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Ugly Baby’s Red Curry Paste

['1 tsp. black peppercorns', '1 tsp. coriander seeds', '2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, tough outer layers removed, thinly sliced crosswise', '3 Tbsp. finely chopped peeled galangal', '3/4 cup dried Thai chiles, torn or chopped into small pieces', '2 small Asian shallots or 1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped', '8 garlic cloves', '5 cilantro roots or 3 Tbsp. thinly sliced thick cilantro stems', '1 (1") piece dried kaffir lime zest or 2 very thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves (optional)', '1 tsp. (or more) shrimp paste, preferably Thai', 'A large mortar and pestle']

Pound peppercorns and coriander seeds in mortar and pestle until finely ground (if using a food processor, you will want to grind these spices in a spice mill first). Add lemongrass and galangal and pound until ground to a coarse paste, 6–8 minutes. Add chiles (if you want, soak them in hot water 10–20 minutes beforehand to soften and make them easier to break up) and pound until pasty, 6–8 minutes. Add shallots, garlic, cilantro roots, and kaffir lime zest, if using, and pound until everything comes together in a relatively smooth paste, about 5 minutes. Mix in shrimp paste; taste and add more if needed.

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