1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
5 black or white peppercorns
3 stalks lemongrass
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
1 tbsp coarsely chopped and peeled fresh ginger or galangal
1 tsp finely minced fresh wild lime peel or domestic lime peel
1 tsp salt
Omnivores may omit salt and use fish sauce 1-2 tablespoons. This will add a salty element. Start low because you can add but you can’t take away.
Toast coriander seeds in a skillet without oil for 2-3 minutes, set aside. Toast 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 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 two weeks 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.
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 dal.