Food as Meditation, Part 1

By now, I’m certain you all know how to wash your hands properly. By now, I bet your hands look as bad as mine, which means really dry because, in my profession, I can honestly say that when I’m working, I wash my hands on average of once every 5 to 10 minutes (no kidding).

I’ve been worrying about my child, who has been part of the cast and crew on a cruise ship’s maiden journey. And although they’re safe onboard with no passengers right now in a self-imposed quarantine until mid-April, I still worry. I worry about my step-kids and my friends. I worry about the things I’ve taken for granted up until now; way too many to mention here.

We’ve been walking on the beach before sunset most evenings to maintain some sort of sanity and normalcy. It’s amazing what a little fresh air and a brisk walk can do. And personally, for me, sanity and normalcy always circle back to food. Preparing food has always been a meditation for me. Quietly turning all my attention to the meditative sensations of cooking; the sound of slicing, the burner igniting, the oil shimmering in the skillet, and the fragrance of ingredients as they hit the pan. All of this takes me out of myself to a safe, self-quieting state, and I’m calm once again.

These days, I’ve been taking comfort in making comfort foods and in longer-term batch cooking projects that I’d typically tackle on a rainy day. That’s what I did this past Saturday after our walk. I made a Thai red curry paste by hand, which appeared in the February/March issue of Fine Cooking Magazine by Perry Santanachote, a recipe developer, food stylist, and writer.

As the Food Editor and Test Kitchen Manager at Fine Cooking, I had the opportunity to test this and two of Perry’s other curry recipes multiple times, and I can attest that these curries are one of the best I’ve had to date. This curry paste is a foundation for many wonderful Thai dishes, and although it’s definitely much easier to buy a can or jar, once you experience the difference, I’m sure you’ll never go back.

The entire preparation process proved to be a much-needed meditation for me. I tripled the recipe, portioned it out, and froze it for future use. I know this curry is going to make a lot of friends and family happy at some point soon. You’ll find the recipe below with a few modifications (I used a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle), complete with images from my step-by-step process.

Let’s begin with the sound “Om.”

Red Curry Paste


•1 oz. dried chiles such as guajillo, puya, New Mexico, or Anaheim that are fragrant but not overly spicy
•1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh lemongrass
•3 Tbs. fresh minced galangal
•2 tsp. coarse salt
•1/4 cup minced garlic
•1/4 cup minced shallots
•3 Tbs. minced fresh cilantro stems
•1 Tbs. minced kaffir lime leaves
•1 Tbs. shrimp paste

*Note that these ingredients are easily found in well-stocked large Asian markets.

Remove the stems from the chiles. Shake out and discard the seeds. Break the chiles into pieces, and soak them in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, in a food processor (or heavy-duty mortar and pestle if you prefer) grind the lemongrass and galangal until a coarse paste forms, 3 to 4 minutes.

Drain the chiles and finely dice them. Add to the mortar in batches, sprinkling the salt over them after adding each batch. Pound until the mixture is fine and the oils are fully released from the chiles, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, shallot, cilantro stems, and lime leaves, and pound until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated into a smooth paste, about 20 minutes. You’re looking for a buttery consistency with no chunks, almost like tomato paste. Add the shrimp paste. It will almost melt into the curry paste as you spread it around.

Use the curry paste immediately, or store it in an airtight container covered with a thin layer of oil for up to 1 month in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

Now, take a look at the images to help you along the process.

Seeding & Slicing Chiles
Seeding & Slicing Chiles
Soaking the Chiles
Draining the Chiles
Prepping the Rest of the Ingredients
Lemongrass & Galangal in Processor
Chiles in Processor
Grinding Ingredients to a Paste
Adding the Remaining Ingredients
All Ingredients Ground
Transfer to a Bowl
Stir in Shrimp Paste
Thai Red Curry Paste!
Portioning Servings
Sealing Individual Portions

My next blog will include another recipe that you can plug this curry paste into to make a delicious meal.

Until then, please take care of yourself, your family, and your friends. Stay safe, and stay healthy.

—Chef Diana

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