The Secret to Better Thai Dishes May Already Be in Your Fridge

Jarred red curry paste serves as a building block for this noodle and vegetable dish.

Thai red curry paste is the condiment that’s started a thousand meals in my kitchen. Simmered with a little coconut milk, it becomes a fragrant, spicy sauce for all manner of meat, fish, vegetable, tofu or noodles. It’s fast, convenient and tasty — better than my local takeout — which is all I ask for on most days of the week.

There are, however, times when I crave something a little more ambitious, a dish that’s deeper, more complex and closer to the curries I can get in a good Thai restaurant. But I want it without having to track down the galangal, lime leaves and dried shrimp necessary to make an authentic Thai red curry paste from scratch.

Doctoring up the stuff in the jar is a good middle ground. The prepared paste has the base flavor that I can build on by adding a few fresh aromatics — ones that I can easily pick up en route from the subway to my front door — garlic, chiles, cilantro, ginger and shallot. These can revive even an old half-used jar (the one that lives behind the miso and the tahini), giving it brightness and verve.

If you can’t easily find the lemongrass, feel free to leave it out. There’s already some in the jarred paste. And if you’re lucky enough to come across a bumpy-skinned and highly aromatic makrut lime, whirl its zest and juice into the paste in place of the regular lime. It will make the curry even livelier.

Once you’ve done your shopping and chopping, the paste comes together quickly in the blender, and you’ll have enough left over to make this dish again. Store the extra paste in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or the freezer for up to three months.

As for the noodles themselves, use any kind of thin noodles you like. Even gluten-free varieties work well as long as you don’t overcook them. I generally lean toward skinny Chinese egg noodles because I like the added richness of the yolk. But springy rice noodles are a close second.

This dish requires a bit more work than your average weeknight dinner, and a lot more work than ordering in. But with its gorgeous combination of crunchy vegetables, slippery noodles and heady sauce, no one will ever guess it all started in a jar.

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