salt.